This is a slightly different story from the WWII era but nevertheless still an intriguing one. WWII wasn’t only death and destruction ‘normal’ life went on too. People would still go to the Cinema and watch movies. However in Germany these movies were often used as propaganda tools to divert the attention of what was really going on.
Emil Jannings, original name Theodor Friedrich Emil Janenz (born July 23, 1884, Rorschach, Switzerland—died January 2, 1950, Strobl, near Salzburg, Austria) internationally known German actor famous for his tragic roles in motion pictures.
To date, he is still the only German to have won the Best Actor Oscar.
Jannings is best known for his collaborations with F.W. Murnau and Josef von Sternberg, including 1930’s The Blue Angel, with Marlene Dietrich.
Der blaue Engel was meant as a vehicle for Jannings to score a place for himself in the new medium of sound film, but Dietrich stole the show. Jannings later starred in a number of Nazi propaganda films, which made him unemployable as an actor after the fall of the Third Reich.
In 1929, the first year of the Academy Awards, Jannings won a Best Actor award for his performances in the American-made films The Way of All Flesh (1927, now lost), in which he played an embittered family man, and The Last Command (1928), in which he was an exiled Russian general reduced to playing bit parts in war films. (During the early years of the awards, actors could be nominated for multiple performances.) With the advent of sound in American cinema, Jannings was forced because of his thick accent to abandon his career in the United States. He continued to work in German films, but his support of the Nazi regime made him a pariah elsewhere in the world. He continues to be a subject of great controversy, though many of his detractors begrudgingly admit that he was one of the finest actors of his generation.
After the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, Jannings continued his career in the service of Nazism and cinema. During the Third Reich, he starred in several films which were intended to promote Nazism, particularly the Führerprinzip (prescribed the fundamental basis of political authority in the governmental structures of the Third Reich)by presenting unyielding historical characters, such as Der alte und der junge König (The Old and the Young King 1934), Der Herrscher (The Ruler 1937) directed by Veit Harlan, Robert Koch (1939), Ohm Krüger (Uncle Kruger, 1941) and Die Entlassung (Bismarck’s Dismissal, 1942).
He also performed in his famed role in The Broken Jug directed by Gustav Ucicky. Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels named Jannings an “Artist of the State” (Staatsschauspieler) in 1936.
The shooting of his last film Wo ist Herr Belling? was aborted, when troops of the Allied Powers entered Germany in Spring 1945. Jannings reportedly carried his Oscar statuette with him as proof of his former association with Hollywood. However, his active role in Nazi propaganda meant that he was subject to denazification, and a comeback attempt would not be legal.
The Denazification was an Allied initiative to rid German and Austrian society, culture, press, economy, judiciary, and politics of any remnants of the National Socialist ideology (Nazism).
It was carried out specifically by removing from positions of power and influence those who had been Nazi Party members and by disbanding or rendering impotent the organizations associated with Nazism. The program of denazification was launched after the end of the Second World War and was solidified by the Potsdam Agreement.
Ironically, in the same period Dietrich would become a US citizen and an influential anti-Nazi activist, spending much of the war entertaining troops on the front lines and broadcasting on behalf of the OSS.
Dietrich particularly loathed Jannings for his Nazi ties, and would later refer to her former co-star as a “ham”.
According to Susan Orlean, author of Rin Tin Tin: The Life and The Legend (Simon and Schuster, 2011), Jannings was not actually the winner of the first best actor vote, but the runner-up. While researching her book, Orlean discovered that it was in fact Rin Tin Tin, the German Shepherd dog, one of the biggest movie stars of his time, who won the vote. The Academy, however, worried about not being taken seriously if they gave the first Oscar to a dog, chose to award the Oscar to the human runner-up.
Jannings retired to Strobl near Salzburg, Austria, and became an Austrian citizen in 1947.He died in 1950, aged 65, from liver cancer.He is buried in the St. Wolfgang cemetery.
His Best Actor Oscar is now on display at the Berlin Filmmuseum.
His Birth place of Rorschach, Switzerland, honored him with a special star (similar to the ones on the Walk of Fame in L.A.), which was revealed on November 12, 2004. Only hours prior to the ceremony, the town’s council learned of Jannings’ efforts on behalf of the Nazis during World War II. A few days later, the star was removed.I am a bit cynical about this especially in 2004 where information was readily available about Emil Jannings, I find it hard to believe they weren’t aware of his involvement with the Nazi party and especially Joseph Goebbels.