21 August 2012

Otto Wallburg

Otto Wallburg (1889 - 1944) was a popular actor of the Weimar cinema, who appeared in supporting roles as the overweight comedian. After the rise of the Nazis the Jewish actor had to go in exile, first in Austria and later in the Netherlands. He was murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz concentration camp.

Otto Wallburg
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6118/1, 1931-1932. Photo: Ufa.

The Funny Fat Guy
Otto Wallburg was born as Otto Maximilian Wasserzug in Berlin in 1889. He was the son of a Jewish banker. Otto stdied at the school of Max Reinhardt’s famous Deutsches Theater when he was 20 years old. He started his career in Switzerland at the theater of Bern in 1911. He then took as his stage name: Otto Wallburg. Two years later, he played in Frankfurt am Main. When the First World War broke out, he enlisted in the army. Wounded in 1917, he left decorated with the famous Iron Cross and resumed his acting career in Frankfurt. At the beginning of his career he was employed as the youthful hero, but when after World War I he had put on weight. He thought his acting career was finished, and turned to stage direction. But his fears were unfounded. Soon he developed a comical talent and he was cast as the funny fat guy. In 1926 he was contracted by Max Reinhardt. That same year Wallburg appeared for the first time in a film, Die keusche Susanne/The Innocent Susanne (1926, Richard Eichberg) with Willy Fritsch and Lilian Harvey. He established himself as a poignant character actor in a wide variety of genre films – ranging from the comedy Der Himmel auf Erden/Heaven on Earth (1927, Alfred Schirokauer, Reinhold Schünzel) starring Charlotte Ander, to the crime caper Der rote Kreis/The Crimson Circle (1928, Frederic Zelnik) with Lya Mara. He appeared with nearly all the stars of those days - normally in supporting roles in films like Grand Hotel (1927, Johannes Guter) starring Mady Christians and Werner Fuetterer, Mein Freund Harry/My Friend Harry (1928, Max Obal, Rudolf Walther-Fein) with Harry Liedtke, Die Nacht gehört uns/The Night Belongs to Us (1929, Carl Froelich, Henry Roussel) with Hans Albers, and Kolonne X/Column X (1929, Reinhold Schünzel).

Otto Wallburg
Dutch postcard, no. 681. Photo: Ufa.

Otto Wallburg and Willy Fritsch in Der Kongress tanzt
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 131/3. Photo: Ufa. Still from Der Kongress Tanzt/The Congress Dances (1931).

Der Blubberer
Otto Wallburg’s masterful play with dialects and his physical presence made him the ideal sound film comic. Because of his speech he was affectionately called ‘Der Blubberer’. His first sound film was the comedy Hokuspokus/Hocuspocus (1930, Gustav Ucicky) with Willy Fritsch and Lilian Harvey. Bigger roles followed in the films Wer nimmt die Liebe ernst?/Who takes Love Seriously? (1931, Erich Engel) with Jenny Jugo, Der Kongreß tanzt/The Congress Dances (1931) as the adjudant of the Russian czar (Willy Fritsch) who comes to Vienna in 1814, Der Hochtourist/The High Tourist (1931, Alfred Zeisler), and Kind, ich freu’ mich auf Dein Kommen/Kid, I’m Waiting For You (1933, Kurt Gerron) with Magda Schneider and Wolf Albach-Retty. Especially Reinhold Schünzel frequently cast Wallburg in musical comedies like Ronny (1931) with Käthe von Nagy, the romance Das schöne Abenteuer/The Beautiful Adventure (1932) with Alfred Abel and Ida Wüst, and the comedy Wie sag' ich's meinem Mann?/How To Tell It to My Husband (1932) with Georg Alexander and Renate Müller.

Otto Wallburg
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6692/1, 1931-1932. Photo: Otto Kurt Vogelsang, Berlin.

Otto Wallburg, Magda Schneider, Marion
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 7415/1, 1932-1933. Photo: IF. Still from Marion, das gehört sich nicht/Marion, That's Not Nice (1933, E.W. Emo).

In Exil
Otto Wallburg had a very hard time during the Nazi period. The Nazis refused his application for the Reichskulturkammer, he lost his Ufa contract and also his stage engagement. Thanks to his bravery at the front during the First World War, he still managed to find work, but in 1934 he emigrated with his family to Vienna. There he found work at Joe Pasternak's Universal Production. He appeared in films like Peter (1935, Hermann Kosterlitz aka Henry Koster) and Kleine Mutti/A Bundle of Joy (1935, Hermann Kosterlitz aka Henry Koster), both with Franciska Gaál. He also appeared in Bretter, die die Welt bedeuten/The Stage is the World (1935, Kurt Gerron) with Szöke Szakáll. In Hungary he played in the musical Ball im Savoy/Ball at the Savoy (1935, Steve Sekely) with Gitta Alpár. These films were not allowed to be shown in Germany. After the Anschluss in 1938 (the Nazis annexated Austria), Wallburg had to emigrate again and he moved along France (where he appeared in his last film, Carrefour/Crossroads (1938, Kurt (later Curtis) Bernhardt) with Charles Vanel) to the Netherlands. The Nazis withdrew his German nationality in a public announcement. In Amsterdam he worked with Kurt Gerron and Rudolf Nelson at the Joodsche Schouwburg (the Jewish theater) and appeared in a Jewish cabaret. The security which Wallburg found in the Netherlands didn't last. In May 1940 the German Wehrmacht marched into the Netherlands. Wallburg, without official papers could not escape and had to hide. A difficult life in the underground began for Wallburg. He and his wife Ilse Rein could avoid an arrest wave in 1943, but they fell victim on a tip and were arrested early in 1944. An eight-month lasting period of suffering began. The diabetic and terribly emaciated Otto Wallburg was brought into camp Westerbork, and afterwards he was deported via concentration camp Theresienstadt to KZ Auschwitz in Poland. There he was killed in the gas chamber at the end of 1944, like millions of others. A tragic end. He was only 55. Otto Wallburg was married at least three times, to actress Lina Brosso (with whom he had a son Reinhard), to Anna Luise Theis (with whom he had two daughters) and with Ilse Rein, with whom he lived in exil in the Netherlands.

Tribute to Otto Wallburg by his grandson Francois. Source: Marsacois1 (YouTube).

Sources: Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Philippe Pelletier (CinéArtistes) (French), Wikipedia (German), and IMDb.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am currently writing a biography of Fritzi Massary and would like to correspond with Francois Wasserzug about his grandfather's work with her. Can someone please put me in touch with him? Thanks for any help. robertwennersten@hotmail.conm