Theodor Friedrich Emil Janenz in Rohrschach, Switzerland, 23 July 1884,
of American father and German mother; naturalized Austrian citizen, 1947.
Married 1) Hanna Ralph; 2) Lucie Höflich; 3) the actress Gussy
After a short stint as a cook on a cargo boat, joined Gardelegen theater
company at age 18; 1906—joined Max Reinhardt's Berlin
theater as established actor; 1914—film debut in
; 1927–29—made several films in Hollywood; early
1930s—formed the Deutsches Theater in Berlin;
1934—supervisor of State Theater; 1938—chairman of Tobis
Film Company, which produced his films; 1941—became Artist of the
State; 1944—last film
Wo ist Herr Belling?
not completed; blacklisted after the war, and made no more films though
he was officially "de-Nazified."
Best Actor Academy Award for
The Last Command
The Way of All Flesh
, 1927–28; Best Actor, Venice Festival, for
In Stroblhof, Austria, 2 January 1950.
Films as Actor:
Im Schützengraben (Schmidthässler)
Frau Eva (Wiene); Im Angesicht des Toten ; Aus Mangel an Beweisen (Edel); Passionels Tagebuch (Ralph); Stein unter Steinen (Basch); Nächte des Grauens (Robison); Der Zehnte Pavillon der Zitadelle (Kaden); Die Bettlerin von St. Marien (Halm); Unheilbar (Hanus)
Die Ehe der Luise Rohrbach (Biebrach); Das Geschäft (Reicher); Lulu (von Antalffy); Wenn vier dasselbe tun (Lubitsch); Das Fidele Gefängnis (Lubitsch); Der Ring der Giuditta Foscari (Halm)
Nach zwanzig Jahren (Zeyn); Die Augen der Mumie Ma ( The Eyes of the Mummy ) (Lubitsch) (as Radu)
Keimendes Leben (2 parts) (Jacoby)
Der Mann der Tat (Janson); Vendetta (Jacoby); Die Tochter des Mehemed (Halm); Madame DuBarry ( Passion ) (Lubitsch) (as Louis XV)
Kohlhiesels Töchter (Lubitsch) (as Peer Xavero); Die Brüder Karamasoff ( The Brothers Karamazov ) (Froelich) (as Mitya); Das grosse Licht (Henning); Algol (Werckmeister); Colombine (Hartwig); Der Schädel der Pharaonentochter (Tollen); Anna Boleyn (Lubitsch) (as Henry VIII)
Der Stier von Olivera (Schönfelder); Der Schwur des Peter Hergatz (Halm); Danton (Buchowetzki) (title role); Die Ratten (Kobe); Das Weib des Pharao ( Loves of Pharaoh ) (Lubitsch) (as Amenes)
Othello (Buchowetzki) (title role); Peter der Grosse (Buchowetzki) (title role)
Tragödie der Liebe (May) (as Ombrade); Alles für Geld ( Fortune's Fool ) (Schünzel); Das Wachsfigurenkabinett ( Waxworks ) (Leni) (as Haroun-al-Rachid); Quo Vadis (Jacoby and d'Annunzio) (as Nero)
Nju ( Husbands or Lovers ) (Czinner); Der letzte Mann ( The Last Laugh ) (Murnau) (as Doorman)
Liebe macht blind (Mendes); Variété (Dupont) (as Boss); Tartuff ( Herr Tartuff ) (Murnau) (title role)
Faust: Eine deutsche Volkssage (Murnau) (as Mephisto)
The Way of All Flesh (Fleming) (as August Schillings)
The Last Command (von Sternberg); The Street of Sin ( King of Soho ) (Stiller); The Patriot (Lubitsch) (as Paul I); Sins of the Father (Berger)
Der blaue Engel ( The Blue Angel ) (von Sternberg) (as Prof. Unrath); Liebling der Götter ( Darling of the Gods ) (Schwartz)
Stürme der Leidenschaft ( Storms of Passion ) (Siodmak)
Die Abenteur des Königs Pausole ( König Pausole ; The Merry Monarch ) (Granowsky) (title role)
Der schwarze Walfisch (Wendhausen) (as César)
Der alte und der junge König (Steinhoff)
Der Herrscher (Harlan); Der zerbrochene Krug (Ucicky)
Robert Koch (Steinhoff) (title role)
Ohm Krüger (Steinhoff) (as Krüger)
Die Entlassung (Liebeneiner) (as Bismarck, + pr)
Altes Herz wird wieder jung (Engel)
Wo ist Herr Belling? (Engel—unfinished)
By JANNINGS: books—
Wie ich zum Film kam , edited by Kurt Mühsam and Egon Jacobsohn, Berlin, 1926.
Das Filmgesicht , edited by Wolfgang Martini and Margarete Lange-Kosak, Munich, 1928.
Wir über uns selbst , edited by Hermann Treuner, Berlin, 1928.
Theater und Film , edited by C. C. Bergius, Berchtesgaden, 1951, as Theater, Film, Das Leben, und Ich , edited by C. C. Bergius, Berchtesgaden, 1961.
On JANNINGS: books—
Mitry, Jean, Emil Jannings , Paris, 1927.
Bie, Richard, Emil Jannings , Berlin, 1936.
