Pages

24 November 2015

Willy Fritsch

From the middle of the 1920s on, charming Willy Fritsch (1901-1973) replaced Bruno Kastner and Harry Liedtke as the darling of the female cinema goers in Germany. Fritsch became the immensely popular ‘Sunny Boy’ of the Ufa operettas of the 1930s and 1940s, and with his frequent co-star Lilian Harvey he formed the 'dream team of the German cinema'.

Willy Fritsch
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5504/1. Photo: Ufa.

Willy Fritsch
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 7870/2, 1932-1933. Photo: Ufa.

Willy Fritsch
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6746/1, 1931-1932. Photo: Ufa.

Willy Fritsch
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 8469/1, 1933-1934. Photo: Ufa / Frhr. von Gudenberg.

Willy Fritsch
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 8473/3, 1933-1934. Photo: Ufa / Frhr. von Gudenberg.

Willy Fritsch
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6418/2, 1931-1932. Photo: Atelier Binder, Berlin / Ufa.

Sunny Nature


Willy (sometimes credited as Willi) Fritsch was born as Wilhelm Egon Fritz Fritsch in Kattowitz in German Silesia (now Katowice, Poland), in 1901. He was the son of Lothar Fritsch, a farmer and machine manufacturer, and his wife Anni (née Bauckmann).

In 1912 he moved with his family to Berlin, where he planned to become a mechanic. In 1919 he took up acting lessons from the actor Gustav Sczimek.

Fritsch debuted with a small role at Max Reinhardt's famous Deutsches Theater. There and at the affiliated Kammerspiele (Chamber theatre) he was cast in smaller stage roles, and played young lovers and comic parts. In 1922, he joined the Max Reinhardt Ensemble on its tour through Scandinavia.

From 1921 on, Fritsch began to appear as a supporting player in films, like the sound experiment Miss Venus (Ludwig Czerny, 1921).

In 1923, he auditioned for the leading role of a blind artist in the melodrama Seine Frau, die Unbekannte/His Mysterious Adventure (Benjamin Christensen, 1923), which was then re-written in order to fit his rather sunny nature.

Jenny Jugo and Willy Fritsch in Die Carmen von St. Pauli (1928)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3585/1. Photo: Jenny Jugo and Willy Fritsch in Die Carmen von St. Pauli/Docks of Hamburg (Erich Waschneck, 1928).

Willy Fritsch
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3586/1. Photo: Ufa.

Mady Christians & Willy Fritsch in Ein Walzertraum
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 48/1. Photo: Ufa. Mady Christians and Willy Fritsch in Ein Walzertraum/The Waltz Dream (Ludwig Berger, 1925), based on the Oscar Strauss operetta.

Xenia Desni, Willy Fritsch, Ein Walzertraum
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 48/5. Photo: Ufa. Xenia Desni and Willy Fritsch in the German silent film Ein Walzertraum/The Waltz Dream (Ludwig Berger, 1925).

Willy Fritsch
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 978. Photo: Eichberg Film / Verleih E. Welt & Co. Publicity still for Die keusche Susanne/The Innocent Susanne (Richard Eichberg, 1926), one of the rare Eichberg productions in which Fritsch played.

Fritz Lang


Willy Fritsch convincingly played the would-be son of an aristocrat in Der Farmer aus Texas/The Farmer from Texas (Joe May, 1925), which made him the new star of the production company Ufa.

Next he starred as the dashing Lieutenant Niki in Ein Walzertraum/A Waltz-Dream (Ludwig Berger, 1925), which turned out to be a significant success in the USA. At AllMovie, Janiss Garza writes: "This UFA silent, based on an old operetta, is far more light-hearted and spirited than the moody, heavy-handed fare that generally came out of Germany."

Ufa intervened when United Artists offered Fritsch a contract. His next films, Der Prinz und die Tänzerin/The Prince and the Dancer (Richard Eichberg, 1926) and Der letzte Walzer/The Last Waltz (Arthur Robison, 1927) basically followed the formula of Ein Walzertraum.

Fritsch only occasionally altered his now well-established film image in Spione/Spies (1928) and Frau im Mond/Woman in the Moon (1929), both directed by Fritz Lang.

