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Submitted by Neal Lofthouse
Interview with Anton Walbrook
by Brenda Cross
The Picturegoer, week ending February 14th, 1948
The background of this Continental actor is essentially one of the theatre, for he comes of a German family which includes generations of actors.
His father broke slightly with tradition and became a famous clown and was well known to all the great stage producers of his time.
Anton went to a monastery school, and was an apt, serious pupil.
While still a student, he had vague ideas of becoming a monk, but this sounded like heresy to some of his relatives, and they were relieved when he gradually grew out of the idea, and turned towards the family profession of acting.
A distant relative was a novelist, and young Anton eagerly read his novels, hiding them from his mama, who would have forbidden them on the grounds that they were not books for children.
Fired by ambition Anton wrote his first- and last- novel at the age of fifteen. The next year he began writing poetry- "Who doesn't?" - but his literary outburst died away when the need came to study hard at Reinhardt's school of acting.
This was the profession that came naturally to him. Shakespeare, Shaw, comedy, drama- Anton went ahead making a reputation in Germany and Austria.
Then came his introduction to to film work. At first it seemed as though he would never succeed, for his face was simply not photogenic. Then a Swiss producer advised him to grow a moustache.
"Go on. It costs you nothing" he urged when Anton Walbrook was dubious.
Oddly enough, it did the trick, and the Walbrook face, complete with moustache, soon became familiar to picturegoers.
He established himself as a film star in a long string of Continental sucesses. "Masquerade" with Paula Wessly was the first to gain him recognition in this country, where the film was well received in the small Continental cinemas and is still revived.
He made two more important films, "The Student of Prague" and "Michael Strogoff" and when RKO-Radio in Hollywood negotiated to make an English-speaking version of this latter film, he went over there to star in it.
This American visit came at an unhappy period of Anton Walbrook's life. More and more he hated the encroachment upon artistic culture by the Nazis in Germany, and he had suffered at seeing those of his friends who were Jewish being taken to concentration camps or being forced to leave the country.
In America his shyness and un-happiness were taken at more than their face value.
No one seemed to appreciate the simple fact that he was nervous at learning english; awkward in case he misunderstood people, and in case they misunderstood him: eager to make friends, but unable to do so until he could speak and think in their language.
It was at this time that he anglicized his name from its original Adolf Wohlbrook to Anton Walbrook.
The American "Michael Strogoff" pleased nobody, neither the critics nor the cinema public.
Still less did it please its star, and Anton Walbrook after stupefying the RKO-Radio executives by announcing bluntly it was not such a good film as the Continental original, left the States two days after completing the film, and arrived in Britain.
Incidentally, since he made a name for himself, "Michael Strogoff" has often been revived.
But in those days Anton Walbrook had no knowledge of the future, and he came to England with two resolves, firstly to settle here for good, and secondly to go on acting.
Herbert Wilcox was then casting the first of the two famous Queen Victoria films, and it seemed that Anton Walbrook was a "natural" for the part of the Prince Consort. [Victoria the Great (1937)]
"Dear Albert is SO handsome", wrote the young Queen in her private diary, and Anton Walbrook, his hair tastefully curled, his Viennese accent delightfully romantic, gave a performance that at once established him in this country.
But after playing the Prince Consort again in "Sixty Years a Queen", [Sixty Glorious Years (1938), aka Queen of Destiny (1938)] Anton Walbrook perversly and ungratefully became tired of Albert, whose earnest shadow seemed destined now to follow him wherever he went.
Anton Walbrook has never made more than one film a year. The rest of the time he likes to divide between stage plays and holidays.
It was during the tour of Noel Coward's "Design for Living" with Diana Wynyard that he came across Patrick Hamilton's "Gaslight".
"It's a wonderful play", said Miss Wynyard, "but it will so difficult to cast the leading man. It needs someone like Conrad Veidt, but he's too busy."
Anton Walbrook read the play, was instantly attracted to it, and resolved to play the villain.
Diana Wynyard led the chorus of his friends in declaring he was mistaken, that it would ruin his reputation, that his public would hate him, and so on.
Anton Walbrook had made up his mind to play the part, and play it he did. The film of "Gaslight", made without fanfares by Thorold Dickinson, was declared by discerning critics to be one of the best British films ever made.
It remains Anton Walbrook's favourite part and favourite film, and he does not trust himself to reflect too long about the Hollywood company which bought up the film in order to bury it and to make their own version, with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, retitled "Murder in Thornton Square."
