The Conrad Veidt Society

  Some six months later, Conrad was given a full discharge from the German Army in January 1917.  He immediately wrote to the Reinhardt Deutsches Theatre and requested reinstatement, and shortly thereafter, was thrilled to receive a reply from Edmund Reinhardt, telling him that they welcomed his return.

  Returning to the Veidt family home in Berlin, Conrad received a warm welcome from his parents, who were grateful to have their son back at a time when so many sons were perishing in the war.  Conrad's father, Philipp, was so happy to see Conrad safely back that he didn't even engage in the usual deprecation of his son's chosen profession.

  With his war service behind him, Conrad eagerly returned to his theatrical work.  In very short order, however, he began receiving offers of work in films, as well.  So, for a while, he alternated film appearances with theatrical appearances.  This was partially because he was still unsure of film as a medium, although he found the compensation undoubtedly more attractive than that which the theaters could offer.

  Due to conflicts in surviving records, it is difficult to be certain which film furnished Veidt with his debut.  However, most authorities give Conrad's first film appearance as a minor role in DER SPION (The Spy) (1917).  Released in July of 1917, DER SPION was apparently an average programmer.

  During the rest of 1917, Veidt appeared in five more films, which included DER WEG DES TODES (The Road of Death) (1917); FURCHT (Fear) (1917); DAS RATSEL VON BANGALOR (1917); WENN TOTE SPRECHEN (When Death Speaks) (1917); and DIE CLAUDI VON GEISERHOF (1917).

  Sadly all of the above mentioned films are now considered lost.  And indeed, of some 118 Veidt film appearances, only 49 are known to have survived.  This was undoubtedly the result of the fragility of the old nitrate film stock, coupled with the ravages of W.W.II.  Also the studios, which could little imagine the future historical value of their product, lacked the funds necessary for taking the best care of their films.

  1918 saw Conrad Veidt in even greater demand, making eleven film appearances.  Some of the titles were DAS TAGEBUCH EINER VERLORENEN (Diary of a Lost One) (1918); DEI SERENYL (1918); DAS DREIMADERALHAUS (The House of Three Girls) (1918); OPFER DER GESELLSCHAFT (Society's Victim) (1918); ES WERDE LICHT (Let There Be Light) (1918); and NOCTURNO DER LIEBE (Nocturne of Love) (1918).

  Most of his appearances continued to be routine, although there were increasingly better ones and also roles of a different kind, in a series of popular educational film produced by Richard Oswald.  An example was ES WERDE LICHT (1918), which was about venereal diseases.  The films came about because of a brief period of remarkable laxity in censorship on the part of the German government  between 1918 and 1920.  Oswald's films were distinguished by the sensitive, honest and intelligent way in which they dealt with controversial social issues.

  Veidt went on to make several more educational films for Oswald.  The films were apparently constructive enough that in the 1930s the Nazis destroyed all the copies of the Oswald sex education films that they could get.  A film that particularly upset the Nazis was the 1919 production ANDERS ALS DIE ALLE ANDERN (Different From All the Others) (1919), which featured Conrad Veidt as a gay violinist and dealt daringly with homosexuality.

  It was probably some of Veidt's early appearances in Richard Oswald's sex education films in controversial roles that contributed to later lurid rumors about his personal life.  Audiences have always occasionally confused the actor and role.  Although, as we shall see later, following the breakup of his marriage to Gussy Holl, Conrad did experience a brief period of despair and dissipation, which added a touch of rakishness to his reputation for a while.

  Veidt's first marriage occurred following a party given by the Oswald studio in the early spring of 1918, after he had been working in films for about a year.   During the party, Conrad noticed a woman whom he later described to friends as "very lovely, tall, dignified and somewhat aloof," and became very taken with her.  A well-known actress, her name was Gussy Holl, and by the end of the party, she and Veidt had had several dances and were seated at a table, eating, drinking, talking and completely engrossed in each other.

  The two were sufficiently taken with each other that some three months later, in June 1918, they were married in a large wedding attended by most of the current luminaries of German show business.

  Unfortunately, the union did not last; after about a year, the couple separated and, over the next few years attempted reconciliation several times.

  Veidt's acting career, meanwhile, would shortly blossom dramatically.  15 film roles came to Veidt in 1919, and besides his starring role in the benchmark production DAS CABINET DES DR. CALIGARI, he appeared in a variety of fascinating and memorable roles.

  One film critic of the time described Conrad Veidt in a published review as "a strange-looking young man with a face you can never forget.”  And indeed, Veidt had become almost typecast in eerie and sinister roles.  He was often referred to as "the demonic Conrad Veidt" or as "The Man with the Wicked Eyes."

