Nationality: Austrian. Born: Wilhelm Anton Frohs in Vienna, district of Margareten, 7 April 1903. Education: Grammar school. Family: Married Melanie Unterkircher, 1934; no children. Career: Comic and romantic actor on German-speaking provincial stages, from 1919; film debut, 1920; actor, Metropoltheater Berlin, Carltheater Vienna, Theater des Westens Berlin, and Apollotheater Vienna (operetta theaters), 1925, Lessingtheater Berlin and Renaissancetheater Berlin, 1927, and Deutsches Theater Berlin, 1928–31; film director, from 1933; founded Forst-Film company, Vienna, 1936. Awards: Gold Medal, Venice International Film Festival, for Maskerade , 1934; Count Sascha Kolowrat Cup, for Wiener Mädel , 1950; Austrian Cross of Honor for Art and Science, 1961; German Film Prize, 1968. Died: Vienna, 11 August 1980, after a bladder operation.
Films as Director:
Leise flehen meine Lieder ( The Unfinished Symphony ) (+ sc with Walter Reisch)
The Unfinished Symphony (with Anthony Asquith) (+ sc with Benn W. Levy); Maskerade ( Masquerade in Vienna ) (+ sc with Walter Reisch)
Mazurka (+ ro)
Allotria (+ sc with Jochen Huth); Burgtheater ( Vienna Burgtheater ) (+ sc with Jochen Huth, pr)
Serenade (+ sc with Curt J. Braun, pr)
Bel Ami (+ sc with Axel Eggebrecht, pr, ro as "Bel Ami" Georges Duroy); Ich bin Sebastian Ott ( I Am Sebastian Ott ) (with Viktor Becker) (+ pr, ro as Sebastian Ott/Ludwig Ott)
Operette (+ sc with Axel Eggebrecht, pr, ro as Franz Jauner)
Wiener Blut ( Vienna Blood ) (+ sc, pr, ro as director)
Frauen sind keine Engel ( Women Are No Angels ) (+ pr)
Wiener Mädel ( Viennese Maidens ) (+ sc with Franz Gribitz, pr, ro as Carl Michael Ziehrer)
Die Sünderin ( The Sinner ); Es geschehen noch Wunder ( Miracles Still Happen ) (+ sc with Johannes Mario Simmel, pr, ro as Bobby Sanders)
Im Weißen Rößl ( The White Horse Inn )
Dieses Lied bleibt bei Dir ( Kabarett ; This Song Remains with You ; Cabaret ) (+ sc with Johannes Mario Simmel)
Kaiserjäger ( Imperial Infantry ); Le chemin du paradis ( The Way to Paradise )
Die unentschuldigte Stunde ( The Unexcused Hour ) (+ sc with Kurt Nachmann); Wien—du Stadt meiner Träume ( Vienna, City of my Dreams) (+ sc with Kurt Nachmann)
Films as Actor:
Der Wegweiser ( The Road Sign ) (Kottow)
Sodom und Gomorrha ( The Queen of Sin) (Kertész) (as extra); Oh du lieber Augustin ( Dear Augustin ) (Breslauer)
Lieb' mich und die Welt ist mein ( Love Me and the World Is Mine ) (Breslauer)
Strandgut ( Driftwood ) (Breslauer)
Die drei Niemandskinder ( The Three Children of Nobody ) (Freisler); Die elf Teufel ( The Eleven Devils ) (Zoltan Korda); Café Electric (Ucicky) (as Ferdl)
Amor auf Ski ( Love on Skis ) (Randolf); Ein besserer Herr ( A Distinguished Gentleman ) (Ucicky); Die lustigen Vagabunden ( The Merry Vagabonds ) (Fleck); Die blaue Maus ( The Blue Mouse ) (Guter); Unfug der Liebe ( Mischief of Love ) (Wiene); Liebfraumilch (Froelich); Die Frau, die jeder liebt, bist Du! ( You Are The Woman Everybody Loves ) (Froelich)
Die weissen Rosen von Ravensberg ( The White Roses of Ravensberg ) (Meinert); Fräulein Fähnrich ( Miss Ensign ) (Sauer); Der Häftling aus Stambul ( The Prisoner from Stambul ) (Ucicky); Gefahren der Brautzeit/Liebesnächte ( Dangers of the Engagement ) (Sauer) (as Baron van Geldern).
