Carl Zuckmayer was a German writer and playwright. His older brother was the pedagogue, composer, conductor and pianist Eduard Zuckmayer.
Zuckmayer was born in Nackenheim in Rhenish Hesse, he was the second son of Amalie and Carl Zuckmayer. When he was four years old, his family moved to Mainz. With the outbreak of World War I, he finished school with a facilitated "emergency"-Abitur and volunteered for military service. During the war he served with the German Army's Field Artillery on the Western Front. In 1917, he published first poems in the pacifist journal Die Aktion and he was one of the signatures of the Appeal published by the Antinational Socialist Party after the German Revolution of 9 November 1918. By this time Zuckmayer held the rank of a Leutnant der Reserve “Reserve Officer”.
After the war, he took up studies at the University of Frankfurt, first in humanities, later in biology and botany. In 1920, he married his childhood friend Annemarie Ganz, but they were divorced just one year later, when Zuckmayer had an affair with actress Annemarie Seidel.
His first ventures into literature and theatre were complete failures. His first drama Kreuzweg (1921) fell flat and was delisted after only three performances, and when he was chosen as dramatic adviser at the theatre of Kiel, he lost his new job after his first, controversial staging of Terence's The Eunuch. In 1924 he became dramaturg at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin, jointly with Bertolt Brecht. After another failure with his second drama Pankraz erwacht oder Die Hinterwäldler he finally had a great public success with the rustic comedy Der fröhliche Weinberg ("The Merry Vineyard") in 1925, written in his local Mainz-Frankfurt dialect. This work won him the prestigious Kleist Prize two years after it was awarded to Brecht, and launched his career.
Also in 1925, he married the Austrian actress Alice Herdan, and they bought a house in Henndorf near Salzburg in Austria. Zuckmayer's next play Der Schinderhannes was again successful. In 1929, he wrote the script for the movie Der blaue Engel (starring Marlene Dietrich) based on the novel Professor Unrat by Heinrich Mann. That year, he was also awarded the Georg Büchner Prize, another prestigious German language literary award.
In 1931, his play Der Hauptmann von Köpenick premiered and became another success, but his plays were prohibited when the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933; Zuckmayer's maternal grandfather had been born Jewish and converted to Protestantism. Zuckmayer and his family moved to their house in Austria, where he published a few more works. After the Anschluss, he was expatriated by the Nazi government, and the Zuckmayers fled via Switzerland to the United States in 1939, where he first worked as a script writer in Hollywood before renting Backwoods Farm near Barnard, Vermont in 1941 and working there as a farmer until 1946. In 1943/44 he wrote "character portraits" of actors, writers and other artists in Germany for the Office of Strategic Services, evaluating their involvement with the Nazi regime. This became known only in 2002, when the approximately 150 reports where published in Germany under the title Geheimreport. The family's Vermont years are narrated in Alice Herdan Zuckmayer's Die Farm in den grünen Bergen (The Farm in the Green Mountains), a best seller in Germany upon its 1949 publication.
In January 1946, after World War II, Zuckmayer was granted the US citizenship he had applied for already in 1943. He returned to Germany and traveled the country for five months as a US cultural attaché. The resulting report to the War Department was first published in Germany in 2004 (Deutschlandbericht). His play Des Teufels General ("The Devil's General"; the main character is based on the biography of Ernst Udet), which he had written in Vermont, premiered in Zürich on 14 December 1946. The play became a major success in post-war Germany; one of the first post-war literary attempts to broach the issue of Nazism. It was filmed in 1955 starring Curd Jürgens.
Zuckmayer kept writing: Barbara Blomberg premiered in Konstanz in 1949 and Das kalte Licht in Hamburg in 1955. He also wrote the screenplay for Die Jungfrau auf dem Dach, the German-language version of Otto Preminger's 1953 film The Moon is Blue. Having shuttled back and forth between the U.S. and Europe for several years, the Zuckmayers left the U.S. in 1958 and settled in Saas Fee in the Valais in Switzerland. In 1966, he became a Swiss citizen, and he published his memoirs entitled Als wär's ein Stück von mir ("A part of myself"). His last play Der Rattenfänger (music by Friedrich Cerha) premiered in Zürich in 1975. Zuckmayer died on January 18, 1977 in Visp. His body was interred on January 22 in Saas Fee.