A copy of the film still exists in this country for record purposes, and quite recently Anton Walbrook was able to borrow it from the film library and to arrange a private showing for his sister.
In 1941 he showed his versatility by his part in "49th Parallel." He played the bearded, saintly leader of a Hutterite settlement in Canada.
Perhaps, as he played this unworldly leader, Anton Walbrook's mind went back to his quiet student days in the monastery school, and his boyhood ideal of a life dedicated to the service of God.
In any case, he brought to his part exactly the right blend of serenity and sincerity.
Later, Anton Walbrook starred in another film of Michael Powell's, "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp".
Co-starring Deborah Kerr and Roger Livesey, Anton Walbrook played a young officer in a crack German regiment, and the character came to life with uncanny realism.
Ironically, a film which is a persistent success is one which Anton is least proud of - "Dangerous Moonlight".
The theme, the conflict between love and duty, is a dramatic one, and the acting of the principles, Anton Walbrook and Sally Gray, was thoughtful and sincere, but judged on its merits as a film it did not quite come off.
Had it not been for the phenomenal success of its music, with the popular "Warsaw Concerto", the film would probably have been forgotten soon after its first releases.
Life was by no means easy or happy for Anton Walbrook during the war years. Many Germans are sentimental about the Fatherland, but Anton Walbrook had uprooted his love for his native land with considerable bitterness at the Nazi regime.
He hoped with all his heart that one day he would become British, but there was no chance of naturalization being granted while the war was on.
Although some of his friends advised him to leave England and go farther away from the war, he remained quietly but obstinately in England.
He bought a house to show that he he intended to stay put. On the West End stage he appeared in the anti-Nazi play "Watch on the Rhine".
He made another film, "Man from Morocco" which was neither particularly good nor particularly bad.
When the war was over, he went ahead with his application for British nationality, and today is passionately proud of his British citizenship.
He has a grateful affection for Britain, and feels it is a point of honour to stay here and to share whatever privations there may - or may not - be in the country which has given him a new life.
He declares that while making a film he has no private life whatever. Some close friends may visit him at home, but that is the extent of his relaxation.
He is hardly ever to be seen at restaurants, and probably never at night clubs. Even when he was younger he disliked social life, with its ever-present possibility that an enterprising Press photographer would suddenly appear before him.
Now at forty-seven, he remarks blandly, "Publicity people call me a very bad boy." He confesses that he would rather make himself a sandwich at home than dine out at a restaurant.
For his latest part, in the Powell-Pressburger ballet film, "The Red Shoes" Anton Walbrook shows a great deal of enthusiasm.
"I am poisoned by it", he remarks, with a charming smile. "Poisoned in a nice way, of course. Like an artist with a picture he must paint, or a poet with some verses he must write."
He makes it quite clear that he enjoys being "poisoned" by his screen parts. In "The Red Shoes" he plays Lermontov, a cold man whose heart is entirely obsessed by his ballet company.
To him, the individual members are dancers only, and not people with human emotions, and it is his hardness which forces his ballerina, played by Moira Shearer, from the Sadler's Wells Ballet Company, to make her choice between love and dancing.
Anton Walbrook makes no bones about being past the age at which an actor plays young, romantic roles. He is, in fact, slightly relieved, and much prefers to be an actor rather than a lover.
In any event, British film makers, unlike the French, have not been interested in stories of the "grande passion".
"That is quite easy to explain", says Anton Walbrook in his best Continental manner. "In France they have wine, sunshine- and no inhibitions."
I asked him how it was he could settle down so happily in England.
"To start with", he said, still smiling, "I have no inhibitions. The wine - well, one can get a little again now. And the sunshine - well, I always go abroad for my holidays."
Although holidays abroad are restricted now, Anton Walbrook is the fortunate possessor of an island off the Norwegian coast, and he will still be able to go there.
Since the war, he has given up many activities, like sport and riding, which he used to enjoy. His chief relaxations now are reading and music.
To casual outsiders he may seem reserved to an unneccessary degree. They cannot understand why he is unmarried. [We have a reasonable idea why <G> ] They believe he is haughty and aloof.
Such people would have gained a new insight into Anton Walbrook's nature has they seen him on the set of "The Red Shoes" with Albert Basserman, the veteran German actor, who is mow over eighty. Kind, thoughtful and attentive, Anton Walbrook emerged from his shell.
And once the first barriers are down he remains a friendly, reflective person, with cultivated tastes and opinions that he never accepts at second hand.
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