Ernst Lubitsch (/ˈluːbɪtʃ/; January 29, 1892 – November 30, 1947) was a German American film director, producer, writer, and actor. His urbane comedies of manners gave him the reputation of being Hollywood's most elegant and sophisticated director; as his prestige grew, his films were promoted as having "the Lubitsch touch". Among his best known works are Trouble in Paradise, Ninotchka, The Shop Around the Corner and To Be or Not to Be.
In 1946, he received an Honorary Academy Award for his distinguished contributions to the art of the motion picture.
Lubitsch circa 1922
|Born||January 29, 1892|
|Died||November 30, 1947 (aged 55)|
Hollywood, Los Angeles, United States
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale)|
|Occupation||Film director, producer, writer, actor|
Ernst Lubitsch was born on January 29, 1892 in Berlin, Germany, the son of Anna (née Lindenstaedt) and Simon Lubitsch (Russian: Любич), a tailor. His family was Ashkenazi Jewish, his father born in Grodno in the Russian Empire and his mother from Wriezen (Oder), outside Berlin. He turned his back on his father's tailoring business to enter the theater, and by 1911, he was a member of Max Reinhardt's Deutsches Theater.
In 1913, Lubitsch made his film debut as an actor in The Ideal Wife. He gradually abandoned acting to concentrate on directing. He appeared in approximately thirty films as an actor between 1912 and 1920. His last film appearance as an actor was in the 1920 drama Sumurun, opposite Pola Negri and Paul Wegener, which he also directed.
In 1918, he made his mark as a serious director with Die Augen der Mumie Ma (The Eyes of the Mummy), starring Pola Negri. Lubitsch alternated between escapist comedies and large-scale historical dramas, enjoying great international success with both. His reputation as a grand master of world cinema reached a new peak after the release of his spectacles Madame Du Barry (retitled Passion, 1919) and Anna Boleyn (Deception, 1920). Both of these films found American distributorship by early 1921. They, along with Lubitsch's Carmen (released as Gypsy Blood in the U.S. in 1921) were selected by The New York Times on its list of the 15 most important movies of 1921.
With glowing reviews under his belt, and American money flowing his way, Lubitsch formed his own production company and set to work on the high-budget spectacular The Loves of Pharaoh (1921). Lubitsch sailed to the United States for the first time in December 1921 for what was intended as a lengthy publicity and professional factfinding tour, scheduled to culminate in the February premiere of Pharaoh. However, with World War I still fresh, and with a slew of German "New Wave" releases encroaching on American movie workers' livelihoods, Lubitsch was not gladly received. He cut his trip short after little more than three weeks and returned to Germany. But he had already seen enough of the American film industry to know that its resources far outstripped the spartan German companies.
Lubitsch finally left Germany for Hollywood in 1922, contracted as a director by Mary Pickford. He directed Pickford in the film Rosita; the result was a critical and commercial success, but director and star clashed during its filming, and it ended up as the only project that they made together. A free agent after just one American film, Lubitsch was signed to a remarkable three-year, six-picture contract by Warner Brothers that guaranteed the director his choice of both cast and crew, and full editing control over the final cut.
Settling in America, Lubitsch established his reputation for sophisticated comedy with such stylish films as The Marriage Circle (1924), Lady Windermere's Fan (1925), and So This Is Paris (1926). But his films were only marginally profitable for Warner Brothers, and Lubitsch's contract was eventually dissolved by mutual consent, with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Paramount buying out the remainder. His first film for MGM, The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927), was well regarded, but lost money. The Patriot (1928), produced by Paramount, earned him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Directing.
Lubitsch seized upon the advent of talkies to direct musicals. With his first sound film, The Love Parade (1929), starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, Lubitsch hit his stride as a maker of worldly musical comedies (and earned himself another Oscar nomination). The Love Parade (1929), Monte Carlo (1930), and The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) were hailed by critics as masterpieces of the newly emerging musical genre. Lubitsch served on the faculty of the University of Southern California for a time.
His next film was a romantic comedy, written with Samson Raphaelson, Trouble in Paradise (1932). Later described (approvingly) as "truly amoral" by critic David Thomson, the cynical comedy was popular both with critics and with audiences. But it was a project that could only have been made before the enforcement of the Production Code, and after 1935, Trouble in Paradise was withdrawn from circulation. It was not seen again until 1968. The film was never available on videocassette and only became available on DVD in 2003.
