Helmut Dantine

Last updated
Helmut Dantine
Helmut Dantine.jpg
Dantine pictured in 1946
Helmut Guttmann

(1918-10-07)7 October 1918
Vienna, Austria
Died2 May 1982(1982-05-02) (aged 63)
Alma mater UCLA
Years active19401979
  • Gwen Anderson
    (m. 19??; div. 1943)
Charlene Stafford Wrightsman
(m. 1947;div. 1950)
    Nicola "Niki" Schenck
    (m. 1958;div. 1971)

Helmut Dantine (7 October 1918 2 May 1982) was an Austrian-American actor who often played Nazis in thriller films of the 1940s. [1] His best-known performances are perhaps the German pilot in Mrs. Miniver and the desperate refugee in Casablanca , who tries gambling to obtain travel visa money for himself and his wife. As his acting career waned, he turned to producing.


According to one obituary, "He specialized in portrayals of Nazis, sometimes as the handsome but icy SS sadist battling Allied heroes, sometimes as a sympathetic German soldier forced, against his better judgment, to fight". [1]

Early life

Dantine's father, Alfred Guttmann, was the head of the Austrian railway system in Vienna. [2] As a young man, Dantine became involved in Vienna's anti-Nazi movement. In 1938, when he was 19 years old, the Nazis took over Austria during the Anschluss . Dantine was rounded up with hundreds of other opponents of the Third Reich and imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp outside Vienna. [2]

Three months later, using their influence, his parents obtained his release and immediately sent him to California to live with a friend. His father later died in Austria. His mother, Ditha Guttman, was safely brought to the U.S. in 1960 by her son to live in California. Ditha lived there until her death in 1983.[ citation needed ]

Film career

Dantine enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles. His relatives thought he would go into business, but he became interested in theater. He began his U.S. acting career at the Pasadena Playhouse, while running two gas stations in order to pay his expenses. [1] [3] [4] Dantine was spotted by a talent scout from Warner Bros, who signed him to a contract. [4]

Warner Bros

Dantine had uncredited parts in International Squadron (1942) and To Be or Not to Be (1942), before his first credited role in MGM's Mrs. Miniver (1942), playing a downed German pilot captured by the title character (played by Greer Garson). It was a huge hit, and Dantine received much positive attention from being in the film.

In August 1942, Warners signed him to a new acting contract. [5] The studio kept him busy with roles in the World War II films, The Pied Piper (1942), Desperate Journey (1942) fighting Errol Flynn, and The Navy Comes Through (1942).

He had a sympathetic role in Casablanca (1942), as a young refugee trying and failing to earn money via gambling in order to purchase travel visas for him and his wife; he is helped by Humphrey Bogart. Warners began to give Dantine more sizeable roles in their "A" films, Watch on the Rhine (1943), Edge of Darkness (1943), playing a Nazi officer, again fighting Errol Flynn, and Mission to Moscow (1943), playing a sympathetic Russian.

Dantine's good looks caused him to receive a lot of fan mail and, in the words of one profile, "the studio began to realise it had something else besides a Hollywood Hitlerite on its hands". [4] Warners announced they had bought Night Action by Norman Krasna as a vehicle for Dantine, [6] but the film appears not to have been made. Instead, he had a large role playing the villain in Northern Pursuit (1943), as a Nazi running loose in northern Canada fighting Errol Flynn again. [7]

Warner Bros. later cast him in a sympathetic role in Passage to Marseille (1944), and he was one of several stars in Hollywood Canteen (1944). In 1944, exhibitors voting for "Stars of Tomorrow", picked Dantine at number 10. [8]

Warners gave him a sympathetic lead in Hotel Berlin (1945), as the leader of the German underground. He was once again a Nazi on-the-run in Escape in the Desert (1945), a remake of The Petrified Forest . His last role for Warners was in the film noir, Shadow of a Woman (1946). He then left the studio.


Dantine was the lead in another film noir Whispering City (1947) for Eagle-Lion Films.

In 1947, he co-starred with Tallulah Bankhead in the Broadway play The Eagle Has Two Heads , replacing Marlon Brando. According to Jean Cocteau, Bankhead made alterations to the play, and the production was a flop, lasting only 29 performances. [9]

Dantine was in No Time for Comedy on stage in Washington [10] and also performed in the 1950 Broadway play Parisienne. [11] He was also in Arms and the Man at Cambridge Summer Playhouse. [12]

Dantine starred in the live but short-lived television series Shadow of the Cloak during the 1951–52 season. He had the lead in a B-movie, Guerrilla Girl (1953), then had a small role in the musical, Call Me Madam (1953), He was supported by Patricia Neal while starring in the British science fiction film Stranger from Venus (1953).

