Anton Walbrook

antonwalbrook.co.uk · a fan website

Biography

Biographical bits from various sources

NB This information hasn’t been updated in a while and is likely to contain some errors! Check the Documents section for (mostly German language) PDFs of biographical material.

The Life and Death of Anton Walbrook

Anton was born on November 19th, 1896 (or 1900), in Vienna, Austria. He died August 9th, 1967 in Garatshausen, Germany.

NOTE: Anton died on the same day Joe Orton was murdered by his lover Kenneth Halliwell, and is bured in Hamstead (St. John’s Church, London, NW3 1NU) just a walk away from where Orton was cremated, in Golder’s Green.

He lived in Hampstead, London - 69 Frognal, NW3 6YA.

“Anton Walbrook is buried in the graveyard of St John’s Church (in the “new extension”, to be precise – on the right hand side of Church Row as you face the Church). His grave is within a few feet of Kay Kendall’s with Hugh Gaitskell and Herbert Beerbohm Tree as near neighbours.” As are John Constable (painter of some note), George du Maurier (cartoonist), John Harrison (Inventor of the marine chronometer), Norman (Richard) Shaw (architect of New Scotland Yard)

Career

From Emeric Pressburger – The Life and Death of a Screenwriter by Kevin Macdonald (Faber and Faber, 1994)

“The role of Theo caused fewer problems. The part had been written for Anton Walbrook, whose emigre background and sympathy for Emeric’s political views made him the writer’s screen alter ego. Born into a celebrated family of acrobats and circus performers in Vienna, Adolf Wohlbruck rose to prominence at Ufa in films such as Walzerkrieg and Viktor and Viktoria. Half-Jewish and fervently anti-Nazi, he moved into exile in the mid-Thirties, living sporadically in Austria and America before settling in Britain in 1937, where he came to represent all the sophistication and cosmopolitan charm of the European actor. His mastery of English was remarkable and enabled him to appear on the stage from 1939 onwards, something few emigre actors accomplished.. He always brought an English teacher – his English governess from childhood – to the set to help him with pronunciation. Her name was Edith Williams – perhaps a model for the Edith of the movie?”

‘Walbrook was one of the few actors whose work actually improved with exile. His screen persona, like his English, was always perfectly poised and controlled (a consequence perhaps of the constant strain he felt hiding his homosexuality), with only a hint at the great sublimated energy that he seemed to hold taut just below his skin. In performance it only rarely broke loose, as it did during the ‘we are not your brothers’ speech in 49th Parallel, or later in his role as Lermontov in The Red Shoes.’

[AW's contribution to scripts]

”No, no, I don’t want it like that’, he would say.’ [...] according to Shearer it was only Anton Walbrook who ever persuaded Emeric to change lines, ‘because he trusted Anton more than any of us’.’

“Undoubtedly, the finest of the star performances came from Anton Walbrook as Peter, the leader of the Hutterites. ‘I am fond of 49th Parallel for 49 parallel reasons,’ said Emeric, ‘and the Hutterite sequence is my favourite in any of our films . . .’ Everyone on the floor was absolutely electrified when Walbrook delivered – in one stunning take – his long passionate speech in reply to the Nazis:

[Truncated extract from book.]

Our Germany is dead today. We hold her image in our hearts. Our children grow up against new backgrounds, new horizons. They face bitter winters and fierce summers. Their games are Canadian games and they are free to run and laugh without a Jugenbundesleiter… [my italics]‘

[Note the diversion from the filmed version - the electrifying "...singing battlesongs!" is not here. Could this be an Anton contribution? ]

Social Life & Sexuality

From “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp”, by A.L. Kennedy in the BFI Film Classics series (ISBN 0851705685)

“..Pressburger knew Walbrook from their Ufa days in Germany. At that time Imre Pressburger had changed his name to the Germanic Emerich Pressburger and Walbrook was still Adolf Wohlbruck, a respected screen actor. Half-Jewish, a homosexual and a man of conscience, Walbrook was vehemently anti-Nazi. By 1939 he was establishing himself as an English-speaking actor in Britain..” (p.60)

From “Secret Dreams: A Biography of Michael Redgrave” by Alan Strachan, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (ISBN: 0297607642)

“Powell was [...] uncomfortable about homosexuality; Walbrook was gay and he and Michael [Redgrave] had ‘Foff’ LeGrand in common* (a serious relationship for Walbrook, a fling for Michael). Powell became, curiously and erroneously convinced that ‘Anton and Mike were in love with each other’.”

“[Michael's] friendship with Walbrook, a civilised, ironic and melancholy man…”

*=["Frederick F. LeGrand (known as 'Foff'), one of three strikingly handsome and musical sons of a Swedish colonel, all educated at Cranleigh, though Foff has left before Michael's arrival. [Foff was...] blond and often melancholy, a talented painter as well as a pianist…”]

From “The Empress of Ireland” by Christopher Robbins (memoir of Irish director Brian Desmond Hurst). Published by Scribner (ISBN: 0743220722)

“The day before we started shooting, the authorities took away Walbrook’s car and radio, because he was German [sic], and sent his Norwegian boyfriend to Canada. On top of this poor Walbrook had a boil on his bum throughout the shoot. In one scene he had to say, “I’m handsome, full of charm and a wonderful musician.” I thought he was doing this in an extremely feminine way and tried every word I could think of to explain this to him diplomatically… Finally, I lost patience: “Anton, it’s just too damn sissy!”

BDH also states that AW had been a concert pianist.

Politics

From http://www.mishalov.com/Baarova.html

“LIDA BAAROVÁ…was a Czech film star greatly admired by Dr Josef Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda… In 1949…Anton Walbrook loudly withdrew from a film when required to appear in a scene with her.”

From Emeric Pressburger – The Life and Death of a Screenwriter by Kevin Macdonald (Faber and Faber, 1994)

The Churchill Incident

“At the same time as appearing in Blimp, Anton Walbrook was also contracted to perform in Watch on the Rhine in the West End. Only on matinee days did this cause real inconvenience, when the actor had to be whisked away by waiting car at noon on the dot. One evening during the play’s interval, there was a knock on Walbrook’s dressing-room door. There stood Winston Churchill, redfaced with anger. The Prime Minister proceeded to berate the actor for taking part in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp: `What’s this supposed to mean? I suppose you regard it as good propaganda for Britain?’ To which Walbrook replied: `No people in the world other than the English would have had the courage, in the midst of war, to tell the people such unvarnished truth.’”

 49th Parallel [Walbrook was] “a fervent anti-Nazi who immediately donated his £1000 fee to charity”

From “Secret Dreams: A Biography of Michael Redgrave” by Alan Strachan, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (ISBN: 0297607642)

[On set of Oh...Rosalinda!!!] “Anton Walbrook, who had left Germany in the early 1930s, would not speak to either Rothenburger (extremely tempremental) or Oskar Sima (playing Frosch, in the film a signally unfunny interpreter), both of whom he claimed had been Nazis[...].

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