Atlantic (Dupont) (as Poldi); Katharina Knie (Grune)
Ein Burschenlied aus Heidelberg ( A Student's Song from Heidelberg ) (Hartl); Zwei Herzen im Dreivierteltakt ( Two Hearts in Waltz Time ) (von Bolvary); Ein Tango für Dich ( A Tango for You ) (von Bolvary); Das Lied ist aus ( The Song Is Ended ) (von Bolvary) (as Ulrich Weidenau); Der Herr auf Bestellung ( The Callboy ) (von Bolvary); Die lustigen Weiber von Wien ( The Merry Wives of Vienna ) (von Bolvary); Petit officier . . . Adieu! (von Bolvary)
Der Raub der Mona Lisa ( The Theft of the Mona Lisa ) (von Bolvary) (as Vicenzo Peruggia); Peter Voss, der Millionendieb ( Peter Voss Who Stole Millions ) (Dupont)
Der Prinz von Arkadien ( The Prince of Arcadia ) (Hartl); Ein blonder Traum ( A Blonde Dream ; Happy Ever After ) (Martin) (as Willy II); So ein Mädel vergisst man nicht ( Such a Girl Is Unforgettable ) (Kortner); Brennendes Geheimnis ( The Burning Secret) (Siodmak)
Ihre Durchlaucht, die Verkäuferin ( Her Highness the Salesgirl ) (Hartl); Ich kenn' Dich nicht und liebe Dich ( I Don't Know You but I Love You ) (von Bolvary)
So endete eine Liebe ( Thus Ended a Love) (Hartl)
Königswalzer ( The Royal Waltz ) (Maisch) (as Ferdinand)
Es leuchten die Sterne ( The Stars Shine ) (Zerlett) (cameo as himself)
Ein Blick zurück ( A Look Back ) (Menzel) (cameo)
Leckerbissen ( Tidbits ) (Malbran)
Herrliche Zeiten ( Wonderful Times ) (Neumann/Ode)
Bei Dir war es immer so schön ( It Was Always So Beautiful with You ) (Wolff) (as film director); Weg in die Vergangenheit ( The Way into the Past ) (Hartl) (as famous conductor)
Ein Mann vergisst die Liebe ( A Man Forgets Love ) (von Collande) (as Alexander von Barender); Die Drei von der Tankstelle ( Three Good Friends ) (Wolff)
Capriolen (Gründgens) (sc with Jochen Huth, pr)
Hundstage ( Dog Days ) (von Cziffra) (pr)
Der Hofrat Geiger ( Privy Councillor Geiger ) (Wolff) (pr)
Die Frau am Wege ( The Woman by the Road ) (von Borsody) (pr); Das Kuckucksei ( The Cuckoo's Egg ) (Firner) (pr)
Die Stimme Österreichs ( The Voice of Austria ) (doc) (Langbein) (pr)
Alle kann ich nicht heiraten ( I Can't Marry Them All ) (Wolff) (sc)
By FORST: articles—
"Mein Filmschaffen," excerpt from the radio program Radio-Universität , Radio Vienna, Filmarchiv Austria.
Willi Forst, "Filme kann man nur mit Freunden machen," in Die Filmwoche , no. 16, 20 April 1932.
On FORST: books—
Bab, Julius, Schauspieler und Schauspielkunst , Berlin, 1926.
Firner, Walter, editor, Wir und das Theater: Ein Schauspielerbilderbuch , Munich, 1932.
Willi Forst in Bild und Ton , Berlin, 1941.
Casiraghi, Ugo, Umanità di Stroheim ed altri saggi , Milano, 1945.
Fuchsbauer, Hans, Wiener Film Bilderbuch , Vienna, 1946.
Stanzl, Karl, Willy Forsts Bühnen- und Filmarbeit , Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Vienna, 1947.
Gesek, Ludwig, Gestalter der Filmkunst: Von Asta Nielsen bis Walt Disney , Vienna, 1948.
Berger, Ludwig, Theatermenschen: So sah ich sie , Hannover, 1962.
Forster, Rudolf, Das Spiel mein Leben , Berlin, 1967.