Writing about Lubitsch's work, critic Michael Wilmington observed:
At once elegant and ribald, sophisticated and earthy, urbane and bemused, frivolous yet profound. They were directed by a man who was amused by sex rather than frightened of it – and who taught a whole culture to be amused by it as well.
Whether with music, as in MGM's opulent The Merry Widow (1934) and Paramount's One Hour with You (1932), or without, as in Design for Living (1933), Lubitsch continued to specialize in comedy. He made only one other dramatic film, the antiwar Broken Lullaby (also known as The Man I Killed, 1932).
In 1935, he was appointed Paramount's production manager, thus becoming the only major Hollywood director to run a large studio. Lubitsch subsequently produced his own films and supervised the production of films of other directors. But Lubitsch had trouble delegating authority, which was a problem when he was overseeing sixty different films. He was fired after a year on the job, and returned to full-time moviemaking. In 1936, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
On July 27, 1935 he had married British actress Vivian Gaye. They had one daughter, Nicola Anne Patricia Lubitsch, on October 27, 1938. When war was declared in Europe, Vivian Lubitsch and her daughter were staying in London. Vivian sent her baby daughter, accompanied by her nursemaid, Consuela Strohmeier, to Montreal aboard the Donaldson Atlantic Line's SS Athenia, which was sunk by a German submarine on September 3, 1939 with a loss of 118 passengers. The child and the nurse survived.
In 1939, Lubitsch moved to MGM, and directed Greta Garbo in Ninotchka. Garbo and Lubitsch were friendly and had hoped to work together on a movie for years, but this would be their only project. The film, co-written by Billy Wilder, is a satirical comedy in which the famously serious actress' laughing scene was heavily promoted by studio publicists with the tagline "Garbo Laughs!"
In 1940, he directed The Shop Around the Corner, an artful comedy of cross purposes. The film reunited Lubitsch with his Merry Widow screenwriter Raphaelson, and starred James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as a pair of bickering co-workers in Budapest, each unaware that the other is their secret romantic correspondent. David Thomson wrote of it:
The Shop Around the Corner... is among the greatest of films... This is a love story about a couple too much in love with love to fall tidily into each other's arms. Though it all works out finally, a mystery is left, plus the fear of how easily good people can miss their chances. Beautifully written (by Lubitsch's favorite writer, Samson Raphaelson), Shop Around the Corner is a treasury of hopes and anxieties based in the desperate faces of Stewart and Sullavan. It is a comedy so good it frightens us for them. The café conversation may be the best meeting in American film. The shot of Sullavan's gloved hand, and then her ruined face, searching an empty mail box for a letter is one of the most fragile moments in film. For an instant, the ravishing Sullavan looks old and ill, touched by loss.
Lubitsch next directed That Uncertain Feeling (1941), a remake of his 1925 film Kiss Me Again. Produced independently by Lubitsch together with Sol Lesser, it was not a commercial success. Lubitsch followed it with a film that has become one of his best regarded comedies, To Be or Not to Be, a witty, dark and insightful film about a troupe of actors in Nazi-occupied Poland. He spent the balance of his career at 20th Century Fox, but a heart condition curtailed his activity, and he spent much of his time in supervisory capacities. It has been claimed that the last picture made by the director with his distinctive "touch" was Heaven Can Wait (1943), another Raphaelson collaboration. The film is about Henry Van Cleve (played by Don Ameche), who presents himself at the gates of Hell to recount his life and the women he has known from his mother onwards, concentrating on his happy but sometimes difficult 25 years of marriage to Martha (Gene Tierney).
After Heaven Can Wait, Lubitsch worked with Edwin Justus Mayer on the scripting process of A Royal Scandal (1945), a remake of Ernst Lubitsch's silent film, Forbidden Paradise. Mayer wrote the screenplay for A Royal Scandal, and had worked with Lubitsch on To Be or Not to Be (1942). The script of A Royal Scandal (1945) was written and prepared under Ernst Lubitsch, and he was the original director of this film, and directed the rehearsals. He became ill during shooting, so Lubitsch hired Otto Preminger to do the rest of the shooting. But A Royal Scandal is considered "a Lubitsch picture". After A Royal Scandal, Ernst Lubitsch regained his health, and directed Cluny Brown (1946), with Charles Boyer and Jennifer Jones.