  Oddly, Veidt himself was not overly bothered with his typecasting:

 "I was never a villain on the stage.  I always played strong, sympathetic types.  My first stage role with a speaking part, believe it or not, was as a priest.  It wasn't until I began acting in films that the producers and directors saw me primarily as a bizarre villain.  I was happy and content to play either 'the good guy' or the 'bad guy,' as they say in American slang, as long as the role and the screenplay called for plenty of dramatic conflict and emotional expression."

  Another marked contrast was that between Conrad Veidt's roles and Conrad Veidt the man.  Although his image in films was that of the weird and evil, Conrad Veidt was himself a gentle, sensitive man, very refined in manner and kindly.  He was held in high esteem by all with whom he worked and was, oddly, for an actor, almost devoid of vanity and ego.

  In the egocentric world of cinema, it was undoubtedly an asset to be diplomatic, easy to work with and not given to temperament.  Conrad’s modesty was illustrated in an interview with a biographer in the 1930s, when he was reported to have self-effacingly remarked, "What use is there for a biography of myself?  I'm just a movie actor."

  Along with roles in the Oswald-produced educational films, ANDERS ALS DIE ANDERN, DIE SICH VERKAUFEN ("Those Who Sell Themselves"), and DIE PROSTITUTION, Veidt appeared as Phileas Fogg in DIE REISE UM DIE ERDE IN 80 TAGEN (Around the World in 80 Days) (1919) and the buttonmaker in PEER GYNT (1919).

  In UNHEIMLICHE GESCHICHTEN (Eerie Tales) (1919), Veidt appeared in five different segments playing a different role in each:  Death, the Assassin, the Traveler, the Club President and the Husband.

  OPIUM (1919) was another eerily titled entry for Veidt in 1919.  The film dealt with narcotics addiction and featured Conrad as a man who has an affair with his best friend's wife.  So overcome with remorse by the end of film is Veidt's character that he commits suicide in atonement.  This film caused a sensation during its initial release in an expensive theater in Berlin.  For over a month, it ran with sold out performances.

  SATANAS (1919), the second film directed by his friend, the brilliant director F. W. Murnau, featured Conrad in four different roles.  In the first segment, set in ancient Egypt, Veidt played the Hermit from Elu and the part of Lucifer.  In the second segment, set in medieval Italy, Veidt played the role of Gubetta the Spaniard and again that of the devil.  In the final segment, which was set in current day Germany, Veidt played Grodski and again Lucifer.  The part of Lucifer was, of course, a "framing" device and Veidt appeared at the beginning and end of each episode in front a curtain, which he opened or closed as the action demanded.  It was a stagey device, but then the intent was indicate a close affinity with the theater.

  In another atmospheric production, Veidt appeared in NACHTGESTALTEN (Figures of the Night) (1919), produced by Richard Oswald and costarring German film great Paul Wegener, as well as Anita Berber and Reinhold Schunzel.

   Later in 1919, Veidt appeared in another production for F. W. Murnau, ABEND-NACHT-MORGEN ("Day, Night, and the Morning After) (1919).  The film was a routine detective story which received extremely poor reviews, except for Conrad Veidt, who was lauded for his performance.

  1919 could definitely be said to have been a seminal year for Conrad Veidt, in which he very quickly shifted from being a popular supporting actor locally in Germany, to being an international star and leading character actor.  In 1919, Conrad Veidt had arrived.

  The following year, 1920, brought even more activity for Conrad.  He had become firmly established by this time, and appeared in some of his most interesting roles.  One was in DER GRAF VON CAGLIOSTRO (The Count of Cagliostro) (1920), as the minister.  DER GANG IN DIE NACHT ("The Walk in the Night") (1920) was written by Carl Mayer, one of the co-writers of CALIGARI and featured Veidt in the role of a blind artist.  A romantic melodrama, the film was helped greatly by Carl Mayer's writing and received favorable reviews.

  Two other films of note that Veidt appeared in during 1920 were DER REIGEN ("The Merry-Go-Round") and KURFURSTENDAMM ("Temperamental Artist").  DER REIGEN was a drama about an evil blackmailer (played by Veidt) and young girl forced into prostitution (played by Danish film great Asta Nielsen.  In KURFURSTENDAMM, a fantasy-comedy, Veidt again played opposite Asta Nielsen, in the role of the devil.

  Veidt liked working with Asta Nielsen and in a later interview said:

Conrad Veidt:
The Cinema's Master
of the Shadows


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