Erich von Stroheim
(09/22/1885 - 05/12/1957)

By 1914 Erich Oswald Stroheim was working in Hollywood. He began working in movies in bit-parts and as a consultant on German culture and fashion. His first film, in 1915, was The Country Boy in which he was uncredited. His first credited role came in Old Heidelberg.

He began working with D. W. Griffith, taking uncredited roles in Intolerance. Later, he played the sneering German in such films as Sylvia of the Secret Service and The Hun Within. In The Heart of Humanity, he tore the buttons from a nurse's uniform with his teeth, and when disturbed by a crying baby, threw it out a window.

Following the end of the First World War, Stroheim turned to writing and then directed his own script for Blind Husbands in 1919. He also stared in the film. As a director, Stroheim was known to be dictatorial and demanding, often antagonizing his actors. He is considered one of the greatest directors of the silent era, representing on film his by turns cynical and romantic views of human nature.

His next directorial efforts were the lost film The Devil's Passkey (1919) and Foolish Wives (1922), in which he also starred. The studio publicity for the Foolish Wives claimed that it was the first film to cost one million dollars.

In 1923, Stroheim began work on his next film Merry-Go-Round. He cast the American actor Norman Kerry in a part written for himself 'Count Franz Maximilian Von Hohenegg' and newcomer Mary Philbin in the lead actress role. However studio executive Irving Thalberg fired Von Stroheim during filming and replaced him with director Rupert Julian.

Probably Stroheim's most famous work as a director is Greed, a detailed filming of the novel McTeague by Frank Norris. Stroheim filmed and originally edited a nine-hour version of the story, shot mostly at the locations described in the book in San Francisco and Death Valley. After his attempts to cut it to less than three hours were rejected by the studio, MGM cut the film to a little over two hours, and, in what is considered one of the greatest losses in cinema history, destroyed the excess footage. The shortened release version was a box-office failure, and was angrily disowned by Stroheim. The film was partially reconstructed in 1999, using the existing footage mixed with surviving still photographs, but Greed has passed into cinema lore as a lost masterpiece.

Stroheim's next films were the commercial project The Merry Widow (his most commercially successful film) and the more personal The Wedding March and the now-lost The Honeymoon.

Stroheim's unwillingness or inability to modify his artistic principles for the commercial cinema, his extreme attention to detail and the resulting costs of his films led to fights with the studios, and as time went on he received fewer directing opportunities.

In 1929 Stroheim was dismissed as the director of the film Queen Kelly after disagreements with star Gloria Swanson and producer and financier Joseph P. Kennedy over the mounting costs of the film and the introduction by Stroheim of indecent subject matter into the film's scenario.

After Queen Kelly and Walking Down Broadway, a project from which Stroheim was also dismissed, Stroheim became principally an actor, working in both the United States and France. He is perhaps best known as an actor for his role as von Rauffenstein in Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion and as Max von Mayerling in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard. For the latter film, which co-starred Gloria Swanson, Stroheim was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. The Mayerling character states that he used to be one of the three great directors of the silent era, along with D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille; many film critics agree that Stroheim was indeed one of the great early directors.

In the 1932 movie The Lost Squadron he parodied his image when he starred as a detail-obsessed German film director who tells soldier extras, that when they are "dead" they are to stay dead!

In 1935, Stroheim's only novel to be published in English Paprika was published by Macaulay. Paprika is the sensationalized story of the life and death of a gypsy femme fatale.

Stroheim spent the last part of his life in France where his silent film work was much admired by artists in the French film industry. In France he acted in films, wrote several novels that were published in French, and worked on various unrealized film projects.

He was awarded the French Légion d'honneur shortly before his death in 1957 in Maurepas, France at the age of 71.

Available Films

Ghosts (1915)

The Social Secretary (1916)

The Heart of Humanity (1918)

The Great Gabbo (1929)