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13 December 2012

Louis Graveure

British opera singer and actor Louis Graveure (1888 – 1965) starred in four German films of the 1930’s.

Louis Graveure
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 9978/1, 1935-1936. Photo: Janson. Collection: Didier Hanson.

The Mystery Man
Louis Graveure was born Wilfrid Douthitt in 1888 in London. He trained there under the well known Welsh soprano, Clara Novello-Davies, the mother of film star Ivor Novello. Douthitt first studied architecture at the Royal College of Art, South Kensington. He made his New York debut in 1914 in an operetta called The Lilac Domino, opposite Eleanor Painter, and received enthusiastic notices. Myron Myers wrote in the Journal of Singing: “In 1915, a baritone resembling Douthitt but called Louis Graveure made his New York recital debut. The press was curious to know if Graveure was, in fact, Douthitt. Even after a member of the press knocked on Graveure's apartment door, held up a photograph for comparison, and pronounced that, without the camouflage of his recently grown goatee, Douthitt and Graveure were the same singer, Graveure denied it emphatically. He proclaimed himself Belgian. Thus began one of the better promotional strategies of the twentieth century. Thereafter known as 'the mystery man,' Graveure capitalized upon this notoriety at every possible juncture. (His mother's maiden name was Graveur.)” Following a 1915 debut, his ‘glorious’ voice and ‘great store of genuine feeling’ captivated both public and press. He made a yearly western concert tour and produced over forty recordings in the next fifteen years for Columbia, some of which sold very well. Schirmer published his manual of singing called Super-Diction in 1918. He became accustomed to riding about New York City in a chauffeur driven limousine. In 1916, he married singer Eleanor Painter. Eleanor divorced Louis in 1930, subsequently marrying a wealthy businessman.

Louis Graveure
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 9085/1, 1935-1936. Photo: Badal Filmproduktion.

Magnetic Stage Presence
Without warning, Louis Graveure made his debut as a tenor in 1928. Critical reaction in New York was somewhat mixed. He had possessed strong top tones as a baritone, but the critics noted that when he sang exclusively in the tenor range there was a certain hardness of quality. This move may have been a reaction to his waning popularity. After some years teaching privately during summers in San Francisco (silent film star Ramon Navarro studied with him), he took an endowed chair in voice at Michigan State University in 1928, perhaps verifying the observation by Time magazine that he, among many other famous singers of the period, was not being booked as frequently. The decision to emigrate to Berlin in 1931 to sing at Deutsche Oper may have been motivated by the decline in bookings, the crash of 1929, the divorce from Painter, dissatisfaction with teaching, and a lucrative German contract. Louis Graveure sang five roles, predominantly, at the Berlin house: Faust, Rodolfo, Pagliacci, Don José, and Lohengrin. Because of his magnetic stage presence, electric delivery, handsome face, and athletic physique, even at forty-three, he was enormously popular with the Berliners. This led to a series of four films. The first was the comedy Es gibt nur eine Liebe/There Is Only One Love (1933, Johannes Meyer), in which he co-starred with Heinz Rühmann. In the second, Ein Walzer für Euch/A Waltz for You (1934, Georg Zoch), he played opposite Camilla Horn, the star of F.W. Murnau’s silent classic Faust (1926). They fell in love, and co-starred again in Ich sehne mich nach dir/I'm Longing for You (1934, Johannes Riemann), with Theo Lingen. When Josef Goebbels took over the Deutsche Oper in 1934 as an arm of the Nazi propaganda ministry, elements of Graveure’s films were used as propaganda. His final film was Ein Lied klagt an/A song accuses (1936, Georg Zoch), which he also produced.

Louis Graveure
Polish postcard by EmBPo / Ross, no. 1040.

Suspected Of Espionage
Louis Graveure's liaison with Camilla Horn lasted four years. They were adored by the public, living in Horn's luxurious villa in Berlin, and, when not working, in her villa on Cote d'Azur. But, war was not far off. Graveure left Berlin for that villa in France in 1938 and did not return. A telegram he sent to Horn from there was intercepted, and the Gestapo agent who delivered it told Horn that Graveure was suspected of espionage. Her Berlin villa was searched and her car interior destroyed in the quest for incriminating material. None was found. Graveure attempted to leave France for a U.S. concert tour in 1940, shortly after the Nazis marched into Paris. He was diverted instead to England where he stayed for the duration of the Second World War. In 1947, Graveure re-entered the United States, this time accompanied by a new wife, Patricia, and a two year old child named Viola. He attempted a comeback recital in New York that year, but judging from the critical reaction, the years of singing as a tenor had taken their toll and the recital was not a success. It is believed that the Graveures lived in New York until around 1957, when they moved to Los Angeles. He and his family lived in the luxury apartment building, Villa Carlotta, home to many movie studio contract players. There he taught voice privately, perhaps by referral from the film industry contacts he had made through Ramon Navarro and Camilla Horn. Louis Graveure was seventy-seven in 1965 when he died in San Francisco, USA.


Scene from Es gibt nur eine Liebe/There Is Only One Love (1933) with Jenny Jugo. Source: Alparfan (YouTube).

Sources: Myron Myers (Journal of Singing), Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos) and IMDb.

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