Hal Erickson notes at AllMovie: "Spies (Spione) was the first independent production of German 'thriller' director Fritz Lang. The years-ahead-of-its-time plotline involves Russian espionage activity in London. The mastermind is Haghi (Rudolph Klein-Rogge), a supposedly respectable carnival sideshow entertainer. Heading the good guys is Agent 326 (Willy Fritsch), with the help of defecting Russian spy Sonya (Gerda Maurus). The film moves swiftly to several potential climaxes, each one more exciting than its predecessor. Haghi's ultimate demise is a superbly staged Pirandellian vignette. Anticipating Citizen Kane by a dozen years, director Lang dispenses with all transitional dissolves and fade-outs, flat-cutting territory from one scene to another."

Willy Fritsch in Ungarische Rhapsodie
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 104/2. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still for Ungarische Rhapsodie/Hungarian Rhapsody (Hanns Schwarz, 1928).

Willy Fritsch and Lilian Harvey
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5510/2, 1930-1931. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still for the early sound film Einbrecher/Burglar (Hanns Schwarz, 1930), in which Fritsch is a burglar who gets an affair with a rich and neglected industrial's wife (Lilian Harvey).

Willy Fritsch
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5858/2, 1930-1931. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still for Im Geheimdienst/In the Employ of the Secret Service (Gustav Ucicky, 1931).

Willy Fritsch
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5858/4, 1930-1931. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still for Im Geheimdienst/In Secret Service (Gustav von Ucicky, 1931), a spy film set in Russia in World War One.

Willy Fritsch in Der Kongress tanzt
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6048/1, 1931. Photo: Ufa Willy Fritsch as the Russian czar Alexander I and his double, in Der Kongress tanzt (Erik Charell, 1931).

Lilian Harvey and Willy Fritsch in Der Kongress tanzt
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 131/6. Photo: Ufa. Still with Lilian Harvey and Willy Fritsch in Der Kongress tanzt/The Congress dances (Erik Charell, 1931). Erich Pommer-Produktion, Ufa.

Lilian Harvey


Willy Fritsch took singing lessons in order to prepare himself for the sound film Melodie des Herzens/Melody of the Heart (Hanns Schwarz, 1929) with Dita Parlo.

His breakthrough came after being paired with Lilian Harvey in Liebeswalzer/The Love Waltz (Wilhelm Thiele, 1930) and the two were also engaged privately. Liebeswalzer established Harvey and Fritsch as the immensely popular 'dream team of the German cinema'.

Their next films such as Hokuspokus/Hocuspokus (Gustav Ucicky, 1930), the historical romance Der Kongress tanzt/Congress Dances (Erik Charell, 1931), Ein blonder Traum/A Blonde's Dream (Paul Martin, 1932) - co-written by Billy Wilder, and especially Die Drei von der Tankstelle/Three Good Friends (Wilhelm Thiele, 1930), were huge international box-office hits.

Fritsch and Harvey appeared together in twelve films. Each of these films featured several songs, which became popular hits and were also released on records, and thereby further added to the popularity of the two stars.

Hal Erickson at AllMovie: "If a poll had ever been conducted amongst fans of international musical-comedy star Lillian Harvey, the actress's most popular vehicle would probably have been Die Drei von Der Tankstelle (Three From the Gas Station) - with Congress Dances running a very close second. The story opens as three debt-ridden young men pool what is left of their savings to open a roadside service station. Their most frequent customer is the wealthy, winsome Ms. Harvey, who frequently shows up fetchingly clad in hiking shorts. Each of the young men falls in love with the girl, unbeknownst to the other two. Which one will she choose? Most likely, the one who sings the best - and that would be Lillian Harvey's frequent screen vis-a-vis Willy Fritsch."

Willy Fritsch, Lilian Harvey, Willi Forst, Ein blonder Traum
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 143/4. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still of Willy Fritsch, Lilian Harvey and Willi Forst in the musical comedy Ein blonder Traum/Happy Ever After (Paul Martin, 1932).

Willy Fritsch in Walzerkrieg
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 192/2, 1932-1933. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still for Walzerkrieg/Waltz Time in Vienna (Ludwig Berger, 1933). Collection: Egbert Barten.

