26 May, 2012
Ferdinand Marian was an Austrian theatre and film actor, best known for playing the leading character of Joseph Süß Oppenheimer in the Nazi propaganda film Jud Süß.
Born in Vienna, the son of an opera singer, Marian turned to the stage early, though he never attended any drama classes. He ran away from home and abandoned his studies as an engineer to work as an extra at several Austrian and German theatres. In 1938 he joined the ensemble of the Deutsches Theater in Berlin, where he was acclaimed for his performance as Iago in Shakespeare's Othello.
Marian had also appeared in movies like Curtis Bernhardt's Der Tunnel since 1933, and had his breakthrough starring together with Zarah Leander in 1937's La Habanera directed by Detlef Sierck. His role as Don Pedro added to his image as an adorable but devious womanizer.
Marian's career was overshadowed by his appearance as the title character in Jud Süß, a notorious antisemitic German movie directed by Veit Harlan. This 1940 film, made under the supervision of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, is widely considered to be one of the most hateful depictions of Jews in film. Several film stars had rejected the title role; Marian, urged by Goebbels and fearing consequences by the Reichsfilmkammer, did not dare to refuse.
His depiction of the title character followed Nazi propaganda stereotypes of Jews as being materialistic, immoral, cunning and untrustworthy. However, he gave a well-acted, multi-layered performance, which ultimately contributed to the film's convincibility. With the exception of Marian's character – who shaved off his beard and wore Gentile attire for most of the story – the actors playing Jewish male characters were made up to look unappealing and alien (non-German). There were also scenes that purported to show Jewish religious services.
Marian also appeared in the 1941 propaganda movie Ohm Krüger, playing Cecil Rhodes side by side with Emil Jannings and Gustaf Gründgens, who both had rejected the role of Jud Süß the year before. In 1943 he starred as Cagliostro in Josef von Báky's fantasy comedy Münchhausen.
Marian's personal life contradicted his role in the film Jud Süß. He had a daughter from his first marriage to Jewish pianist, Irene Saager. His second wife's former husband Julius Gellner was also Jewish and Marian and his wife protected him from reprisals by hiding him in their home.
Marian died in a road accident in 1946 near the village of Dürneck (today part of Freising) in Bavaria.