Joachim Gottschalk’s suicide.

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Gottschalk, the son of a physician, was born in the small town of Calau, in the Prussian province of Brandenburg, on April 10 1904. He attended the Gymnasium high school in Cottbus and from 1924 worked for four years on seagoing vessels. He later began an theatrical education in Cottbus and Berlin. During an engagement in Stuttgart, he met with his later wife, the Jewish actress Meta Wolff  They married on 3 May 1930 in Halberstadt, shortly before Hitler came to power. They had a son, Michael, who was born in February 1933.

After the Nazi took power in 1933, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels promoted the establishment of the Reichskulturkammer (Chamber of Culture) instituition. Actors were required to apply for membership in the Theaterkammer (Chamber of Theatre) for an “Aryan certificate” which meant a prohibition (Berufsverbot) for Meta Wolff.

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The couple managed to avoid the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws and rising tide of anti-semitic violence in Nazi Germany. From 1934 Gottschalk performed at the Schauspielhaus Frankfurt and in 1938 joined the Volksbühne ensemble in Berlin. In the same year he began his film career starring in the romance You and I directed by Wolfgang Liebeneiner, side by side with the popular German actress Brigitte Horney.

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During World War II , Gottschalk and Horney appeared as a “dream couple” in a string of successful movies.

One day Gottschalk took his Jewish wife to a social function and introduced her to some of the prominent Nazis who were present. Although the Nazis were charmed, Goebbels  learned about this incident, and decreed that Gottschalk would be required to separate from his Jewish wife. When Gottschalk refused, Goebbels ordered Gottschalk’s wife and child transported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. The minister’s Special Representative Hans Hinkel insisted on the divorce and Gottschalk was told he would never work as an actor againHans Hinkel

Gottschalk insisted on accompanying Meta and Michael to Theresienstadt, but Goebbels ordered Gottschalk inducted into the German Army, the Wehrmacht.

On 6 November 1941, minutes before the expected arrival of the Gestapo at their house in Berlin-Grunewald, Gottschalk and his wife committed suicide by gas poisoning after sedating their son, who died with them.

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They are buried at the Stahnsdorf South-Western Cemetery. Though warned by Minister Goebbels, Brigitte Horney and Wolfgang Liebeneiner, as well as other artists like Gustav Knuth, Hans Brausewetter, Werner Hinz, and Ruth Hellberg attended the funeral.

Goebbels ordered no further mentions of Gottschalk in the German newspapers.Because of Nazi censorship, most of his devoted fans did not learn of the awful circumstances of his death until after the war. In 1947 Kurt Maetzig directed the movie Marriage in the Shadows after a novella by Hans Schweikart based on Gottschalk  and Wolff.Ehe_im_schatten

 

The 2002 drama Times Like These written by John O’Keefe is  also based on this tragedy.

 

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Herbert Brenon-Forgotten Irish Oscar nominated Movie Director

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I pride myself to be a bit of a movie buff, but to my amazement I had never heard of this Oscar nominated and ‘Photo Play-Medal of Honor’ winner.

Today marks his 137th birthday. He has been credited for directing at least 124 movie and shorts, which is an amazing feat by any measure.

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Herbert Brenon (13 January 1880 – 21 June 1958) born Alexander Herbert Reginald St. John Brenon was an Irish film director, actor and screenwriter during the era of silent movies through the 1930s.

He was born at 25 Crosthwaite Park, in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire, Dublin, to journalist, poet and politician Edward St John Brenon and Francis Harries.

In 1882, the family moved to London, where Herbert was educated at St Paul’s School and at King’s College London.

 

Before becoming a director, he performed in vaudeville acts with his wife, Helen Oberg. Started as a stagehand in New York. By 1909 he operated a small picture theatre in Pennsylvania. Two years later he was hired as a writer by Carl Laemmle, directing his first short the next year. Signed by William Fox in 1915, graduating to feature films.

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Some of his more noteworthy films were the first movie adaptations of Peter Pan (1924) and Beau Geste (1926),and Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928) with Lon Chaney.

