07 February 2014

Jiří Vršťala

Jiří Vršťala (1920-1999) was a Czech actor and writer. He achieved fame in Eastern Europe as the clown Ferdinand.

Jiri Vrstala
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Filmvertrieb, no. 500/5/65, 1965. Retail price: 0,20 MDN. Photo: Bolinski.

Clown Ferdinand

Jiří Vršťala (or Jiri Vrstala) was born in Liberec, Czechoslovakia in 1920. After graduating from high school Vršťala worked as a casual labourer. During World War II he had to work as a forced labourer in Germany.

After 1945, Vršťala worked at the theatre in Liberec, although he had no acting training. He was awarded for his role as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Then Vršťala got an engagement at the Realistic theatre in Prague.

In the 1950s he moved to the Prague City Theatre, and started to receive film offers for Czech films like Veliká prílezitost/The Great Opportunity (K.M. Walló, 1950) and the comedy Plavecký mariás/Swimming Maria (Václav Wasserman, 1953).

In 1955, Jiří Vršťala and Czech director Jindrich Polák developed together the character of the clown Ferdinand for the five-part TV series Sest estras Klaunem Ferdinandem/The Adventures of the Clown Ferdinand (1956-1957) of the Czech television station CST.

Here Vršťala embodied for the first time the figure that made him popular across the country's borders during the next decade. Several TV series for the Czech and East-German television followed.

He also appeared in public in this role, especially in children revues of the Friedrichstadt-Palast in Berlin and in children cabarets. These stage appearances were always sold-out. As Clown Ferdinand, he also made records and a book.

Jiri Vrstala
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Filmvertrieb, no. 500/6, 1966. Retail price: 0,20 MDN. Photo: DEFA / Pathenheimer, no. 2.548. Publicity still for Die Söhne der großen Bärin/The Sons of Great Bear (Josef Mach, 1966).

East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 3140, 1968. Retail price: 0,20 DM. Photo: Schwarz. With Angelica Domröse.

DEFA Villains 

Jiří Vršťala’s first major film role was in the Czech Crime film Páté oddělení/Fifth Department (Jindrich Polák, 1960).

Other interesting films were the Science Fiction film Ikarie XB 1 (Jindrich Polák, 1963) and the war drama Transport z raje/Transport from Paradise (Zbynek Brynych, 1963).

He also made films as Clown Ferdinand, like Klaun Ferdinand a raketa (Jindrich Polák, 1963) and Clown Ferdinand will schlafen/Clown Ferdinand Wants to Sleep (Jindrich Polák, 1965).

In 1966 he married East-German actress Angelica Domröse, with whom he had appeared in Chronik eines Mordes/The Story of a Murder (Joachim Hasler, 1965), and he moved to East Berlin.

In East-Germany he played character roles as villains in DEFA productions till 1975. These included the Western Die Söhne der großen Bärin/The Sons of Great Bear (Josef Mach, 1966) starring Gojko Mitic. He also played in more films and TV productions as Clown Ferdinand.

In 1975, he separated from Angelica Domröse and in 1983 Vršťala ended his acting career to devote himself to a literary career.

In 1987, he appeared again in two more Czech films, Mravenci nesou smrt/Ants carry the death (Zbynek Brynych, 1987) and Narozeniny reziséra Z.K./The birthday of director Z.K. (Jaroslav Balík, 1987). These were his final film appearances.

Jiří Vršťala later lived retired in the Pankow district of Berlin and in 1999, he died there of cancer shortly before his 79th birthday.

Clown Ferdinand. Source: rania elmadany (YouTube).

Sources: Wikipedia (German) and IMDb.

1 comment:

Bunched Undies said...

CCI have been trying to learn more about the cinema of Eastern Europe during the 60s, 70s and 80s. Interesting that he was known as clown with such rugged leading man type features.