Emil Jannings

Last updated

Emil Jannings
Emil Jannings - no watermark.jpg
Jannings circa 1926
Theodor Friedrich Emil Janenz

(1884-07-23)23 July 1884
Rorschach, Switzerland
Died2 January 1950(1950-01-02) (aged 65)
Years active1914–1945
Spouse(s)Lucy Höfling [1] (divorced 1919)
(m. 1919;div. 1921)

(m. 1921;div. 1921)

(m. 1923)

Emil Jannings (born Theodor Friedrich Emil Janenz, 23 July 1884 – 2 January 1950) was a Swiss-born German actor, popular in the 1920s in Hollywood. He was the first recipient of the Academy Award for Best Actor for his roles in The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh . As of 2023, Jannings is the only German ever to have won the category.


Jannings is best known for his collaborations with F. W. Murnau and Josef von Sternberg, including the 1930 film The Blue Angel (Der blaue Engel), with Marlene Dietrich. The Blue Angel was meant as a vehicle for Jannings to score a place for himself in the new medium of sound film, but Dietrich stole the show. Jannings later starred in a number of Nazi propaganda films, which made him unemployable as an actor after the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Childhood and youth

Jannings was born in Rorschach, Switzerland, the son of Emil Janenz, an American businessman from St. Louis, and his wife Margarethe (née Schwabe), originally from Germany. [2] [3] Jannings held German citizenship; while he was still young the family moved to Leipzig in the German Empire and further to Görlitz after the early death of his father.

Jannings ran away from school and went to sea. When he returned to Görlitz, his mother finally allowed him to begin a traineeship at the town state theatre, where he started his stage career. From 1901 onwards he worked with several theatre companies in Bremen, Nuremberg, Leipzig, Königsberg, and Glogau before joining the Deutsches Theater ensemble under director Max Reinhardt in Berlin. [4] Permanently employed since 1915, Jannings met with playwright Karl Vollmöller, fellow actor Ernst Lubitsch, and photographer Frieda Riess. After World War I all were at the heart of Weimar Culture in 1920s Berlin. Jannings made his breakthrough in 1918 with his role as Judge Adam in Kleist's Broken Jug at the Schauspielhaus.


Jannings as Kreon in Hasenclever's Antigone, Grosses Schauspielhaus, 1920 Antigone By Walter Hasenclever.jpeg
Jannings as Kreon in Hasenclever's Antigone, Großes Schauspielhaus, 1920

Jannings was a theater actor who went into films, though he remained dissatisfied with the limited expressive possibilities in the silent era. Having signed a contract with the UFA production company, he starred in Die Augen der Mumie Ma (The Eyes of the Mummy, 1918) and Madame DuBarry (1919), both with Pola Negri in the main female part. He also performed in the 1922 film version of Othello and in F. W. Murnau's 1924 film The Last Laugh (Der Letzte Mann), as a proud but aged hotel doorman who is demoted to a restroom attendant. Jannings worked with Murnau on two other films; playing the title character in Tartuffe (Herr Tartüff, 1925), and as Mephistopheles in Faust (1926).


His increasing popularity enabled Jannings to sign an agreement with Paramount Pictures and eventually follow his acting colleagues Lubitsch and Negri to Hollywood. He started his career in 1927 with The Way of All Flesh directed by Victor Fleming (now lost) and in the following year performed in Josef von Sternberg's The Last Command . In 1929, Jannings won the first Best Actor Oscar for his work in both films. He and Sternberg also cooperated in Street of Sin (1928), though they actually differed about Jannings' acting in front of the camera.

His Hollywood career came to an end with the advent of talkies as his thick German accent was difficult to understand. His dialogue was initially dubbed by another actor in the part-talkie The Patriot (1928) directed by Ernst Lubitsch, although Jannings' own voice was restored after he objected. Returning to Europe, he starred opposite Marlene Dietrich in the 1930 film The Blue Angel , which was filmed simultaneously in English with its German version Der blaue Engel .