Dantine acted in the 1956 film production of Tolstoy's War and Peace as Dolokhov, a Cossack officer assigned to harrying the retreat of France's Napoleonic army from Moscow. He also had a small role in Alexander the Great (1956), Kean: Genius or Scoundrel (1957), and The Story of Mankind (1957). He played the lead role in Hell on Devil's Island (1957).

Dantine directed the 1958 military aviation film Thundering Jets , starring Rex Reason, and continued to act in the films Fräulein (1958) and Tempest (1958).


As his acting career wound down, he became a vice-president of Hollywood mogul Joseph Schenck's company, Schenck Enterprises, in 1959; [13] Schenck was his wife's uncle.

He later went to work as producer with Robert L. Lippert Productions and then as president of Hand Enterprises Inc.

Among Dantine's later screen appearances, there were three films for which he was the executive producer: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) and The Killer Elite (1975), both directed by Sam Peckinpah, and The Wilby Conspiracy (1975). He was also in The Fifth Musketeer (1979) and Tarzan the Ape Man (1981).

Personal life

Before graduating from UCLA, he married fellow theater student Gwen Anderson; they divorced in 1943. [13]

In 1943, he was in a car accident and accused of hit-and-run. [14] In January 1945 he was arrested for biting Ida Lupino's assistant on the arm during a New Year's Eve party; after apologizing to the assistant, he was released. [15]

He became an American citizen in April 1944. [16]

In 1947, he married Charlene Stafford Wrightsman (1927–1963), [13] the younger daughter of Charles Bierer Wrightsman, an oil millionaire whose collection of French furniture and decorative arts fills several galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. [17] The couple had a son, Dana Wrightsman Dantine, before divorcing in 1950. [13] His ex-wife claimed Dantine was after her father's money. [18]

In 1958, Dantine married Nicola Schenck, daughter of Nicholas Schenck, one of the founders of Loews. His wife acted under the name Niki Dantine; the couple had three children: Dita, Nicola, and Shelley. In 1971, Helmut and Niki were divorced. [13] [19]


On 2 May 1982, Helmut Dantine died in Beverly Hills of a heart attack at age 63. [1] [13]

Partial filmography

Related Research Articles

<i>Casablanca</i> (film) 1942 American romance film

Casablanca is a 1942 American romantic drama film directed by Michael Curtiz, and starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid. Filmed and set during World War II, it focuses on an American expatriate (Bogart) who must choose between his love for a woman (Bergman) and helping her husband (Henreid), a Czechoslovak resistance leader, escape from the Vichy-controlled city of Casablanca to continue his fight against the Germans. The screenplay is based on Everybody Comes to Rick's, an unproduced stage play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. The supporting cast features Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Dooley Wilson.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Paul Henreid</span> Austrian-American actor and film director (1908–1992)

Paul Henreid was an Austrian actor, director, producer, and writer. He is best remembered for two film roles; Victor Laszlo in Casablanca and Jerry Durrance in Now, Voyager, both released between 1942 and 1943.

<i>Edge of Darkness</i> (1943 film) 1943 film by Lewis Milestone

Edge of Darkness is a 1943 World War II film directed by Lewis Milestone that features Errol Flynn, Ann Sheridan, and Walter Huston. The feature is based on a script written by Robert Rossen which was adapted from the 1942 novel The Edge of Darkness by William Woods.

<i>Mission to Moscow</i> 1943 propaganda film by Michael Curtiz

Mission to Moscow is a 1943 propaganda film directed by Michael Curtiz, based on the 1941 book by the former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, Joseph E. Davies.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Craig Stevens (actor)</span> American actor (1918–2000)

Craig Stevens was an American film and television actor, best known for his starring role on television as private detective Peter Gunn from 1958 to 1961.

Norman Krasna was an American screenwriter, playwright, producer, and film director who penned screwball comedies centered on a case of mistaken identity. Krasna directed three films during a forty-year career in Hollywood. He garnered four Academy Award screenwriting nominations, winning once for 1943's Princess O'Rourke, which he also directed.

<i>Mrs. Miniver</i> 1942 film by William Wyler

Mrs. Miniver is a 1942 American romantic war drama film directed by William Wyler, and starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. Inspired by the 1940 novel Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther, it shows how the life of an unassuming British housewife in rural England is affected by World War II. Produced and distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, its supporting cast includes Teresa Wright, Dame May Whitty, Reginald Owen, Henry Travers, Richard Ney and Henry Wilcoxon.

