1893-07-15

On this date the German-born actor and film director WILLIAM DIETERLE, was born (d. 1972). Dieterle began his career as a director and actor in Germany but worked in Hollywood for much of his career.

He was born Wilhelm Dieterle, the youngest child of nine, to Jewish parents Jacob and Berthe Dieterle. As a child, he lived in considerable poverty and earned money by various means including carpentry and as a scrap dealer. He became interested in theater early and by the age of sixteen, he had joined a travelling theater company.

His striking good looks and ambition soon paved the way as a leading romantic actor in theater productions. In 1919, he attracted the attention of Max Reinhardt in Berlin who hired him as an actor for his productions.

He started acting in German films in 1921 to make more money and quickly became a popular character actor. He tired of acting quickly and wanted to direct. He directed his first film in 1923, Der Mensch am Wege, which co-starred a young Marlene Dietrich, but he returned to acting for several years and appeared in such notable German films as Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (“Waxworks”) (1924) and F.W. Murnau’s Faust (1926). In 1927, Dieterle and his wife, Charlotte Hagenbruch, formed their own production company and returned to directing films, such as Sex in Chains (1928) which was one of the first films to deal with homosexuality. It portrayed a homosexual relationship between two prisoners (Dieterle played one of the men). In 1930, Dieterle emigrated to the United States when he was offered a job in Hollywood to make German versions of American films; he became a citizen of the United States in 1937. He adapted quickly to Hollywood film-making and was soon directing original films.

His first, The Last Flight (1931), was a success and has been hailed as a forgotten masterpiece. Other films made during the 1930s include Jewel Robbery (1932), Adorable (1933), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935 film) with Reinhardt, The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936), The Life of Emile Zola (1937), Juarez (1939), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), with Charles Laughton as Quasimodo and Kismet (1944) with Ronald Colman and Marlene Dietrich.

During the 1940s, Dieterle works were infused with more lush, romantic expression and many critics see the films of this period as some of his best works. They include The Devil and Daniel Webster (also known as All That Money Can Buy, 1941), Love Letters (1945) and Portrait of Jennie (1948). Dieterle’s career declined in the 1950s during the McCarthyism period. Although he was never blacklisted directly, his libertarian film Blockade (1938) as well as some of the people he worked with were considered suspect.

He continued to make American films in the 1950s, including the film noir The Turning Point (1952), Salome (1953) with Rita Hayworth, Elephant Walk (1954) with Elizabeth Taylor, and a biopic of Richard Wagner, Magic Fire (1955) for Republic Pictures. He made some films in Germany and Italy, and a notorious U.S. flop, Quick, Let’s Get Married (1964) – also known as The Confession or Seven Different Ways – with Ginger Rogers before retiring in 1965. Dieterle is remembered for always wearing a large hat and white gloves on set. How tasteful.