According to Susan Orlean, author of Rin Tin Tin: The Life and The Legend, Jannings was not actually the winner of the first best actor vote, but the runner-up. While researching her book, Orlean thought she discovered that it was in fact Rin Tin Tin, the German Shepherd dog, one of the biggest movie stars of his time, who won the vote. The Academy, however, worried about not being taken seriously if they gave the first Oscar to a dog, chose to award the Oscar to the human runner-up. [5]

In 1960, Jannings was posthumously honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1630 Vine Street for his contribution to motion pictures. [6]

Nazi Germany

Jannings with Joseph Goebbels on Wolfgangsee, 1938 Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1984-0321-506, St. Wolfgang, Goebbels und Emil Jannings.jpg
Jannings with Joseph Goebbels on Wolfgangsee, 1938

After the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, Jannings continued his career in the service of Nazi cinema. In Nazi Germany, he starred in several films which were intended to promote Nazism, particularly the Führerprinzip by presenting unyielding historical characters, such as Der alte und der junge König (The Old and the Young King 1934), Der Herrscher (The Ruler 1937) directed by Veit Harlan, Robert Koch (1939), Ohm Krüger (Uncle Kruger, 1941) and Die Entlassung (Bismarck's Dismissal, 1942). [7] He also performed in his famed role in The Broken Jug directed by Gustav Ucicky. Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels named Jannings an "Artist of the State" ( Staatsschauspieler ) [8]

The shooting of his last film Wo ist Herr Belling? was aborted when troops of the Allied Powers entered Germany in Spring 1945. Jannings reportedly carried his Oscar statuette with him as proof of his former association with Hollywood. However, his active role in Nazi propaganda meant that he was subject to denazification, effectively ending his career.

In the same period Dietrich became a US citizen and an influential anti-Nazi activist, spending much of the war entertaining troops on the front lines and broadcasting on behalf of the OSS. Dietrich particularly loathed Jannings for his Nazi ties, and would later refer to her former co-star as a "ham". [9]


Emil Jannings' grave at St Wolfgang im Salzkammergut Friedhof St Wolfgang im Salzkammergut - Emil Jannings.JPG
Emil Jannings' grave at St Wolfgang im Salzkammergut

Jannings retired to Strobl near Salzburg, Austria, and became an Austrian citizen in 1947. [4] He died in 1950, aged 65, from liver cancer. [10] He is buried in the St. Wolfgang cemetery. His Best Actor Oscar is now on display at the Berlin Filmmuseum.


Jannings was married four times. His first three marriages ended in divorce, his last with his death. His last three marriages were to German stage and film actresses, Hanna Ralph, Lucie Höflich, and Gussy Holl. [7] He had a daughter, Ruth-Maria (born 1920), from his first marriage to Lucy Höfling. [11] [12]

