21 June, 2012
Gustaf Gründgens was born Gustav Heinrich Arnold Gründgens, was one of Germany's most famous and influential actors of the 20th century, intendant and artistic director of theatres in Berlin, Düsseldorf, and Hamburg.
His single most famous role was that of Mephistopheles in Goethe's Faust in 1956/57, which is still considered by many to have been the best interpretation of the role ever given.
Born in Düsseldorf, Gründgens after World War I attended the drama school of the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus and started his career at smaller theaters in Halberstadt, Kiel, Berlin. In 1923 he went to the Kammerspiele in Hamburg, where he also appeared as a director for the first time, co-working with the author Klaus Mann, son of Thomas Mann, and his sister Erika. Gründgens, who meanwhile had changed his first name to "Gustaf", married Erika in 1926.
In 1928 he moved back to Berlin to join the renown ensemble of the Deutsches Theater under director Max Reinhardt. Apart from straight theatre, Gründgens also worked with Otto Klemperer at the Kroll Opera, as a Kabarett artist and also as a movie actor, most notably in Fritz Lang's 1931 film M, which decisively added to his popularity. From 1932 he was a member of the Prussian State Theatre ensemble, first scintillating as Mephistopheles.
Gründgens' career proceeded after the Nazi Machtergreifung: in 1934 he became intendant of the Prussian State Theatre and was later appointed as a member of the Prussian state council by the Prussian Minister President Hermann Göring. In 1941, Gründgens starred in the propaganda film Ohm Krüger and also in Friedemann Bach, a film he also produced. After Goebbels's total war speech on 18 February 1943, Gründgens volunteered for the Wehrmacht but was again recalled by Göring, who had his name added to the Gottbegnadeten list.
From 1936 till 1946, Gründgens was married to the famous German actress Marianne Hoppe. The wedlock was widely seen as a lavender marriage.
Imprisoned by the Soviet NKVD in 1945, Gründgens was released thanks to the intercession by the Communist actor Ernst Busch, whom Gründgens himself had saved from execution by the Nazis in 1943. During the denazification process his statements helped to exonerate acting colleagues like Göring's widow Emmy and the director Veit Harlan (Jud Süß). Gründgens turned back to the Deutsches Theater, later became intendant of the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus and from 1955 directed the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg. He again performed as Mephistopheles, the 1960 film Faust by Peter Gorski was shot with the Deutsches Schauspielhaus ensemble.
On October 7, 1963, while traveling around the world, Gründgens died in Manila of an internal hemorrhage. He is buried at the Hamburg Ohlsdorf Cemetery.