Rose Barsony and Willy Fritsch in Walzerkrieg (1933)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 192/4. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still for Walzerkrieg (Ludwig Berger, 1933) with Rose Barsony.

Willy Fritsch in Des jungen Dessauers gross Liebe
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 8300/1, 1933-1934. Photo: Ufa. Willy Fritsch as Fürst Leopold von Anhalt-Dessau in Des jungen Dessauers grosse Liebe (Arthur Robison, 1933).

Heli Finkenzeller and Willy Fritsch in Boccaccio (1936)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 9677/1, 1935 - 1936. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still for Boccaccio (Herbert Maisch, 1936) with Heli Finkenzeller.

Willy Fritsch
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3844/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Baumann / Ufa. From Tatiana.

Character Actor


Willy Fritsch had a long-term contract with Ufa and was paid a monthly salary of 20.000 Reichsmark per month, which was doubled during the 1930s.

Eschewing his trademark sunny boy persona, Fritsch proved his range as a character actor in films like Ich bei Tag und Du bei Nacht/I by Day, You by Night (Ludwig Berger, 1932) co-starring Käthe von Nagy, Walzerkrieg/The Battle of the Walzes (Ludwig Berger, 1933) opposite Renate Müller, and the satirical romp Amphitryon/Amphitryon - Happiness from the Clouds (Reinhold Schünzel, 1935) with Paul Kemp.

Fritsch managed to survive the Hitler era without any loss of prestige. After the end of the war, he relocated to Hamburg. He spoofed his own image as the romantic lover in Film ohne Titel/Film Without a Title (Rudolf Jugert, 1947), and excelled as the comical conférencier in Herrliche Zeiten/Fun Times (Erik Ode, Günter Neumann, 1949).

Although still in high demand, Fritsch didn't find satisfying roles in West-Germany's post-war cinema. He continued to appear on stage and in films until the early 1960s. He remained a popular figure, partly due to his work as the host of nostalgic radio shows.

Since 1937, he was married to dancer and actress Dinah Grace until her death in 1963. They had two sons, Michael and Thomas. After his wife's death he decided to retire.

With his son Thomas Fritsch he starred in his final film, Das hab ich von Papa gelernt/I Learned It from Daddy (Axel von Ambesser, 1964). In 1963 he had published his memoir … das kommt nicht wieder/That will never come back, and in 1965 he was honoured with the Filmband in Gold, for his long and important work for the German film.

Willy Fritsch died of heart failure in 1973 in Hamburg, Germany. He was 72.


Scenes with Willy Fritsch and Lilian Harvey in Die keusche Susanne/The Innocent Susanne (1926), the silent film in which they first appeared together. Source: SittichFan (YouTube).


Willy Fritsch tells Lilian Harvey that she is too good for an afternoon love affair with Heinz Rühmann in Einbrecher (1930). Source: Taylormayes (YouTube).


Scene from Einbrecher (1930) with Willy Fritsch, Lilian Harvey, Heinz Rühmann and Kurt Gerron. He sings: Ich lass mir meinen Körper schwarz bepinseln. Composer: Friedrich Holländer. Source: SittichFan (YouTube).


Willy Fritsch sings the title song in Wenn der weisse Flieder wieder blüht/When the White Lilacs Bloom Again (Hans Deppe, 1953) with Magda Schneider and Romy Schneider. Source: fritz51213 (YouTube).


Willy and Thomas Fritsch in Das hab ich von Papa gelernt (1964). Source: SittichFan (YouTube).

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

1 comment:

Marie Reed said...

Hi!

I was flabbergasted when I saw how many wonderful postcard blogs there are in the blogosphere! I have been stumbling over gorgeous postcard images as I visit blog after blog after blog. My cheeks hurt from smiling! I love finding people with similar interests.

I am starting a postcard event called Postcard Friendship Friday. I'll put Mister Linky on my blog to keep us all connected. It would be wonderful if you could join, visit, and leave a comment on the other blogs who have joined the event too!

You don't even have to be a collector to join! There are zillions of postcard images on Flickr to pick from. Vintage, postcrossing, retro, personal travels, kitsch…… the list of postcard types is long!

I'll see you on Friday

Marie

PS Please comment back if you would like to join!