For the 1927 movie “Sorrell and Son” about a a decorated war hero, who raises his son Kit alone after Kit’s mother deserts husband and child in the boy’s infancy, he was nominated for the Academy Award for best director ,dramatic pictures, at the First ever Oscars(Academy Awards) in 1929.

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Unfortunately he lost out to Frank Borzage for his picture “7th Heaven”

Regarded sound pictures with a measure of apprehension. Returned to Britain in 1934, but his career was well on the decline and he retired in 1940.His last movie “The Flying Squad”  he shot in London in 1940. It was based on a novel by Edgar Wallace in which the officers of the Flying Squad attempt to tackle a drug-smuggling organisation. The novel had previously been filmed in 1929 and 1932.

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He died in Los Angeles, California and was interred in a private mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY. Survived by a son, Dr. Herbert Cyril Brenon.

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Max Ehrlich-Told to be funny or be shot.

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Max Ehrlich (1892-1944) was one of the most celebrated actors and directors on the German comedy and cabaret scene of the 1930s. But his brilliant career was brutally interrupted by the rise of Nazism and his resulting deportation in 1942 to Westerbork concentration camp in Holland. Amazingly, there behind the walls and barbed wire, Max Ehrlich formed a theater troupe composed of fellow prisoners – the majority of them also famous Jewish show business personalities – and produced high quality musical and comedy revues. This artistic activity provided the means for everyone concerned, audience and actors alike, to retain a small measure of humanity, free their minds – if only momentarily – from the tragedy of daily life and nourish the illusion of survival. But, in the end, comedy did not prevail: like almost all of his colleagues from this theater of despair, in 1944 Max Ehrlich was transported to Auschwitz and gassed.

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Born on 25 November 1892, Max Ehrlich began his career as a stage actor in the 1920s, quickly building a reputation as a vital force on the Berlin cabaret scene. A popular parodist and poet, he performed with many other Jewish and leftist artists during the Weimar years.  However, like most of his fellow performers, his work was largely apolitical or only subtly critical.  Ehrlich also became a successful movie actor, with more than forty movie credits to his name by the time the Nazi take-over in 1933 abruptly ended his career.

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Max Ehrlich took part in over 40 movies and directed ten of it in his career. He published several records and wrote the book “From Adalbert to Zilzer”, in which he wrote humorous stories and anecdotes about many of his colleagues.

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With most performance venues either shut down or prohibited to him, that year he decided to assess the scene in Austria.  However, in Vienna as in Berlin, Nazis harassed him while he was on stage, ultimately making his act impossible.  Reluctantly he moved through Switzerland on to the Nerherlands, where he was already well-known as a touring comedian and cabaret star.  (German cabaret was popular in continental Europe during the inter-war years).  After two years touring Amsterdam, Zurich and Bern with other émigré artists, however, homesickness and the hope that things would get better drove him back to Berlin.

In 1935, Ehrlich returned to Nazi Germany. Jewish entertainers once again were permitted to perform there but only within the framework of the Jüdischer Kulturbund (Jewish Cultural Union) and exclusively in front of Jewish audiences.

In 1937 he left Germany and with the help of Ernst Lubitsch he went to the USA.

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Unfortunately he was not able to get work there, so he made the fatal decision to return to Europe

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Ehrlich was named director of the Kulturbund’s light theatre departments. However, following the 1938 pogrom “Kristallnacht,” he decided to leave Germany definitively.

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Both of his farewell performances immediately sold out, so that a third presentation on 2 April 1939 was added. Here, in front of a full house of fans, calling out their affection and encouragement, Ehrlich made his final appearance in Germany.

Subsequently, he returned to the Netherlands once again and joined Willy Rosen’s “Theater der Prominenten” (Theatre of Celebrities),

 

until in 1943 ,like so many of his colleagues– Ehrlich was imprisoned in the Westerbork concentration camp. While at Westerbork, he created and became director of the “Camp Westerbork Theatre Group,” a cabaret troupe that during its eighteen-month existence staged six major theatre productions, all within the concentration camp’s confines. A majority of the actors were famous Jewish show business personalities; prominent artists from Berlin and Vienna, such as Willy Rosen, Erich Ziegler, Camilla Spira, and Kurt Gerron; or well known Dutch performers, like Esther Philipse, Jetty Cantor, and Johnny & Jones. At its high point, the group counted fifty-one members, including a full team of musicians, dancers, choreographers, artists, tailors, and make-up, lighting, and other technicians, as well as stage hands.

