Oskar Werner

Early life

Born Oskar Josef Bschließmayer in Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

, Werner spent much of his childhood in the care of his grandmother, who entertained him with stories about the Burgtheater
The Burgtheater , originally known as K.K. Theater an der Burg, then until 1918 as the K.K. Hofburgtheater, is the Austrian National Theatre in Vienna and one of the most important German language theatres in the world.The Burgtheater was created in 1741 and has become known as "die Burg" by the...

, the Austrian state theatre, where he was accepted at the age of eighteen by Lothar Müthel
Lothar Müthel
Lothar Max Müthel was a German stage and film actor and director.Müthel was born in Berlin, Germany where he attended the acting school of Max Reinhardt, Schauspielschule, Berlin....

. He was the youngest person ever to receive this recognition. He made his theatre debut using the stage name Oskar Werner in October 1941.

In December 1941, Werner was drafted into the Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

. As a pacifist
Pacifism is the opposition to war and violence. The term "pacifism" was coined by the French peace campaignerÉmile Arnaud and adopted by other peace activists at the tenth Universal Peace Congress inGlasgow in 1901.- Definition :...

 and staunch opponent of Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

, he was determined to avoid advancement in the military.

"So many officers had been killed on the Russian front that they needed replacements desperately. And, I was for them the embodiment of the Aryan type. But I am a pacifist. I didn't want any responsibility, so I behaved stupidly. I fell from my horse and made mistakes reading the range finders on the cannon, and finally they kicked me out of training school."

He was assigned to peeling potatoes and cleaning latrines instead of being sent to the Eastern Front
Eastern Front (World War II)
The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre of World War II between the European Axis powers and co-belligerent Finland against the Soviet Union, Poland, and some other Allies which encompassed Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945...

. In 1944, he secretly married actress Elisabeth Kallina, who was half-Jewish. They immediately had a daughter, Eleanore. That December, he deserted the Wehrmacht and fled with his wife and daughter to the Wienerwald
The Vienna Woods are forested highlands that form the northeastern foothills of the Northern Limestone Alps in the states of Lower Austria and Vienna. The long and wide hill range is heavily wooded and a popular recreation area with the Viennese....

, where they remained in hiding until the end of the war.

"The artillery fire was constant for two and a half days. The shells hit all around our little hut and it was shaking like a leaf. ...We knew that to go out there would be suicide, but it was better than to have to wait for execution."

Early career

Werner returned to the Burgtheater, and also acted in productions at the Raimund Theater
Raimund Theater
The Raimund Theater is a theatre in the Mariahilf district of Vienna, Austria.Named after the Austrian dramatist Ferdinand Raimund, the theatre was built by an association of Viennese citizens and opened on 28 November 1893 with Raimund's play Die gefesselte Phantasie...

 and the Theater in der Josefstadt
Theater in der Josefstadt
The Theater in der Josefstadt is a theater in Vienna in the eighth district of Josefstadt. It was founded in 1788 and is the oldest still performing theater in Vienna...

, frequently playing character roles. He made his film debut in Der Engel mit der Posaune, directed by Karl Hartl
Karl Hartl
Karl Hartl was an Austrian film director.-Life:Born in Vienna, Hartl began his film career at the Austrian Sascha-Film company of Alexander Kolowrat and from 1919 was assistant to the Hungarian director Alexander Korda...

, in 1948. The following year he portrayed Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of...

's nephew Karl in Eroica
Eroica (1949 film)
Eroica is a 1949 Austrian film depicting composer Ludwig van Beethoven's life and work. The film is directed by Walter Kolm-Veltée, produced by Guido Bagier with Walter Kolm-Veltée and written by Walter Kolm-Veltée with Franz Tassié...


In 1950, Werner journeyed to the United Kingdom to reprise the role he had played in Der Engel mit der Posaune in its English-language version, The Angel with the Trumpet, under the direction of Anthony Bushell
Anthony Bushell
Anthony Bushell was an English film actor and director, who appeared in 56 films between 1929 and 1961. He also appeared on and directed various British TV series such as Danger Man.-Early life:...

. He and his wife divorced at about this time but remained friends. He appeared in a few more German/Austrian films before going to Hollywood for a lead role in the 20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation — also known as 20th Century Fox, or simply 20th or Fox — is one of the six major American film studios...

 war film
War film
War films are a film genre concerned with warfare, usually about naval, air or land battles, sometimes focusing instead on prisoners of war, covert operations, military training or other related subjects. At times war films focus on daily military or civilian life in wartime without depicting battles...