Jürgens, Curd, . . . .und kein bisschen weise , Locarno, 1976.
Österreichische Gesellschaft für Filmwissenschaft, editor, Willi Forst , Vienna, 1977.
Dachs, Robert, Willi Forst: Eine Biographie , Vienna, 1986.
Kramer, Thomas, and Martin Prucha, Film im Lauf der Zeit. 100 Jahre Kino in Deutschland, Österreich, und der Schweiz, Vienna, 1994.
Fritz, Walter, Im Kino erlebe ich die Welt: 100 Jahre Kino und Film in Österreich , Vienna, 1997.
Steiner, Gertraud, Traumfabrik Rosenhügel , Vienna, 1997.
On FORST: articles—
Österreichische Gesellschaft für Filmwissenschaft, editor, Filmkunst. Zeitschrift für Filmkultur und Filmwissenschaft , Vienna, 1977.
Gillett, John, "Willi Forst," in Film Dope (Nottingham) 17 April 1979.
Frank, Arnold, "Bel Ami. Der Mann, den die Frauen liebten," in Europa 1939. Filme aus zehn Ländern , edited by Hans Helmut Prinzler, Berlin, 1979.
Rühle, Günther, "Charmeur der Charmeure," in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , 13 August 1980.
Witte, Karsten, "Adieu, Bel Ami," in Frankfurter Rundschau , 13 August 1980.
Buchka, Peter, "Bel Ami ist tot," in Süddeutsche Zeitung , 13 August 1980.
Holba, Herbert, "Willi Forst," in Herbert Holba, Günter Knorr, Peter Spiegel, Reclams deutsches Filmlexikon. Filmkünstler aus Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz , Stuttgart, June 1984.
Burghardt, Kirsten, "Zeichen weiblicher Erotik in Willi Forsts Die Sünderin ," in Der erotische Diskurs. Filmische Zeichen und Argumente , edited by Klaus Kanzog, Munich, 1989.
Daviau, Gertraud Steiner. "Willi Forst. Bel Ami in the Third Reich," in Modern Austrian Literature (Riverside, California), vol. 32, no. 4, 1999.
Haider-Pregler, Hilde, ". . . . Das Theater hört nie auf. Willi Forsts Film vom Burgtheater," in Modern Austrian Literature (Riverside, California), vol. 32, no. 4, 1999.
* * *
Willi Forst to date is the greatest talent in Austrian film history, with the possible exception of Billy Wilder, who had to emigrate. He was born in 1903 into the Viennese lower middle class; his father earned his living in the Biedermeier sounding profession of porcelain painter. The young Forst did not attend school any longer than was required—his ambition was a career on the stage. At the age of 16 he began acting in the provincial theaters of the former Austrian monarchy, until in 1925 he could make the leap to the operetta stages of Vienna and Berlin. The experience gained in these early years provided him with a sound knowledge of the theatrical effects that pleased audiences.
Forst could be found in the crowd of thousands in Kolowrat's monumental film Sodom and Gomorrha (1922), and it was the flamboyant "film count" Sascha Kolowrat himself who discovered Willi Forst at the Apollotheater in Vienna and gave him his first "near" leading role in Café Elektric (1927) as the petty thief "Poldi" opposite the then equally unknown Marlene Dietrich. But Kolowrat died in the same year, and, like all of the enterprising talents from Vienna, Forst migrated to the film metropolis Berlin, where the opportunities were greater. Here he became a popular film actor playing in numerous films with most of the important directors, among others, Gustav Ucicky, Karl Hartl, and Geza von Bolvary, who, like Forst, had come from Kolowrat's Sascha-Film to Berlin after the death of the count. His breakthrough to stardom came with Atlantic (1929), an early "Titanic" film, where he sings in a whiny voice on the sinking ship, "Es wird ein Wein sein und wir wern nimmer sein" ("There Will Still Be Wine When We Are Gone"), a foreshadowing of his later style: a lot of sentiment, always bordering on kitsch. But, as it happens, life itself is often kitschy enough. His career blossomed with the transition from silent to sound film. Now he could charm his way into women's hearts not only by flattery and their kissing hands, but also by the erotic, velvet timbre of his voice, singing of flirtation, love, and pain, always with a core of truth in the words.
