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Subject: Archive: Erich von Stroheim, May 12, 1957


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Director, actor
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Date Posted: Friday, May 12, 04:33:10pm

Erich von Stroheim, original name Erich Oswald Stroheim (born September 22, 1885, Vienna, Austriaódied May 12, 1957, near Paris, France), one of the most critically respected motion-picture directors of the 20th century, best known for the uncompromising realism and accuracy of detail in his films. He also wrote screenplays and won recognition as an actor, notably for roles as sadistic, monocled Prussian officers.

Various sources provide contradictory information about Stroheimís early life, probably because Stroheim himself was fond of embellishing his past. He was not, as reported in several accounts, descended from Viennese nobility, nor had he been an officer in the Austrian army. Rather, he was the son of a Jewish hatmaker, and he served in the armyóthough he was never an officeróbefore coming to the United States in 1909. He worked as an actor and as assistant to the leading director D.W. Griffith in such famous early films as The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916).

Stroheim wrote the script and played the leading role in Blind Husbands (1919), his first independently directed picture. As an early exemplar of the changing postwar morality, it intimated that a woman had the right to seek love outside of an unsatisfying marriage. Stroheimís growing obsession with painstaking detail was reflected in The Devilís Passkey (1920; now lost) and Foolish Wives (1922), pictures that enhanced his reputation as a director.

Stroheimís masterpiece was Greed (1924), an adaptation of Frank Norrisís novel McTeague (1899), which dealt with the power of money to corrupt. A landmark in film realism, its grim irony and brutal honesty were untempered by optimism or compassion. Stroheim engaged in many legendary battles with studio executives over the years, but none so bitter as when Greed was cut from its original 9-hour length to 140 minutes without Stroheimís approval or participation. Despite the cuts, the film retained much of its power, because Stroheim had concentrated the meaning of each scene in carefully constructed detail rather than by the juxtaposition of scenes. It remains a film classic and strongly influenced such later directors as King Vidor and Josef von Sternberg.

Although The Merry Widow (1925), The Wedding March (1928), and Queen Kelly (1928) were commercially successful, Stroheimís reputation for extravagance, his fanatical insistence on complete artistic freedom regardless of any economic considerations, and his sophisticated treatment of controversial subjects ended his Hollywood directing career. He returned to Europe as an actor and thereafter appeared only occasionally in American pictures, such as Five Graves to Cairo (1943). One of his notable characterizations was the prison-camp commandant in Jean Renoirís La Grande Illusion (1937), and he was nominated for an Academy Award for his supporting performance in Billy Wilderís Sunset Boulevard (1950).

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Son Erich, Jr. died in 1968, at 52, son Josef died in 2002, at 79 (NT)Both had careers in filmFriday, May 12, 04:35:26pm


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