Conrad Veidt (1893-1943)
Country of birth: Germany
The basics: Conrad Veidt wanted to be a doctor but poor grades kept him from the profession and besides, he was bitten with the acting bug. He enlisted the German army during WWI but discharge due to poor health. Veidt continued his career on stage and soon branched into films, with his first known appearance in 1917 (Wenn Tote sprechen). He rapidly gained a reputation as a formidable villain, though he also would play heroes on occasion. John Barrymore personally invited Veidt to Hollywood to be his co-star in The Beloved Rogue (1927). With the coming of sound, Veidt returned to Germany. Soon, however, his hatred of the new Nazi regime forced him to flee to England where he continued his career. Hollywood beckoned a second time in 1941 and Veidt found himself playing European sophisticates and Nazis. He died suddenly of a heart attack in 1943.
You probably saw him in: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Man Who Laughs, Waxworks
Silent style: Veidt had the ability to disappear into his parts, no matter how bizarre. This allowed him to play such diverse characters as Cesar (the murderous somnambulist), a possessed Paganini, Satan, Ivan the Terrible, as well as assorted creeps, kooks, murderers and even the random romantic role such as Lord Nelson. His silent Hollywood films were very much of the Lon Chaney style: tragic monsters and mad magicians.
Sound transition: Veidt decided to return to Germany when sound came to Hollywood (he had been favored for the lead in Dracula). His stage training made his sound transition smooth. Veidt’s German parts from this period tended to be more romantic and sympathetic, though he did still play villains. He also with English productions even before he was forced to flee his homeland. Veidt’s notable English roles included the gallant U-boat captain of The Spy in Black and the villainous magician in The Thief of Bagdad. In America, Veidt was cast as a Nazi in Casablanca and an anti-Nazi agent in Above Suspicion, his last film.
What other people said:
“Even when he was not in front of the camera, he would prowl about the studio and startle us.”
Lil Dagover, Veidt’s Caligari co-star, on how she admired his ability to stay in character.
If you gotta know more:
Conrad Veidt: From Caligari to Casablanca by Jerry C. Allen (biography)
The Conrad Veidt Home Page (fan website)
The Conrad Veidt Website (fan website)
If you see him in only one thing: Sorry to take the obvious choice but The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was his breakout role and it remains one of the most distinct roles in motion pictures.