Cultural depictions


1914Arme Eva
Im Schützengraben
Passionels Tagebuch
1916Aus Mangel an BeweisenDr. Langer
Die Bettlerin von St. MarienBaron Gelsburg
Frau Eva
Im Angesicht des TotenPaul Werner
Life Is a Dream Verführer (the seducer)
A Night of Horror Banker
Stein unter Steinen
1917 Das fidele Gefängnis  [ de ]Quabbe, the jailerThe Merry Jail (Europe: English title)
When Four Do the Same Segetoff
Hoheit Radieschen
The Marriage of Luise Rohrbach Wilhelm Rohrbach
Der Zehnte Pavillon der Zitadelle
Das GeschäftS. H. Haßler
The Ring of Giuditta Foscari
The Sea Battle
1918 The Seeds of Life James Fraenkel, Börsenmarktler
John Smith, amerikanischer Ingenieur
The Eyes of the Mummy Radu, an Arab
Fuhrmann Henschel
Nach zwanzig JahrenHorst Lundin 'Korn'
1919 Rose Bernd Arthur Streckmann
Madame DuBarry Louis XV a.k.a. Passion
Vendetta Tomasso
The Daughter of Mehemed Vaco Juan Riberda, Fabrikbesitzer
The Man of Action Jan Miller
1920 Colombine Carlo
Anna Boleyn Henry VIII a.k.a. Deception
The Skull of Pharaoh's Daughter Osorcon, Pharao of Egypt
Algol Robert Herne
The Big Light Lorenz Ferleitner
Kohlhiesel's Daughters Peter Xaver
1921 The Rats Bruno
The Oath of Peter Hergatz
Danton Georges Danton a.k.a. All for a Woman
The Bull of Olivera General François Guillaume
The Brothers Karamazov Dimitri Karamasoffa.k.a. Die Brüder Karamasoff
1922 Peter the Great Peter the Great a.k.a. Peter der Große
Othello Othello
The Loves of Pharaoh Pharao Amenesa.k.a. Das Weib des Pharao
The Countess of Paris Ombrade
1923 All for Money S. I. Rupp
Tragedy of Love Ombrade
1924 The Last Laugh Hotel PorterThe Last Laugh (USA)
Husbands or Lovers Husband
Waxworks Harun al-Rashid
Quo Vadis Nero Extant
1925 Variety Boss Hullera.k.a. Jealousy (USA)
Love is Blind Emil Jannings
1926 Tartuffe Tartuffe
Faust – A German Folktale Mephisto Extant
1927 The Way of All Flesh August Schilling Academy Award for Best Actor; Lost film
1928 Sins of the Fathers Wilhelm Spenglerexcerpts and clips are preserved of this film. Unconfirmed about the total film
The Patriot Czar Paul I Lost film
Street of Sin Basher BillLost film
The Last Command Gen. Dolgorucki / Grand Duke Sergius Alexander Academy Award for Best Actor; Extant
1929 Betrayal Poldi Moser
1930 Darling of the Gods Albert Winkelmanna.k.a. Darling of the Gods
The Blue Angel Prof. Immanuel Ratha.k.a. The Blue Angel (USA)
1932 Storms of Passion Gustav Bumkea.k.a. Stürme der Leidenschaft a.k.a. Tempest
1933Die Abenteuer des Königs PausoleKing Pausolea.k.a. The Adventures of King Pausole
The Merry Monarch
1934 The Black Whale Peter Petersena.k.a. The Black Whale (International: English title)
1935 The Old and the Young King Frederick William I of Prussia a.k.a. The Making of a King (USA)
1936 The Dreamer Direktor Prof. Niemeyer
1937 The Broken Jug Adam, Dorfrichtera.k.a. The Broken Jug
The Ruler Matthias Clausen'
1939 Robert Koch Robert Koch
Der Trichter. (Nr. III)scenes deleted
1941 Ohm Krüger Paul Kruger a.k.a. Uncle Kruger (International: English title)
1942 Die Entlassung Otto von Bismarck a.k.a. Bismarck's Dismissal (UK)
1943Altes Herz wird wieder jungFabrikdirektor Hoffmann
1945Wo ist Herr Belling?Firmenchef Eberhard Bellinga.k.a. Where Is Mr. Belling?

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">F. W. Murnau</span> German film director (1888–1931)

Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau was a German film director, producer and screenwriter.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marlene Dietrich</span> German and American actress and singer (1901–1992)

Marie Magdalene "Marlene" Dietrich was a German and American actress and singer whose career spanned from the 1910s to the 1980s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rin Tin Tin</span> Famous German Shepherd

