Paul Wegener

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Paul Wegener
Paul Wegener 2.jpg
Paul Wegener
Born(1874-12-11)11 December 1874
Died13 September 1948(1948-09-13) (aged 73)

Paul Wegener (11 December 1874 – 13 September 1948) was a German actor, writer and film director known for his pioneering role in German expressionist cinema.

German Expressionism consisted of a number of related creative movements in Germany before the First World War that reached a peak in Berlin during the 1920s. These developments in Germany were part of a larger Expressionist movement in north and central European culture in fields such as architecture, dance, painting, sculpture, as well as cinema. This article deals primarily with developments in German Expressionist cinema before and immediately after World War I.


Stage and early film career

At the age of 20, Wegener decided to end his law studies and concentrate on acting, touring the provinces before joining Max Reinhardt's acting troupe in 1906. In 1912, he turned to the new medium of motion pictures and appeared in the 1913 version of The Student of Prague . It was while making this film that he first heard the old Jewish legend of the Golem and proceeded to adapt the story to film, co-directing and co-writing the script with Henrik Galeen. His first version of the tale The Golem (1915, now lost) was a success and firmly established Wegener's reputation. In 1917, he made a parody of the story called Der Golem und die Tänzerin, but it was his reworking of the tale, The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920) which stands as one of the classics of German cinema and helped to cement Wegener's place in cinematic history.

<i>The Student of Prague</i> (1913 film) 1913 film

The Student of Prague is a 1913 German silent horror film. It is loosely based on "William Wilson", a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, the poem The December Night by Alfred de Musset, and Faust. The film was remade in 1926, under the same title The Student of Prague. Other remakes were produced in 1935 and 2004. The film stars Paul Wegener in his film debut. It is generally deemed to be the first independent film in history.

Golem animated anthropomorphic being

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Later film career

In 1926 he appeared in his only Hollywood film, Rex Ingram's The Magician , in which he played the Aleister Crowley-esque Oliver Haddo in an adaptation of Somerset Maugham's story, followed by The Strange Case of Captain Ramper in 1927. In 1928, he starred alongside Brigitte Helm in his old collaborator Henrik Galeen's adaptation of Hanns Heinz Ewers' Alraune , playing the Frankenstein-like Professor ten Brinken.

Rex Ingram (director) Irish film director

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<i>The Magician</i> (1926 film) 1926 film by Rex Ingram

The Magician is a 1926 American silent horror film directed by Rex Ingram about a magician's efforts to acquire the blood of a maiden for his experiments to create life. It was adapted by Ingram from the novel The Magician by W. Somerset Maugham. It stars Alice Terry, Paul Wegener and Iván Petrovich. Critic Carlos Clarens wrote that it was "perhaps the most elusive of lost films." However, since the time Clarens wrote this, various prints of the film have surfaced. Some have screened at independent movie festivals from 1993 onwards, and the film has also been shown on Turner Classic Movies. It remained commercially unavailable until being released on DVD in the Warner Brothers Archive Collection in 2011.

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In 1932 Wegener made his sound debut in Richard Oswald's black comedy/horror film Unheimliche Geschichten , in which he made fun of himself as well as the whole expressionist movie genre.[ citation needed ]

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Life under the Nazi regime

Wegener acting as Nathan the Wise with Gerda Muller (standing) and Agathe Poschmann in Berlin Fotothek df pk 0000018 030 Paul Wegener in der Titelrolle, Agathe Poschmann als Recha, Kai Moller als Sulta.jpg
Wegener acting as Nathan the Wise with Gerda Müller (standing) and Agathe Poschmann in Berlin

When in 1933 the National Socialists came to political prominence, theatre companies were disbanded and many of the actors and directors were arrested, persecuted or exiled. However Wegener became an actor of the state and appeared in Nazi propaganda films such as Mein Leben für Irland in 1941 and Kolberg , a 1944–45 propaganda film epic about the Napoleonic Wars. [2] In reality he made an anti-Nazi stance by donating money to resistance groups, hiding vulnerable people in his apartment and writing anti-Hitler slogans on walls.[ citation needed ] As the war closed Wegener was one of the first to rebuild cultural life in Berlin. He appeared in the title role in a production of Lessing's "Nathan the Wise" at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin in September 1945. [1] Despite ill-health he became president of an organisation to improve standards for its inhabitants.

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Personal life

He was married six times, thirdly and sixthly to the actress Lyda Salmonova (his co-star on several occasions), who became his widow. His fourth wife was Greta Schröder (previously married to the dancer Ernst Matray), who had portrayed the leading lady in F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922). The geographer Alfred Wegener was his cousin and the physicist Prof. Peter P. Wegener was his son.

Late career and death

Wegener's last film was Der Grosse Mandarin (1948). In July 1948 he reprised his old role as Nathan the Wise at the Deutschen Theatre, but in the very first scene he collapsed and the curtain was brought down. Two months later, on 13 September 1948, he died in his sleep.

Selected filmography



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  1. 1 2 photo, from the Berlin production, Retrieved 27 July 2015

Further reading