A major success in Germany was Ein blonder Traum (1931) with Lilian Harvey, the fragile female leading star, actress, dancer, and singer of the early thirties in Germany. Willi Forst and Willy Fritsch compete for her favors; contrary to the usual pattern Willi Forst does not get the girl but is consoled with a Hollywood contract.
Now an acknowledged film star, Forst returned to his beloved Vienna to make his debut as a director. Together with Walter Reisch, an Austrian scriptwriter in Berlin who had tailored nearly all of Willi Forst's German roles for him, Forst coauthored the screenplay for the Schubert film Leise flehen meine Lieder (1933). Thus was the "Viennese film" born, with its inimitable blend of music and action. The film was romantic, but Forst did not dwell on a sugary Biedermeier image, but also showed the poor living conditions and class barriers. In 1934 he produced and directed the big production, Maskerade (1934), the film which launched Paula Wessely on her way to film stardom and Hans Moser as comic. This social comedy set in turn-ofthe-century Vienna featured the big ball scenes of which Willi Forst became the unsurpassed master, and a frivolous love story ending very conservatively: the famous painter (Adolf Wohlbrück) chooses not the jaded, elegant society lady (Olga Tschechowa) as his wife, but the plain, wholesome poor girl (Paula Wessely), thus reflecting the contemporary ideological attitude toward women in the Austrian corporate state. Beginning with this big success Forst as actor, director, screenwriter, and producer dominated the Austrian filmmaking scene for the next fifteen years. In life as in film, he was the quintessential elegant Viennese gentleman. As a film maker he aimed at perfection.
In 1936 he founded his Forst-Film company in Vienna, with headquarters in the elegant Philipphof next to the Opera House. In the meantime he had also acquired a large estate in the 14th district, half way between the two main studios in Austria, Sievering and Rosenhügel. In Bel Ami (1938), in which he also played the main role, he created his "trademark" protagonist: the gallant ladies' man, charming, but no hero. Nazi bureaucrat Goebbels regarded Forst with suspicion but tolerated him because of his box office hits. When the Austrian film industry was unified by the Nazis at the end of 1938 into "Wien-Film," Forst was allowed to keep his own company, which produced films exclusively for "Wien-Film." Forst, granted lavish production budgets, was able to create his greatest films. Although his films had to fit into the concept of the propaganda ministry, he never made a political film. Goebbels wanted high-quality, entertaining films to distract people from the war. Forst turned to the past for his topics to avoid any political statements, and one can find a subtle form of resistance in the nuances he used to remind people of Austria. The Vienna Trilogy is Forst's outstanding contribution from the war years: Operette (1940), Wiener Blut (1942), and finally Wiener Mädel (1944/49). Forst dragged out the filming to save his large cast and crew from being sent to the front and only finished in 1949. Goebbels wanted him to play the anti-Semitic role of "Jud Süss," but Forst escaped this threat. He was not seduced, as were colleagues such as Gustav Ucicky and Paula Wessely, into making political films for the rich financial reward they brought. Forst is the proof that one could remain decent even in those years. Curd Jürgens, whom Forst had discovered in Germany and included in several of his films, remembered that Forst always warned hm never to become involved in a political film, for they would all have to account for their actions at a later time.
Ironically, after the war, Willi Forst would never resume his leading position in the film industry. He had to liquidate his company in 1950 and never really found his line again. He was used to unlimited budgets, but the funding for cinema after the war was meager. One film he made in Germany, Die Sünderin (1951), starring Hildegard Knef, created a gigantic scandal started by the church. A woman becomes a prostitute to earn the money for an operation for the man she loves; in addition, she is seen for a fraction of a second in the nude, as her boyfriend is a painter. At the end she kills him to spare him pain and takes her own life.
His very last film, Wien—Du Stadt meiner Träume (1957), a title that could also serve as his life's motto, is set neither in the past nor the present. Forst recognized that he was out of phase with the time and withdrew entirely from the film business. He also sold his Viennese estate and lived in Brissago (Tessin, Switzerland) overlooking Lake Maggiore. Considering his importance to film, Willi Forst is not well enough known today.
—Gertraud Steiner Daviau