Most of the shows combined elements of revue and cabaret –songs and sketches– but, on one occasion, the program included a revue-operetta, Ludmilla, or Corpses Everywhere—a production whose theme sadly was a premonition of the actors’ and other prisoners’ fate. While some scenes were implicitly critical, of course, the Theatre Group at no time produced openly political cabaret or directly attacked the Nazi regime.

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To do so would have violated the most fundamental condition for the troupe’s and its members’ survival, as life in Westerbork was dominated by the persistent threat of deportation on the next transport to an unknown but deeply feared fate in the East. So, standing helplessly and unaided before the fascists’ executioners and their lackeys, the Theatre Group, of necessity, limited itself to entertaining its audiences and to momentarily distracting them from the surrounding horrors. But in so doing, it also gave their captive audiences renewed hope and the courage to face an otherwise unbearable existence.

Doubtlessly, this artistic activity provided the means for everyone concerned, audiences and actors alike, to retain a small measure of humanity, free their minds –if only momentarily– from the tragedy of daily life and nourish the illusion of survival.

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During the summer of 1944, increasing numbers of transports carried Westerbork’s prisoners to the extermination camps in the East. Of 104,000 camp inmates, fewer than 5,000 survived. In the last transport to leave Westerbork, on 4 September 1944, Ehrlich was number 151 on the list of victims. Eyewitnesses recount that, after reaching Auschwitz, he was recognized by a Hauptsturmführer. As a result, Ehrlich was subjected to additional torture: brought before a group of SS officers holding their loaded guns aimed at him, he was ordered to tell jokes. On 1 October 1944, Ehrlich was murdered in the Auschwitz gas chambers.

 

 

The War of the Worlds

Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.

— H. G. Wells (1898), The War of the Worlds

I don’t know what it is about this Sci-Fi classic by H.G. Wells first serialised in 1897 in the UK by Pearson’s Magazine and in the US by Cosmopolitan magazine. The novel’s first appearance in hardcover was in 1898 from publisher William Heinemann of London.

But ever since I came across the story I fell in love with it. But it was via Jeff Wayne’s musical version I came encountered the tale of the Martians that invaded our planet, Even though the chances of this happening was a Million to one.

I forget how often I have listened to that album but at least hundreds of times if not thousands(maybe I should get out more). In 2008 I got the chance to see the live show. 30 years I had waited for it and it did not disappoint. Although I was a bit surprised by the cast who joined for the most recent shows,in my opinion some just had no talent at all(An ex member of Westlife), leave alone to be a part of such an amazing phenomena.

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But of course it was Orson Welles’s radio broadcast of the World of the Wars which had probably the biggest impact. The panic that ensued because people believed it was a genuine news broadcast. Ingenious really when you think of it, you just can’t buy that kind of publicity.

 

Someone asked me once “what is your favourite War of the Worlds movie?”And I honestly couldn’t say. I like the 1953 and Spielberg’s 2005 adaptation equally.

The story is really the most basic form of Science Fiction. The earth being invaded by aliens. But it works, it is compelling. It basically is a war story but rather then human enemies we are fighting extra terrestrial foes.

The story clearly inspired other TV show and movie makers. Series like “V” and “Falling Skies” are clearly based on the War of the Worlds as is “Independence Day”

What is the most fascinating is that it was written between 1895 and 1897 and it didn’t date. It is still as fresh as it was when it was first released. Ironically I only read the book after I listened to the musical version and watched the movies.

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I think I might just retreat now and listen to the album again, or read the book. I may even watch one of the movies.Either way one thing I know for sure the story will never bore me regardless in which configuration or adaption. Leaving you with some art work of Jeff Wayne’s musical version of TWOTW and my favorite track.