<i>Hotel Berlin</i> 1945 film

Hotel Berlin is an American drama film set in Berlin near the close of World War II, made by Warner Bros. in late 1944 to early 1945. Directed by Peter Godfrey, it stars Faye Emerson, Helmut Dantine, Raymond Massey and Andrea King. It is based on the novel Hotel Berlin by Vicki Baum, a sequel to Menschen im Hotel, which was itself adapted to film as Grand Hotel (1932).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gil Perkins</span> Australian film and television actor

Gilbert Vincent Perkins was an Australian film and television actor.

<i>Passage to Marseille</i> 1944 film by Michael Curtiz

Passage to Marseille, also known as Message to Marseille, is a 1944 American war film made by Warner Brothers, directed by Michael Curtiz. The screenplay was by Casey Robinson and Jack Moffitt from the novel Sans Patrie by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. The music score was by Max Steiner and the cinematography was by James Wong Howe.

Henry Rowland was an American film and television actor. He is remembered for his role as Count Kolinko in the Zorro television series.

<i>Northern Pursuit</i> 1943 film by Raoul Walsh

Northern Pursuit is a 1943 American World War II film directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Errol Flynn as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) who tries to uncover a Nazi plot against the Allied war effort. The film was set in Canada during the early years of the war.

<i>Gentleman Jim</i> (film) 1942 film by Raoul Walsh

Gentleman Jim is a 1942 film directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Errol Flynn as heavyweight boxing champion James J. Corbett (1866–1933). The supporting cast includes Alexis Smith, Jack Carson, Alan Hale, William Frawley, and Ward Bond as John L. Sullivan. The movie was based upon Corbett's 1894 autobiography, The Roar of the Crowd. The role was one of Flynn's favorites.

Richard Ryen was a Hungarian-born actor who was expelled from Germany by the Nazis prior to World War II.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ludwig Stössel</span> Hungarian actor (1883–1973)

Ludwig Stössel was an actor born in Lockenhaus, now Austria, then Hungary. He was one of many Jewish actors and actresses who were forced to flee Germany when the Nazis came to power in 1933.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Louis V. Arco</span> Austrian actor

Louis V. Arco was an Austrian stage and film actor whose career began in the late 1910s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gregory Gaye</span> Russian-American actor (1900–1993)

Gregory Gaye was a Russian-American character actor. The son of an actor, he was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. He was the uncle of actor George Gaynes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dan Seymour</span> American character actor

Dan Seymour was an American character actor who frequently played villains in Warner Bros. films. He appeared in several Humphrey Bogart films, including Casablanca (1942), To Have and Have Not (1944) and Key Largo (1948).

<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.

Gerald Wilson Oliver Smith was an English-born actor who spent most of his career in the United States, both in New York City as a stage actor and in the Hollywood film industry.


  1. 1 2 3 4 "Helmut Dantine, Film Actor; Often Played Arrogant Nazi". The New York Times . UPI. 6 May 1982.
  2. 1 2 Harmetz, Aljean (2002). The Making of Casablanca. Bogart, Bergman, and World War II. New York: Hyperion. p. 211. ISBN   978-0786888146.
  3. Helmut Dantine graduate of Pasadena stage (1943, May 03). Los Angeles Times
  4. 1 2 3 Goodman, Ezra (February 13, 1944). "OUT OF THE FRYING PAN". The New York Times. Retrieved May 23, 2020.
  5. "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD" . The New York Times. August 5, 1942.
  6. "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD". The New York Times. October 27, 1943.
  7. A film Nazi on his way to stardom H. H. (1943, Jun 06) The Washington Post
  8. "SAGA OF THE HIGH SEAS". The Mercury . Hobart, Tasmania. 11 November 1944. p. 9. Retrieved 24 April 2012 via National Library of Australia.
  9. Jean Cocteau. Past Tense: Diaries: vol.1; translated by Richard Howard. (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1987) p. 36
  10. R.L.C. (1949, Aug 02). Edith Atwater, Helmut Dantine are effective in Behrman play. The Washington Post
  11. "Parisienne". IBDB.com. Internet Broadway Database.
  12. Helmut Dantine starring with Beatrice Pearson. E. F. (June 28, 1950). The Christian Science Monitor
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Actor-producer Helmut Dantine dead at 63". The Miami News . Associated Press. 6 May 1982.[ dead link ]
  14. Actor Helmut Dantine Accused in Hit-Run Case. (August 13, 1943). Los Angeles Times
  15. Dantine freed as he apologizes to actress' aide. (January 3, 1945). Los Angeles Times
  16. Nisei soldier given 15-year prison term. (April 15, 1944). Los Angeles Times
  17. Helmut Dantine weds. (1948, ). The Washington Post
  18. Heiress says actor mate sought money. (May 20, 1950). The Washington Post
  19. Kennedy, D. (May 10, 1982). Political activities as youth lent credibility to film roles. Los Angeles Times