02 April 2012

Wolfgang Liebeneiner

Wolfgang Liebeneiner (1905-1987) was a German-Austrian film and stage actor, who turned into a successful director in the mid-1930s. Under the Nazi regime, he had a thriving career. He directed a few propaganda films and had important positions at the Reichsfilmkammer and the Ufa. After the war he could continue his career smoothly in both the theatre and the cinema.

Wolfgang Liebeneiner
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 8287/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Walther Jaeger, Berlin.

Subtle, Tragic Lovers
Wolfgang Georg Louis Liebeneiner was born in Liebau in Prussian Silesia Germany (now Lubomierz, Poland) in 1905. He was the son of a textile manufacturer. Wolfgang was sent to the cadet schools Wahlstatt und Berlin-Lichterfelde and went for further schooling to Berlin-Zehlendorf. After graduating, he studied philosophy, Germanistik and international history in Innsbruck (Austria), Berlin and Munich. During his studies he became the head of an academic stage group in Munich. In 1928, he studied acting and directing with Otto Falckenberg, the director of the Munich Kammerspiele. That same year he debuted in Frank Wedekind's Frühlings Erwachen (Spring Awakening) and from then on he devoted himself entirely to acting. In 1931 he made his debut as a theater director and that year he also made his first film appearance as a British lieutenant in the World War I drama Die andere Seite/The Other Side (1931, Heinz Paul), based on the play Journey’s End by R.C. Sherriff. Conrad Veidt and Theodor Loos were the stars, and Liebeneiner played a supporting part. Soon followed more films, such as the romantic drama Liebelei/Flirtation (1933, Max Ophüls) with Magda Schneider, the comedy Die schönen Tage von Aranjuez/The good old days of Aranjuez (1933, Johannes Meyer) starring Brigitte Helm, and the biopic Abschiedswalzer/Farewell Waltz (1934, Géza von Bolváry), in which he starred as composer Frédéric Chopin. In these films he often played subtle, tragic lovers, both in supporting as well as leading roles. In 1936, Liebeneiner became a member of the Preußisches Staatstheater Berlin (Prussian State Theater of Berlin).

Wolfgang Liebeneiner
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. A 3060/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Willett.

Aggressive War Policies
In 1937, Wolfgang Liebeneiner directed his first film, Versprich mir nichts!/Promise Me Nothing (1937, Wolfgang Liebeneiner) with Luise Ulrich. It was soon followed by the Heinz Rühmann comedy Der Mustergatte/Model Husband (1937, Wolfgang Liebeneiner). Liebeneiner’s career thrived in Nazi Germany. In the following years he directed a dozen films, including hits as Du und ich/You and I (1938) with Brigitte Horney, the comedy Der Florentiner Hut/The Leghorn Hat (1939), and Bismarck (1940), a biographical film of Otto von Bismarck, the Prime Minister of Prussia, which focuses how he and his aggressive war policies helped to unite Germany. Liebeneiner was appointed artistic director of the Deutsche Filmakademie Babelsberg (German Film Academy Babelsberg) in 1938 and a year later he became head of the Fachschaft Film of the Reichsfilmkammer (this was a department of the chamber of film, to which all actors, directors and other film-makers had to accede to further pursue their professional activities in Nazi-Germany. This department was responsible for the Berufsverbote for Jews and left-wingers. About 3000 film workers were excluded by the Reichsfilmkammer). In 1941, he directed the film Ich klage an/I accuse (1941, Wolfgang Liebeneiner) in cooperation with the National Socialist ministry of propaganda. The film was about voluntary Euthanasia of a woman suffering from multiple sclerosis, but was intended to support the T-4 Euthanasia Program. (Over 70,000 men, women, and children were killed as a result of this program.). His next film, Die Entlassung/Bismarck's Dismissal (1942, Wolfgang Liebeneiner) focused once again on Bismarck, played by Emil Jannings. From 1942 to 1945 Liebeneiner became the production chief at the Ufa (Universum Film AG), the largest German film studio at that time. In 1943, Propaganda minister Josef Goebbels even appointed him professor.

Hilde Krahl
Hilde Krahl. German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. G 177, 1941-1944. Photo: Wesel / Berlin Film.

The Adenauer Era
After the war, Wolfgang Liebeneiner could soon resume his theater career. Already in the autumn of 1945 he was directing again. In 1947, he directed the premiere of Wolfgang Borchert's play Draußen vor der Tür at the Hamburger Kammerspiele. He also directed the film version, Liebe 47/ Love ‘47 (1949, Wolfgang Liebeneiner) with Hilde Krahl. From then he directed two to three light entertainment films a year. In the Adenauer era Liebeneiner directed romantic dramas in which Ruth Leuwerik repeatedly played the lead role, such as Die Trapp-Familie/The Trapp Family (1956, Wolfgang Liebeneiner) with Hans Holt, and Königin Luise/Queen Louise (1957, Wolfgang Liebeneiner) with Dieter Borsche. These films were all very successful in the German speaking countries, and Liebeneiner also played bit parts in some of them. In the 1960’s he turned more and more to television, for which he filmed mainly plays, novels and short stories. Incidentally he made a film, for instance Schwejks Flegeljahre/Schweik's Years of Indiscretion (1965, Wolfgang Liebeneiner) with Peter Alexander in the role of soldier Josef Schwejk. In 1966 he directed the mini-series Die Schatzinsel/Treasure Island, based on Robert Louis Stevenson's novel. In 1977 he made one final feature film, Das chinesische Wunder/The Chinese Wonder (1977, Wolfgang Liebeneiner) starring Senta Berger and Heinz Rühmann. Jan Onderwater reviews at IMDb: “This is a dreadful and almost unbearable drama (…) Not only the subject of the badly written script is boring, Liebeneiner directs with disinterest.” Liebeneiner continued to make TV films till 1984. Meanwhile in the theatre, he focused particularly on the staging of operas and operettas at various opera houses. After a long illness, Wolfgang Liebeneiner died in 1987 in Mödling near Vienna, Austria. He had been married twice: first, from 1934 to actress Ruth Hellberg. This marriage ended in a divorce. In 1944 he married the actress Hilde Krahl, whom he had met during the filming of Yvette, and who starred in several of his films. They had two daughters, of which Johanna Liebeneiner also became an actress.

Scene from Die Trapp Familie in Amerika (1958) with Ruth Leuwerik and Hans Holt. Source: Melanie Zander (YouTube).

Sources: Rudi Polt (IMDb), Jan Onderwater (IMDb), Wikipedia (German and English) and IMDb.

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