Ihering, Herbert, Emil Jannings , Heidelberg, 1941.
Kurtz, Rudolf, Emil Jannings , Berlin, 1942.
On JANNINGS: articles—
Johnson, Julian, "A Visit with Emil Jannings," in Photoplay (New York), February 1926.
Smith, Frederick, "The Big Boy from Berlin Is Here," in Photoplay (New York), December 1926.
Tully, Jim, "Emil Jannings," in Vanity Fair (New York), November 1927.
Collier, Lionel, "Something in the Herr," in Pictures and Picturegoer , January 1929; also September 1930.
Dreyer, Carl, "Sur un film de Jannings," and "Du jeu de l'acteur," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January 1962.
Ford, Charles, "Emil Jannings," in Anthologie du Cinéma , vol 5, Paris, 1969.
Truscott, Harold, "Emil Jannings—A Personal View," in Silent Picture (London), Autumn 1970.
"Emil Jannings," in Film Dope (London), July 1983.
"An Oscar for Berlin: On the 100th Anniversary of the Birthday of Emil Jannings (1884–1950), in Kino (German Film), Summer 1984.
Calanquin, L.V., "The Saga of Emil Jannings," in Classic Images (Muscatine), October 1985.
Griffithiana , October 1990.
* * *
One of the great pleasures of film-going in the mid-1920s was to see the latest film starring the well-known German actor Emil Jannings. Of all the theater people who lent their talents to the new medium, he was arguably the greatest. In the 1920s he created a gallery of historical characters as well as people of his own time. Just after World War I, German films were not welcomed in the Allied countries, a fact advertised by numerous distribution companies. One of the first films to break this embargo was Ernst Lubitsch's Madame DuBarry . Made in 1919 by an industry remarkable for its technical skills and the high artistic quality of its product, it was not released in the United States and western Europe until years later. Jannings portrayed Louis XV of France, making an impact that was to continue through his career.
Born of an American father and a German mother, the young Theodor Friedrich Emil Janenz took his first job as an assistant cook on a small cargo boat bound for London. Returning home, he toured Central Europe for a number of years as a member of the Gardelegen troupe of stage players. Eventually he joined the company of theatrical genius Max Reinhardt where his colleagues included Conrad Veidt, Werner Kraus, Paul Wegener, Lucie Hoflich, and Ernst Lubitsch. In 1914 he worked in some minor films and the following year he played in Nächte des Grauens , a typical horror film of its time. He then appeared in his first starring role in Frau Eva . Next Jannings was directed in three films by his old friend Lubitsch, of which the most important was Die Augen der Mumie Ma , before appearing in Lubitsch's spectacular Madame DuBarry .
Jannings furthered his popularity and status by making a number of films with the actress Henny Porten and the director Dmitri Buchowetzki. By 1924 he had established a worldwide reputation as a great actor. He starred with Conrad Veidt and Elisabeth Bergner in Paul Czinner's Nju and as the jealous trapeze artist in E. A. Dupont's Variété . His association with F. W. Murnau lead to the three masterpieces which will be his monument: Der letzte Mann , Tartuffe , and Faust . In Der letzte Mann he gave what most consider his greatest performance as an old hotel porter too weak for his job, who is reduced to working in the basement lavatories. His smug Tartuffe was full of subtle nuance, while his Mephistopheles was played with a slightly humorous cynicism that still suggested the blazing anarchy underneath. Even with an ego as great as his talent, Jannings subordinated himself to the disciplines of his art.
Jannings now sought a larger field for his activities and accepted an invitation from Paramount to play in the United States. Many of his old colleagues had already travelled west. He moved to Hollywood where he lived like a prince with his wife, Gussy. His first two films for Paramount, The Way of All Flesh and The Last Command , exploited his amazing capacity for the portrayal of suffering, and secured for Jannings the first Academy Award for best actor of 1927–28.
With the emergence of sound, Jannings returned to Germany, beginning a new career with the film best known to the present generation— Der blaue Engel . Jannings portrayed an old professor dragged to his destruction by an amoral cabaret singer played by Marlene Dietrich. Throughout the 1930s he continued to play large roles in film adaptations of Pierre Louys and Marcel Pagnol as well as more Germanic subjects such as Hauptmann's Vor Sonnenuntergang ( Der Herrscher ) and von Kleist's Der zerbrochene Krug .
With Hitler's rise to power, Jannings took full advantage of the opportunities the regime offered, playing in films that expressed the new morality and gave him good parts. His last film, Wo ist Herr Belling? , was never completed due to his suffering from intense neurasthenia. At the end of the war he retired to his estate on the Saltzkammergut in Austria. Much derogatory criticism has been written about Jannings's role within the Nazi regime. One writer would even remark, "Jannings was a miserable human being . . . uncultured and semi-illiterate." This seems to be little more than name calling, yet his participation in Nazism needs to be addressed.
No finer tribute could be paid him than that from his old director, Josef von Sternberg: "Jannings had every right to the universal praise that was his for many years, and his position in the history of the motion picture is secure, not only as a superlative performer but also as a source of inspiration for the writers and directors of his time. This in my opinion is the highest compliment within the scope of an actor to earn."