Rin Tin Tin or Rin-Tin-Tin was a male German Shepherd born in Flirey, France, who became an international star in motion pictures. He was rescued from a World War I battlefield by an American soldier, Lee Duncan, who nicknamed him "Rinty". Duncan trained Rin Tin Tin and obtained silent film work for the dog. Rin Tin Tin was an immediate box-office success and went on to appear in 27 Hollywood films, gaining worldwide fame. Along with the earlier canine film star Strongheart, Rin Tin Tin was responsible for greatly increasing the popularity of German Shepherd dogs as family pets. The immense profitability of his films contributed to the success of Warner Bros. studios and helped advance the career of Darryl F. Zanuck from screenwriter to producer and studio executive.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Heinrich Mann</span> German writer (1871–1950)

Luiz Heinrich Mann, best known as simply Heinrich Mann, was a German author known for his socio-political novels. From 1930 until 1933, he was president of the fine poetry division of the Prussian Academy of Arts. His fierce criticism of the growing Fascism and Nazism forced him to flee Germany after the Nazis came to power during 1933. He was the elder brother of writer Thomas Mann.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Josef von Sternberg</span> Austrian-American film director (1894–1969)

Josef von Sternberg was an Austrian-American filmmaker whose career successfully spanned the transition from the silent to the sound era, during which he worked with most of the major Hollywood studios. He is best known for his film collaboration with actress Marlene Dietrich in the 1930s, including the highly regarded Paramount/UFA production, The Blue Angel (1930).

UFA GmbH, shortened to UFA, is a film and television production company that unites all production activities of the media conglomerate Bertelsmann in Germany. Its name derives from Universum-Film Aktiengesellschaft, a major German film company headquartered in Babelsberg, producing and distributing motion pictures from 1917 until the end of the Nazi era. The name UFA was revived by Bertelsmann for an otherwise unrelated film and television outfit, UFA GmbH.

<i>The Last Command</i> (1928 film) 1928 film

The Last Command is a 1928 silent film directed by Josef von Sternberg, and written by John F. Goodrich and Herman J. Mankiewicz from a story by Lajos Bíró. Star Emil Jannings won the first Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role at the 1929 ceremony for his performances in this film and The Way of All Flesh, the only year that multiple roles were considered. In 2006, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for the National Film Registry. The supporting cast includes Evelyn Brent and William Powell.

<i>The Blue Angel</i> 1930 German musical comedy-drama film

The Blue Angel is a 1930 German musical comedy-drama film directed by Josef von Sternberg, and starring Marlene Dietrich, Emil Jannings and Kurt Gerron. Written by Carl Zuckmayer, Karl Vollmöller and Robert Liebmann – with uncredited contributions by Sternberg – it is based on Heinrich Mann's 1905 novel Professor Unrat and set in an unspecified northern German port city. The Blue Angel presents the tragic transformation of a respectable professor to a cabaret clown and his descent into madness. The film is the first feature-length German full-talkie and brought Dietrich international fame. In addition, it introduced her signature song, Friedrich Hollaender and Robert Liebmann's "Falling in Love Again ". It is considered to be a classic of German cinema.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nazism and cinema</span> Nazi influence on film between 1933–1945

Nazism created an elaborate system of propaganda, which made use of the new technologies of the 20th century, including cinema. Nazism courted the masses by the means of slogans that were aimed directly at the instincts and emotions of the people. The Nazis valued film as a propaganda instrument of enormous power. The interest that Adolf Hitler and his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels took in film was not only the result of a personal fascination. The use of film for propaganda had been planned by the Nazi Party as early as 1930, when the party first established a film department. The goals of the department included using the economic power of German moviegoers to self-censor films globally, resulting in all but one Hollywood producers censoring films critical of Nazism and even showing news shorts of film produced by the Nazis in American theaters. No American films between 1933-1939 were critical of Nazism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Babelsberg Studio</span> German film studio

Babelsberg Film Studio, located in Potsdam-Babelsberg outside Berlin, Germany, is the second oldest large-scale film studio in the world only preceded by the Danish Nordisk Film, producing films since 1912. With a total area of about 460,000 square metres (5,000,000 sq ft) and a studio area of about 25,000 square metres (270,000 sq ft) it is Europe's largest film studio.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Felix Bressart</span> German-American actor

Felix Bressart was a German-American actor of stage and screen.

