East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb. Berlin, no. 311. Photo: Real-Film. Publicity still for Der Kaufmann von Köpenick/The Captain from Köpenick (Helmut Käutner, 1956).
Extremely versatile facial expressions
Martin Erich Fritz Held was born in Berlin-Wedding, Germany in 1908. The son of the foreman Albert Max Julius Held and his wife Emma Held-Reimann first completed a mechanic apprenticeship at Siemens.
In 1929 he received a scholarship for an acting training and till 1931 he attended the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst (University of Music and Performing Arts) in Berlin.
Held had his stage debut in 1931 in a graduation production of Vor Sonnenuntergang (Before Sunset). In the following decade he was engaged by theatres in Königsberg, Dresden, Elbing, Bremerhaven and Darmstadt.
From 1941 till 1951 he belonged to the company players of the Städtischen Bühnen in Frankfurt. There he had his breakthrough in 1947 as General Harras in the German premiere of Carl Zuckmayer’s Des Teufels General.
In 1951, Boleslaw Barlog asked him for the Staatlichen Schauspielbühnen Berlin, where he would stay till his death. There he played with major stage actors as Bernhard Minetti, Carl Raddatz, Wilhelm Borchert and Horst Bollmann under renowned directors like Fritz Kortner and Hans Lietzau.
Held also started his film acting career in Schwarze Augen/Black Eyes (Géza von Bolváry, 1951) with Cornell Borchers. His ironic acting style, his extremely versatile facial expressions as well as his distinctive voice worked well on screen.
His breakthrough was his part as SS-Obergruppenfuehrer Reinhard Heydrich in Canaris/Canaris Master Spy (Alfred Weidenmann, 1954). The film portrays real events during the Second World War when Wilhelm Canaris (O.E. Hasse) the head of German military intelligence was arrested and executed for his involvement with the 20 July Plot to overthrow Adolf Hitler. The film was a major success at the German box office and Held won the German Film Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal.
In another hit, Der Hauptmann von Köpenick/The Captain of Köpenick (Helmut Käutner, 1956) he played the imperious - but against the fake captain (Heinz Rühmann) extremely submissive - Mayor Obermuller. It was based on Carl Zuckmayer’s known play about the brilliant coup in 1906 of criminal Wilhelm Voigt. The film used this coup for a critical presentation of militarism in the German Empire.
Filmportal.de: ”As an actor, Held easily shifted from common man to upper-class citizen, and he equally convinced as the poor crook or the cunning criminal mastermind.”
Held played the lead role in the thriller Spion für Deutschland/Spy for Germany (Werner Klingler, 1956) co-starring Nadja Tiller and Walter Giller. The film based on a novel by Will Berthold, depicts the German spy Erich Gimpel’s actions during the Second World War.
Held again played a starring role as the historical prosecutor Dr. Schramm in Rosen für den Staatsanwalt/Roses for the Prosecutor (Wolfgang Staudte, 1959) with Walter Giller.
An interesting thriller was Nasser Asphalt/Wet Asphalt (Frank Wisbar, 1958) in which he co-starred with Horst Buchholz. The film is set in war-scarred Berlin and is another example of how the post-war German cinema tried to deal with the lessons of the war and Germany's recent history.
German postcard by Rüdel-Verlag, Hamburg-Bergedorf, no. 1774. Photo: Filmaufbau / Deutsche London / Lindner. Publicity still for Friederike von Barring (Rolf Thiele, 1956).
German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin-Charlottenburg, no. I214. Photo: Wesel / Berolina Film / Deutsche London. Publicity still for Spion für Deutschland/Spy for Germany/ (Werner Klingler, 1956).
Powerful baritone voice
Martin Held starred in the crime film Der Letzte Zeuge/The Last Witness (Wolfgang Staudte, 1960) which was entered into the 1961 Cannes Film Festival.
In the comedy Die Ehe des Herrn Mississippi/The Marriage of Mr. Mississippi (Kurt Hoffmann, 1961), Held had a supporting part. The film based on the play with the same title by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, featured O.E. Hasse and was entered into the 11th Berlin International Film Festival.
Held played the father of a kidnapped girl (Christine Kaufmann) in the thriller Neunzig Minuten nach Mitternacht/Terror After Midnight (Jürgen Goslar, 1962).
Raquel Welch was his co-star in an episode of the French anthology film Le Plus Vieux Métier du monde/The Oldest Profession (Michael Pfleghar, 1967) with contributions from six different film directors (including Jean-Luc Godard), each one doing a segment on prostitution through the ages.
Held starred in the military comedy Fast ein Held/Almost a Hero (Rainer Erler, 1967), as a German NCO in a fictitious village in occupied France, who unwittingly becomes town commandant - ironically, to the betterment of the locals. For this role, he won the Ernst Lubitsch Preis for best comedy performance.
Later films include the comedy Dr. med. Fabian — Lachen ist die beste Medizin/Dr. Fabian: Laughing Is the Best Medicine (Harald Reinl, 1969) with quiz host Hans-Joachim Kulenkampff, the crime comedy Die Herren mit der weißen Weste/The gentlemen in the white waistcoat (Wolfgang Staudte, 1969) with Mario Adorf, and the French thriller Le Serpent/Night Flight from Moscow (Henri Verneuil, 1973) starring Yul Brynner.
During the 1970s and 1980s he mostly worked for television. Held used his powerful baritone voice to good effect on radio and for dubbing such Hollywood tough guys as E.G. Marshall, George Macready and Neville Brand.
In 1978, his last feature film was released: Der Pfingstausflug/The Whitsun trip (Michael Günther, 1978). Held and Elisabeth Bergner play an old couple, which escapes from a senior citizens home and re-examines 63 years of married life. In 1988 he was honored with the Großes Verdienstkreuz (Great Cross of Merit). Martin Held died in 1992 in Berlin. He was 83.
Held was first married to actress Lilo Dietrich. Their son Thomas (1943) took his own life in 1961.
In 1967 Held married the actress Lore Hartling. From this marriage he had two children, Albert Held (1964), now the artistic director at the Schauspielhaus Graz, and Maximilian Held (1967), an actor.
German postcard by Ufa, Berlin-Tempelhof, no. FK 3738. Photo: Wesel / Berolina Film / Deutsche Film Hansa. Publicity still for Banktresor 713/Bank Vault 713 (Werner Klingler, 1957).
German postcard by Ufa, Berlin-Tempelhof, no. FK 4686. Photo: Karlheinz Dahlfeld / Hollywood.
Sources: I.S. Mowis (IMDb), Filmportal.de, Wikipedia (German and English), and IMDb.