In March 1947, Lubitsch was awarded a Special Academy Award for his "25-year contribution to motion pictures". Presenter Mervyn LeRoy, calling Lubitsch "a master of innuendo", described some of his attributes as a filmmaker: "He had an adult mind and a hatred of saying things the obvious way." Lubitsch was the subject of several interviews at that time, and consistently cited The Shop Around the Corner as his favorite of his films. Considering his overall career, he mused, "I made sometimes pictures which were not up to my standard, but then it can only be said about a mediocrity that all his works live up to his standard."
Leaving Lubitsch's funeral, Billy Wilder ruefully said, "No more Lubitsch." William Wyler responded, "Worse than that. No more Lubitsch pictures." Wilder had a sign over his office door, which read "How would Lubitsch do it?" Lubitsch is interred at Glendale's Forest Lawn Memorial Park. On February 8, 1960, Lubitsch received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the motion pictures industry, at 7040 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.
Biographer Scott Eyman attempted to characterize the famed "Lubitsch touch":
With few exceptions Lubitsch's movies take place neither in Europe nor America but in Lubitschland, a place of metaphor, benign grace, rueful wisdom... What came to preoccupy this anomalous artist was the comedy of manners and the society in which it transpired, a world of delicate sangfroid, where a breach of sexual or social propriety and the appropriate response are ritualized, but in unexpected ways, where the basest things are discussed in elegant whispers; of the rapier, never the broadsword... To the unsophisticated eye, Lubitsch's work can appear dated, simply because his characters belong to a world of formal sexual protocol. But his approach to film, to comedy, and to life was not so much ahead of its time as it was singular, and totally out of any time.
Carmen is a 1918 German silent drama film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Pola Negri, Harry Liedtke and Leopold von Ledebur. It was based on the novella Carmen by Prosper Mérimée. Like Bizet's opera Carmen, this film only adapts the third part of Mérimée's novella and transforms the character of Don José at the beginning of the story from bandit on the run to honest man in love with his childhood sweetheart. The film was released with English intertitles in the United States in 1921 under the alternative title Gypsy Blood.Forbidden Paradise
Forbidden Paradise is a 1924 American silent drama film produced by Famous Players-Lasky and distributed by Paramount Pictures. It was directed by German film director Ernst Lubitsch. The film is based on a 1922 Broadway play, The Czarina, by Edward Sheldon who adapted the Hungarian language book of Melchior Lengyel and Lajos Bíró. The play starred Doris Keane, in one of her last stage roles, about Catherine the Great. Basil Rathbone costarred with Keane. The film starred Pola Negri as Catherine the Great and Rod La Rocque in the Rathbone role. The film marked Clark Gable's second film appearance.Intoxication (film)
Intoxication (German: Rausch) is a 1919 German silent drama film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Asta Nielsen, Alfred Abel and Karl Meinhardt. It was based on the play Brott och brott by August Strindberg. Lubitsch was loaned out from UFA to the smaller Argus-Film for the production.Monte Carlo (1930 film)
Monte Carlo is a 1930 American pre-Code musical comedy film, directed by Ernst Lubitsch. It stars Jeanette MacDonald as Countess Helene Mara. The film is notable for the song "Beyond the Blue Horizon", which was written for the film and was performed by Jeanette MacDonald. The film was also hailed by critics as a masterpiece of the newly emerging musical genre. The screenplay was based on the Booth Tarkington novel Monsieur Beaucaire.My Wife, the Movie Star
My Wife, the Movie Star (German: Meine Frau, die Filmschauspielerin) is a 1919 German silent comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Ossi Oswalda, Paul Biensfeldt and Victor Janson.Shoe Palace Pinkus
Shoe Palace Pinkus (German: Schuhpalast Pinkus) is a 1916 German silent comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Lubitsch, Else Kentner and Guido Herzfeld. In English it is sometimes known by the alternative titles Shoe Salon Pinkus and The Shoe Palace. It was part of the Sally series of films featuring Lubitsch as a sharp young Berliner of Jewish heritage. After leaving school, a self-confident young man goes to work in a shoe shop. Soon after, he becomes a shoe tycoon.It premièred on 9 June 1916 at the Union-Theater Nollendorfplatz, and at the U.-T. Kurfürstendamm (Filmbühne Wien), Berlin.Sumurun