 Decision Before Dawn
Decision Before Dawn
Decision Before Dawn is a 1951 American war film directed by Anatole Litvak, starring Richard Basehart, Oskar Werner, and Hans Christian Blech. It tells the story of the American Army using potentially unreliable German prisoners of war to gather intelligence in the closing days of World War II...

. When the subsequent roles promised by the studio failed to materialize, he returned to Europe and settled in Triesen
Triesen is the third largest of Liechtenstein's municipalities. It contains several historic churches dating from the fifteenth century. It also has a weaving mill from 1863 that's considered a historical monument. The population is around 4,600....

, Liechtenstein
The Principality of Liechtenstein is a doubly landlocked alpine country in Central Europe, bordered by Switzerland to the west and south and by Austria to the east. Its area is just over , and it has an estimated population of 35,000. Its capital is Vaduz. The biggest town is Schaan...

 in a home he designed and built with a friend. He returned to the stage and performed in Hamlet
The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601...

, Danton's Death
Danton's Death
Danton's Death was the first play written by Georg Büchner, set during the French Revolution.-History:Georg Büchner wrote his works in the period between Romanticism and Realism in the so-called Vormärz era in German history and literature...

, Henry IV
Henry IV, Part 1
Henry IV, Part 1 is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written no later than 1597. It is the second play in Shakespeare's tetralogy dealing with the successive reigns of Richard II, Henry IV , and Henry V...

, Henry V
Henry V (play)
Henry V is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to be written in approximately 1599. Its full titles are The Cronicle History of Henry the Fifth and The Life of Henry the Fifth...

, Torquato Tasso
Torquato Tasso (play)
Torquato Tasso is a play by the German dramatist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe about the sixteenth-century Italian poet, Torquato Tasso. The play was first conceived in Weimar in 1780 but most of it was written during his two years in Italy, between 1786 and 1788. He completed the play in...

, and Becket
Becket or The Honor of God is a play written in French by Jean Anouilh. It is a depiction of the conflict between Thomas Becket and King Henry II of England leading to Becket's murder in 1170. It contains many historical inaccuracies, which the author acknowledged.-Background:Anouilh's...

, among others. In 1954 he married Anne Power, the daughter of French actress Annabella and adopted daughter of Tyrone Power
Tyrone Power
Tyrone Edmund Power, Jr. , usually credited as Tyrone Power and known sometimes as Ty Power, was an American film and stage actor who appeared in dozens of films from the 1930s to the 1950s, often in swashbuckler roles or romantic leads such as in The Mark of Zorro, Blood and Sand, The Black Swan,...


After a period of inactivity in films, Werner appeared in five in 1955, among them Mozart
Mozart (1955 film)
Mozart is a 1955 Austrian drama film directed by Karl Hartl. It was entered into the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.-Cast:* Oskar Werner - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart* Johanna Matz - Annie Gottlieb...

, in which he played the title role, and Lola Montès
Lola Montès
Lola Montès is an historical film, and the last film directed by Max Ophüls. The film is based loosely on the life of the 19th Century cabaret dancer Lola Montez — portrayed by Martine Carol — and tells the story of her numerous affairs, most notably with Franz Liszt and Ludwig I, King of Bavaria,...

, directed by Max Ophüls
Max Ophüls
Maximillian Oppenheimer — known as Max Ophüls — was an influential German-born film director who worked in Germany , France , the United States , and France again...

. It wasn't until 1962, when he appeared in Jules and Jim
Jules and Jim
Jules and Jim is a 1962 French film directed by François Truffaut based on Henri-Pierre Roché's 1953 semi-autobiographical novel about his relationship with writer Franz Hessel and his wife, Helen Grund....

, that he began to draw critical acclaim and international recognition.

Later career

Werner's portrayal of the philosophical Dr. Schumann in the 1965 film Ship of Fools
Ship of Fools (film)
Ship of Fools is a 1965 film drama which tells the overlapping stories of several passengers aboard an ocean liner bound to Germany from Mexico in 1933...

won him the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
The New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor is one of the awards given by the New York Film Critics Circle to honor the finest achievements in filmmaking....

 and nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actor
Academy Award for Best Actor
Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role is one of the Academy Awards of Merit presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize an actor who has delivered an outstanding performance while working within the film industry...

