Erich von Stroheim
Nickname: The Man You Love to Hate
Valerie Germonprez (c. 1919 - ?)
'Mae Jones' (c. 1915 - ?) (divorced)
'Margaret Knox' (19 February 1913 - ?) (divorced)
Broke two ribs when he fell from the roof in "The Birth of a Nation."
Biography from Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia:
Director, actor, screenwriter. (b. Sept. 22, 1885, Vienna, as Erich Oswald Stroheim; d. May 12, 1957.) Bald-pated, monocled, Teutonic terror frequently billed
as "the man you love to hate," the skillful delineator of stern, autocratic Prussian and Nazi officers, but also a brilliant (if wildly extravagant) director whose Greed (1924) still ranks among the greatest
achievements in cinema history. Variously described as a scion of Prussian nobility and a highranking career Army officer (he only served briefly, although he retained a fascination for all things military), he was in
fact the supervisor of his father's strawhat factory in Vienna before emigrating to America several years before World War 1. Von Stroheim entered the movie business in 1914 as a bit player, adviser on military costume
and customs, and finally an assistant director; he spent some time with pioneering director D. W. Griffith, reportedly acting in The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916), among others. His unmistakable
ancestry made him an ideal villain in many propagandistic films made when America entered the war, including Sylvia of the Secret Service (1917), and three 1918 releases, Hearts of the World (a Griffith film on which he
also served as technical adviser), The Hun Within and The Heart of Humanity (in which he hurled a baby out a window!).
With horrible-Hun types out of fashion after war's end, von Stroheim (as he was by now
billed) turned to directing at Universal, first with Blind Husbands (1919), based on his own short story. It, as well as his subsequent films The Devil's Passkey (1920) and Foolish Wives (1922), concentrated on overtly
if not explicitly sexual themes, with more than a hint of depravity for those clever enough to spot it. But von Stroheim wasn't just interested in making exploitative melodramas; his films were rich in characterization
and detail, and he lavished attention on sets, costumes, props, and makeup. Too much so, in fact: He constantly bickered with Universal management about cost overruns on his pictures. (One well-known and perhaps
apocryphal story had him ordering embroidery of authentic underwear for his soldier extras to wear, on the grounds that they would know exactly how their reallife counterparts felt!)
Von Stroheim's extravagance
extended to the amount of film he exposed, forcing Universal to cut Foolish Wives by nearly a third. An enormously successful film, it barely recouped its costs. Universal production head Irving Thalberg, finally fed up
with von Stroheim's continued intransigence, removed him from Merry-GoRound (1923), which was finished by Rupert Julian. Unrepentant, he began production on what would become his one true masterpiece, Greed for the
newly merged Metro and Goldwyn studios. Based on a novel of the naturalist school written by Frank Norris, Greed provided von Stroheim ample opportunities to explore the human frailties he so loved delineating on the
screen. Shot on location in San Francisco and Death Valley, the picture ran to 42 reels (about seven hours) and went way over budget.
Even von Stroheim realized that there was no way the new company could exhibit
a seven-hour film. He reluctantly cut it to four hours, and another director, Rex Ingram, shaved it by another hour. MetroGoldwyn finally cut it to 10 reels (little over 100 minutes) and released it to mixed reviews.
Nonetheless, no one disputed von Stroheim's artistry and filmmaking expertise, and in 1925 MGM (now joined by Louis B. Mayer) assigned him to direct a silent version of the Lehar operetta The Merry Widow Predictably,
von Stroheim all but threw out the libretto and stuffed the picture with scenes of debauchery and perversion. It was his swan song at MGM. He then cowrote, directed, and starred in The Wedding March (1928, for
independent producer Pat Powers), the story of a roguish Viennese prince who agrees to marry into a wealthy family to help his own, only to fall in love with a beautiful but impoverished girl (Fay Wray). A stunning and
emotional film, it too ran much longer than its distributor, Paramount, could bear; Americans saw only the first half of the story. (The second half, The Honeymoon was released separately in Europe.)
Stroheim's last silent film was another disaster. Gloria Swanson produced and starred in Queen Kelly (1928), the story of a convent girl swept off her feet by a roguish prince (they were, if you hadn't noticed by now,
von Stroheim fixtures) and whisked away to Africa. His trademark scenes of decadence were much in evidence, but Swanson fired him halfway through shooting, after he'd already spent some $600,000. The film was quickly
and choppily finished, released tentatively in some overseas markets, then shelved forever (or so it seemed; a restored version with still photographs printed into the film was prepared in the 1980s).
adamant about maintaining his work methods, von Stroheim began a Fox talkie, Walking Down Broadway in 1932. Once again, the plug was pulled when he ran over schedule and over budget. Much of his completed footage sat on
the studio shelf for a year, then was interpolated into newly shot material and released in 1933 as Hello Sister
Von Stroheim never again directed a film, but stayed in the industry as a character actor-on
occasion a darn good one. In the talkie era he appeared in The Great Gabbo (1929, as a ventriloquist!), Three Faces East (1930, one of his best, as an elegant spy), Friends and Lovers (1931), The Lost Squadron (1932, as
a dictatorial movie director), Crimson Romance, The Fugitive Road (both 1934), and The Crime of Dr. Crespi (1935) before returning to Europe, where he made many films, including one timeless gem: Jean Renoir's Grand
Illusion (1937), in which he unforgettably portrayed a cultured German commandant overseeing Allied prisoners during World War 1.
Back in America to escape the Nazi juggernaut of death and devastation, von Stroheim played supporting parts in I Was an Adventuress (1940), So Ends Our Night (1941), The North Star (1943), Five Graves to Cairo (also 1943, as Field Marshal Rommel in this excellent
Billy Wilder film), Storm Over Lisbon, Armored Attack, 32 Rue de Montmartre, The Lady and the Monster (all 1944), Scotland Yard Investigator, The Great Flamarion (both 1945), and The Mask of Dijon (1946). After the
war's end he went back to Europe for good, returning to Hollywood only once more, to appear (most effectively) as Gloria Swanson's devoted servant in Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd (1950, Oscarnominated). He worked in a
handful of European-made films and collaborated on several screenplays before his death in 1957. Though reduced to a caricature in many of his Hollywood films, and scorned for his indulgences as a director, he was
awarded the Legion of Honor in France shortly before his death. His sons both pursued careers behind the scenes in Hollywood.