A great script does matter

I am a great fan of TV Dramas and Movies and despite a lot of critics saying that the last few years the quality has gone down, I believe that this isn’t really the case.

Particularly the TV Shows have really improved, I think it was shows like the Sopranos that really raised the bar.

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TV Channels and production companies like HBO, Showtime and AMC have really invigorated the TV landscape, throw in the mix Netflix and Amazon Prime and the online entertainment is complete. If it wasn’t for these companies who basically gave a cart blanch to TV Show makers we would have never had show like Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and their spin off Better Call Saul and Fear the Walking Dead

Shows like Ray Donovan, House of Cards,Bosch,Homeland and Game of Thrones would have never been aired, especially Game of Thrones with an often graphic and even pornographic content.

So on TV front I think the quality has gone up dramatically, but of course this is all a matter of taste. The one thing these shows have in common they are all character driven and it is evident that a lot of time is spend on the scripts.

Take Game of Thrones for example, although some of the graphic scenes are really ‘in your face’ it doesn’t take away from the character, Peter Dinklage who plays  his character Tyrion Lannister  so convincing that you don’t even notice his small stature.

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However unfortunately there are shows who started so promising but really failed to maintain the initial strong story lines.

Lost, took the world by a storm but at the end it ended in a damp squib. It really felt like the producers wanted to drag it out to get as much money as possible from the show  at the cost of a good script. They should have kept to the originally planned 3 seasons.

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Another prime example is Heroes. It started of great it had everything one could want in a show about heroes and villains, until season 3 that is where they came up with this ridiculous story line based in Cork,Ireland with the worse Irish accents I ever heard. But I could get over the accents, the worse thing here was they showed heavily armed security guards in a warehouse,not even the Police have guns in Ireland. That was just lazy script writing.

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One show that kept me interested until the very last episode was True Blood, unfortunately after all the hard work they had put in , it seemed that they had just given up at the very end. I have never have been more disappointed by a finale then with True Blood it was the mother of all anti-climaxes.

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By no stretch of the imagination am I a fan of the Irish national broadcaster RTE, but they did produce one of the most realistic and gritty crime drama’s even for international standards.

When I first heard of Love/Hate I had closed my mind to it, solely because of the fact it was made by RTE, but boy was I wrong. It is one of my all time favorites on par with The Sopranos ,Ray Donovan and Breaking Bad.

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Funny enough it was our Scandinavian brethren who produced some of the finest pieces of Crime drama this century, although subtitled the characters were so strong that you’d nearly forget they were talking Danish and Swedish. I am of course talking about The Killing(Forbrydelsen), the Bridge(Bron/Broen) and Wallander(well that is still Wallander in Swedish). I wasn’t to impressed with the BBC version with Kenneth Branagh.

When it comes to TV Shows I do tend to have a preference to Police Drama’s as a kid I grew up watching the German cop shows Derrick and Tatort, the latter one meaning Crime Scene, so basically it was CSI before ‘the’ CSI.

There might be more of a case when it comes to the Big screen to say the quality of movies just isn’t what it used to be and a lot of it is because of dodgy CGI, but having that said some of my all time favorite movies were made the last 16 years or so. Gladiator,The Lord of the Rings Trilogy,The Dark Knight trilogy, Pan’s Labyrinth and I am Legend, to name but a few. Again all these movies even though they were jam packed with special effects they were still character driven and a lot of attention was given to the script.But also movies like Gran Torino and Gone baby Gone are masterpieces.

I do get over some minor discrepancies in scripts, like in the recent ‘Captain America-Civil War’ where they mix up one German word, although it is annoying for a linguist like me, it didn’t take away the overall enjoyment of the movie.

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However when they mess up a whole scene by having a Finnish guy speak German as if it was Finnish is just lazy and unforgivable , this was the case in Swordfish,maybe that’s why Halle Berry took her top off to distract from the bad and lazy script.

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All in all as a viewer I think we are spoiled for choice in both TV and Cinema features.