, the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama, and the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actor
BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Best Actor in a Leading Role is a British Academy Film award presented annually by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts to recognize an actor who has delivered an outstanding leading performance in a film.-Superlatives:...

. His portrayal of Jewish East German spy Fiedler in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (film)
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a 1965 film adaptation of the novel of the same name by John le Carré. It was adapted by Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper. The film stars Richard Burton as Alec Leamas, along with Claire Bloom, Oskar Werner, Peter van Eyck, Sam Wanamaker, Rupert Davies and Cyril Cusack...

(1965) won him the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture and his second BAFTA nomination. In 1966, he played book-burning fireman Guy Montag
Guy Montag
Guy Montag is the protagonist in Ray Bradbury's dystopian 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451. He is depicted living in a futuristic town where he works as a fireman whose job is to burn books.-Montag's role in the storyline:...

 in François Truffaut
François Truffaut
François Roland Truffaut was an influential film critic and filmmaker and one of the founders of the French New Wave. In a film career lasting over a quarter of a century, he remains an icon of the French film industry. He was also a screenwriter, producer, and actor working on over twenty-five...

's film adaptation of the cult-classic Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury
Ray Douglas Bradbury is an American fantasy, horror, science fiction, and mystery writer. Best known for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 and for the science fiction stories gathered together as The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man , Bradbury is one of the most celebrated among 20th...

. He played an orchestra conductor in Interlude
Interlude (1968 film)
Interlude is a 1968 British drama film directed by Kevin Billington.-Plot summary:A famous conductor gives an interview to a pretty young reporter. He speaks a bit too frankly and finds he's given himself an unwanted sabbatical from conducting...

and a Vatican
Roman Curia
The Roman Curia is the administrative apparatus of the Holy See and the central governing body of the entire Catholic Church, together with the Pope...

 priest loosely based on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ was a French philosopher and Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist and took part in the discovery of both Piltdown Man and Peking Man. Teilhard conceived the idea of the Omega Point and developed Vladimir Vernadsky's concept of Noosphere...

 in The Shoes of the Fisherman
The Shoes of the Fisherman
The Shoes of the Fisherman is a 1963 novel by the Australian author Morris West, as well as a 1968 film based on the novel.The book reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for adult fiction on 30 June 1963, and became the #1 bestselling novel in the United States for that year, according...

in 1968, the same year he divorced Power.

In the early 1970s, Werner returned to the stage and spent time traveling in Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

, Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, Malta
Malta , officially known as the Republic of Malta , is a Southern European country consisting of an archipelago situated in the centre of the Mediterranean, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya, with Gibraltar to the west and Alexandria to the east.Malta covers just over in...

, France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, and the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. He appeared in an episode of Columbo in 1975, and the following year made his final screen appearance in Voyage of the Damned
Voyage of the Damned
Voyage of the Damned is the title of a 1974 book written by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts, which was the basis of a 1976 drama film with the same title.The story was inspired by true events concerning the fate of the MS St...

, for which he received another Golden Globe nomination.

Werner was an alcoholic
Alcoholism is a broad term for problems with alcohol, and is generally used to mean compulsive and uncontrolled consumption of alcoholic beverages, usually to the detriment of the drinker's health, personal relationships, and social standing...

, which was a deciding factor in the decline of his health and career. His last stage appearance was in a 1983 production of The Prince of Homburg, and he made his last public appearance at the Mozart Hall in Salzburg
-Population development:In 1935, the population significantly increased when Salzburg absorbed adjacent municipalities. After World War II, numerous refugees found a new home in the city. New residential space was created for American soldiers of the postwar Occupation, and could be used for...

 ten days prior to his death. On October 22, 1984, Werner cancelled a reading at the Hotel Europäischer Hof in Marburg
Marburg is a city in the state of Hesse, Germany, on the River Lahn. It is the main town of the Marburg-Biedenkopf district and its population, as of March 2010, was 79,911.- Founding and early history :...

 because he was feeling ill. He was found dead of a heart attack
Myocardial infarction
Myocardial infarction or acute myocardial infarction , commonly known as a heart attack, results from the interruption of blood supply to a part of the heart, causing heart cells to die...

 the following morning, two days after François Truffaut
François Truffaut
François Roland Truffaut was an influential film critic and filmmaker and one of the founders of the French New Wave. In a film career lasting over a quarter of a century, he remains an icon of the French film industry. He was also a screenwriter, producer, and actor working on over twenty-five...

 had died. He is buried in his adopted country of Liechtenstein.

External links

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