02 July 2012

Theo Lingen

German-Austrian comedian, director and author Theo Lingen (1903 - 1978) enjoyed for decades a huge popularity as the devoted servant or bureaucratic dignitary in films. The German and Austrian comedy isn’t imaginable without this brilliant character actor.

Theo Lingen
German Collectors card by Deutscher Verlag, Berlin, presented by Der Stern. Retail price: 10 Pfennig. Photo: Kurt Ullmann. Caption: Mann kann mich näher kennen lernen (Man can know more about me).

Theo Lingen
German postcard by Verlag und Druckerei Erwin Preuss, Dresden-Freital, Serie I Die neue farbige Filmstarkarte, no. 12. Photo: Charlott Serda.

Friendly Villains
Theo Lingen was born as Franz Theodor Schmitz in 1903 in Hanover, Germany. He attended the Royal Goethe Gymnasium – the predecessor of the Goethe School – in Hanover, but left before taking the Abitur (final exams). His theatrical talent was discovered during rehearsals for a school performance at the Boulevard Theatre in Schauenberg. Beginning his professional stage career in 1921, the young actor adopted as a stage name his middle name together with that of the birthplace of his father, Lingen in the Emsland region of Germany. He didn't confine to acting but he also wrote theater plays which he directed himself. He appeared in over 230 films between 1929 and 1978, and directed 21 films between 1936 and 1960. He played non-comic characters – and sometimes danced - in such musicals as Dolly macht Karriere/Dolly's Way to Stardom (1930, Anatole Litvak) starring Dolly Haas, and Das Flötenkonzert von Sanssouci/The Flute Concert of Sans-Souci (1930, Gustav Ucicky) and played friendly villains in the classics M (1931, Fritz Lang) starring Peter Lorre and Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse/Dr. Mabuses Testament (1933, Fritz Lang). But the funny effect which his performance had to the public, wasn't to miss. From 1933 on the comedy was his domain and the Austrian comic Hans Moser became his partner in 24 films. Together they made a contrasting pair in such popular entertainment films as the operetta Rosen in Tirol/The Bird Seller (1940, Géza von Bolváry), Wiener Blut/Vienna Blood (1942, Willi Forst) starring Willy Fritsch, and the comedy Schäm' dich, Brigitte!/Shame on You, Brigitte! (1952, E.W. Emo) with Heinz Rühmann.

Theo Lingen
German Postcard by Film+Foto+Verlag, no. A 3799/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Foto Binz, Berlin.

Theo Lingen
German postcard by Film+Foto+Verlag, no. A 3624/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Binz/Bavaria Filmkunst.

Special Permission
From 1929 on, Theo Lingen performed in Berlin, for instance in Bertold Brecht's Dreigroschenoper/The Threepenny Opera, and in avantgarde plays, but also in cabaret and revue programmes at the Kurfürstendamm. In February 1928, his daughter, Ursula, was born to Brecht's then wife, singer Marianne Zoff. Brecht and Zoff divorced in September; Lingen and Zoff married later the same year. Because Zoff was Jewish, which under the Nazi regime usually resulted in a professional ban, Lingen thought about going into exile, but because of his great popularity with the general public Josef Goebbels gave him a special permit to continue to perform. Lingen directed his first, short films in 1936, the four-part series of Eulenspiegel. From 1939 to 1956, he directed 18 feature films, including a buoyant film version of Paul Lincke's operetta Frau Luna/Mistress Moon (1941) with Lizzi Waldmüller, and Liebeskomödie/Comedy of Love (1942) with Magda Schneider. Till the end of the war he acted in such popular comedies as Die Finanzen des Grossherzogs/The Grand Duke's Finances (1934, Gustaf Gründgens), Der Himmel auf Erden/Heaven on Earth (1935, E.W. Emo), Ich liebe alle Frauen/I Live All Women (1935, Carl Lamac) starring Jan Kiepura, Der Mann, von dem man spricht/The Man, About Whom One Talks(1937, E.W. Emo) with Heinz Rühmann, and Sieben Jahre Pech/Seven Years Hard Luck (1940, Ernst Marischka). One of his most successful appearances was his double role of a building contractor and a servant in the film version of Lingen's own play Johann (1942, Robert A. Stemmle). In 1944 Lingen moved to Vienna, Austria.

Theo Lingen
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. A 3362/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Karl Ewald.

Theo Lingen
German postcard by K & B, Berlin, no. 51. Photo: Berolina Film / Gloria.

The Mayor of Strobl
In 1945 Theo Lingen was chosen mayor as the temporary mayor of Strobl, an Austrian community, and in 1946 he got the Austrian nationalty. From 1948 he was an ensemble member at the famous Burgtheater in Vienna and played there until his death many character roles. The post-war cinema at first offered him leading roles in remakes of successful early sound films, in sportive slapstick comedies, and in sentimental regional films. Very funny is Jetzt schlägt’s 13/The Clock Ticks Thirteen (1950, E.W. Emo) with Lingen and Hans Moser as two butlers who suspect each other of being mass murderers. Other popular films were Heidi (1952, Luigi Comencini), Pension Schöller (1960, Georg Jacoby) and Bei Pichler stimmt die Kasse nicht/Pichler's Books Are Not in Order (1961, Hans Quest) with Georg Thomalla. During the 1960's the German entertainment film sagged more and more into triviality. Lingen often had to impersonate hysterical characters in such slapstick comedies as Die Lümmel von der ersten Bank/To Hell with School (1968, Werner Jacobs), Pepe, der Paukerschreck/Pepe: His Teacher's Fright (1969, Harald Reinl) and Tante Trude aus Buxtehude/Aunt Trude from Buxtehude (1971, Franz Josef Gottlieb) with TV star Rudi Carrell. More demanding were his roles in TV films and series, and on stage. Theo Lingen died of cancer in Vienna in 1978. He was 75. His daughter Ursula Lingen also became an actress.

Heli Finkenzeller, Theo Lingen and Marte Harell in the musical comedy Opernball/Opera Ball (1939, Géza von Bolváry). Source: BD130 (YouTube).

Heinz Rühmann and Theo Lingen in the comedy Schäm' dich, Brigitte!/Shame on You, Brigitte! (1952). Source: BD130 (YouTube).

Sources: Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Stephanie D'heil (Steffi-line) (German),, Wikipedia and IMDb.

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