<i>Tartuffe</i> (1926 film) 1925 film by F. W. Murnau

Tartuffe is a German silent film produced by Erich Pommer for UFA and released in 1926. It was directed by F. W. Murnau, photographed by Karl Freund and written by Carl Mayer from Molière's original play. It was shot at the Tempelhof Studios in Berlin. Set design and costumes were by Robert Herlth and Walter Röhrig.

Ferdinand "Fred" Immler was a German stage and film actor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Martin Kosleck</span> German actor (1904–1994)

Martin Kosleck was a German film actor. Like many other German actors, he fled when the Nazis came to power. Inspired by his deep hatred of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, Kosleck made a career in Hollywood playing villainous Nazis in films. While in the United States, he appeared in more than 80 films and television shows in a 46-year span. His icy demeanor and piercing stare on screen made him a popular choice to play Nazi villains. He portrayed Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler's propaganda minister, five times, and also appeared as an SS trooper and a concentration camp officer.

<i>Ohm Krüger</i> 1941 film by Hans Steinhoff, Herbert Maisch, Karl Anton

Ohm Krüger is a 1941 German biographical film directed by Hans Steinhoff and starring Emil Jannings, Lucie Höflich, and Werner Hinz. It was one of a series of major propaganda films produced in Nazi Germany attacking the United Kingdom. The film depicts the life of the South African politician Paul Kruger and his eventual defeat by the British during the Boer War.

<i>Marlene</i> (2000 film) Film

Marlene is a 2000 German biopic film directed by Joseph Vilsmaier and starring Katja Flint, Hans Werner Meyer and Herbert Knaup. It follows the life of the German actress Marlene Dietrich and her success in Hollywood.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hanna Ralph</span> German actress

Hanna Ralph was a German stage and film actress whose career began on the stage and in silent film in the 1910s and continued through the early 1950s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Curt Lucas</span> German actor

Curt Lucas was a German stage, film and voice actor.

János Székely was a Hungarian writer and screenwriter. His best-known work is the 1949 autobiographical novel Kísértés (Temptation).

The Ship of Lost Souls or The Ship of Lost Men is a 1929 German silent thriller film directed by Maurice Tourneur and starring Fritz Kortner, Marlene Dietrich and Robin Irvine.


  1. Winkel, Roel Vande; Welch, D. (7 February 2007). Cinema and the Swastika: The International Expansion of Third Reich Cinema. ISBN   9780230289321.
  2. Roman Rocek: Die neun Leben des Alexander Lernet-Holenia. Eine Biographie. Böhlau, Wien u.a. 1997; ISBN   3-205-98713-6. S. 186
  3. Frank Noack: "Jannings. Der erste deutsche Weltstar". Collection Rolf Heyne, München 2012
  4. 1 2 "Herr Emil Jannings A Great Film Actor". Obituaries. The Times. No. 51580. London. 4 January 1950. col E, p. 7.
  5. Fleming, Mike Jr. (3 January 2012). "Susan Orlean: Throw Rin Tin Tin A Bone & Give Back The Pooch's Best Actor Oscar". Deadline Hollywood .
  6. "Walk of Fame Stars-Emil Jannings". Hollywood Chamber of Commerce/Walk of Fame. 25 October 2019.
  7. 1 2 Emil Jannings at IMDb
  8. Welch, David (2001). Propaganda and the German Cinema, 1933-1945. I.B.Tauris. p. 117. ISBN   9781860645204.
  9. Marlene (1984)
  10. Chroniknet.de, Obituary for Emil Jannings (2 January 1950), chroniknet.de]; accessed 26 October 2014.
  11. Deutelbaum, Marshall (1952). "Image" on the art and evolution of the film: Photographs and articles from the magazine of the International Museum of Photography. ISBN   9780486237770.
  12. "Billboard". 14 January 1950.

Further reading