Sumurun (a.k.a. One Arabian Night) is a 1920 German silent film directed by Ernst Lubitsch based on a pantomime by Friedrich Freksa.The Ballet Girl
The Ballet Girl (German: Das Mädel vom Ballet) is a 1918 German silent comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Ossi Oswalda, Harry Liedtke and Margarete Kupfer.It was shot at the Tempelhof Studios in Berlin. The film's sets were designed by the art director Kurt Richter.The Doll (1919 film)
The Doll (German: Die Puppe) is a 1919 German romantic fantasy comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch. The film is loosely based on the same short story which inspired the ballet Coppélia and the operetta La poupée by Edmond Audran.The Honeymoon Express
The Honeymoon Express is a lost 1926 silent film drama directed by James Flood and uncredited Ernst Lubitsch and starred Willard Louis and Irene Rich. Willard Louis's final film before his death. It is unknown, but the film might have been released with a Vitaphone soundtrack.The Housing Shortage
The Housing Shortage (German: Die Wohnungsnot) is a 1920 German silent short comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Victor Janson and Marga Köhler and Ossi Oswalda. It is now considered a lost film.The Love Parade
The Love Parade is a 1929 American pre-Code musical comedy film, directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, involving the marital difficulties of Queen Louise of Sylvania (MacDonald) and her consort, Count Alfred Renard (Chevalier). Despite his love for Louise and his promise to be an obedient husband, Count Alfred finds his role as a figurehead unbearable. The supporting cast features Lupino Lane, Lillian Roth and Eugene Pallette.
The film was directed by Lubitsch from a screenplay by Guy Bolton and Ernest Vajda adapted from the French play Le Prince Consort, written by Jules Chancel and Leon Xanrof. The play had previously been adapted for Broadway in 1905 by William Boosey and Cosmo Gordon Lennox.The Love Parade is notable for being both the film debut of Jeanette MacDonald and the first "talkie" film made by Ernst Lubitsch. The picture was also released in a French-language version called Parade d'amour. Chevalier had thought that he would never be capable of acting as a Royal courtier, and had to be persuaded by Lubitsch. This huge box-office hit appeared just after the Wall Street crash, and did much to save the fortunes of Paramount.The Merry Widow (1934 film)
The Merry Widow is a 1934 film adaptation of the operetta of the same name by Franz Lehár. It was directed and produced by Ernst Lubitsch and starred Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald. A French-language version was produced at the same time and released in France the same year as La Veuve joyeuse.The Rosentopf Case
The Rosentopf Case (German: Der Fall Rosentopf) is a 1918 German silent comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Lubitsch, Trude Hesterberg and Margarete Kupfer.It was shot at the Tempelhof Studios in Berlin. The film's sets were designed by the art directors Paul Leni and Kurt Richter.The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg
The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg, also known as The Student Prince and Old Heidelberg, is a 1927 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer silent drama film based on the 1901 play Old Heidelberg by Wilhelm Meyer-Förster. Ernst Lubitsch directed the picture.The Swabian Maiden
The Swabian Maiden (Swabian German: Das Schwabemädle) is a 1919 German silent comedy film directed by Georg Jacoby and Ernst Lubitsch and starring Ossi Oswalda, Carl Auen and Hermann Böttcher.It was shot at the Tempelhof Studios in Berlin.The Toboggan Cavalier
The Toboggan Cavalier (German: Der Rodelkavalier) is a 1918 German silent comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Ossi Oswalda, Harry Liedtke and Lubitsch.It was shot at the Tempelhof Studios in Berlin. The film's sets were designed by the art director Kurt Richter.Three Women (1924 film)
Three Women, also known as Die Frau, die Freundin und die Dirne, is a 1924 American silent drama film starring May McAvoy, Pauline Frederick, and Marie Prevost, directed by Ernst Lubitsch, and based on the novel Lillis Ehe by Yolande Maree (Iolanthe Mares).When Four Do the Same
When Four Do the Same (German: Wenn vier Dasselbe tun) is a 1917 German silent comedy drama film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Ossi Oswalda, Emil Jannings and Margarete Kupfer. Lubitsch himself plays a book shop employee who falls in love with Jannings' daughter. The film was a key transitional work in Lubitsch's career, as he began to produce films with greater depth than his early light comedies.It premièred in Berlin on 16 November 1917 at the Union-Theatre am Nollendorfplatz and at the UT Kufürstendamm (Filmbühne Wien).