09 December 2017

Ulli Lommel (1944-2017)

German actor and director Ulli Lommel (1944-2017) died of cardiac arrest on 2 December. He was one of the most consistently creative filmmakers to come from the New German Cinema movement. Lommel was best known for his frequent collaborations with Andy Warhol and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The creative partnership with Fassbinder lasted 10 years and produced over 20 films.

Ulli Lommel (1944-2017)
German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/303. Photo: Bernard of Hollywood / CCC-Zugsmith Co-produktion. Publicity still for Fanny Hill (Russ Meyer, 1964) with Leticia Román.


Ulrich Manfred Lommel was born in 1944 in Zielenzig, Brandenburg, Germany (now Sulecin, Lubuskie, Poland). Ulli was the son of German comedian and radio personality Ludwig Manfred Lommel, and actress Karla Von Cleef. He was born a few weeks before the arrival of the Red Army, and Lommel's family fled the city, wrapping baby Ulli in a roll of carpet.

Ulli began his career in show business as a child. In 1948, at the age of four, he was put on stage by his father, who was often referred to as the 'Charles Chaplin of Germany' . While living in Bad Nauheim as a teenager, Lommel performed with Elvis Presley. Lommel decided that he wanted to pursue an acting career, but his father did not approve. So 16-years-old Ulli ran away from home.

During his career, he acted in over 28 plays, among them William Shakespeare's Hamlet - in which he played the lead. In 1962, he made his film debut opposite Maria Schell and Paul Hubschmid in Ich bin auch nur eine Frau/I, Too, Am Only a Woman (Alfred Weidenmann, 1962).

He also appeared in Fanny Hill (Russ Meyer, 1964) with Leticia Román and Miriam Hopkins, and Maigret und sein grösster Fall/Enter Inspector Maigret (Alfred Weidenmann, 1966) featuring Heinz Rühmann. In total he played in 22 TV films and 18 films.

In 1968, he joined Rainer Werner Fassbinder and the Anti-Theater, an inspired theater collective that launched the careers of several prominent German actors including Kurt Raab, Hanna Schygulla and Margit Carstensen. As Fassbinder moved from theatre to films in the 1970s, rapidly becoming one of the leading voices of the German New Wave, Lommel became one of his closest collaborators.

He spent 10 years working with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who was legendary for his prodigious output, directing 41 films in 13 years. Lommel not only acted in 16 Fassbinder productions but also served as producer, assistant director and production designer, on such films as Fassbinder's directorial debut Liebe ist kälter als der Tod (1969) in which he also starred opposite Hanna Schygulla, Fontane Effi Briest (1974), the surrealist Western Whity (1975), Satansbraten (1976), and Chinesisches Roulette (1976).

Lommel also appeared in films by other directors such as Deine Zärtlichkeiten/Your caresses (Peter Schamoni, Herbert Vesely, 1969) with Doris Kunstmann, Anglia (Werner Schroeter, 1970), Harlis (Robert van Ackeren, 1972), and Schatten der Engel/Shadow of Angels (Daniel Schmid, 1976).

Renate Hütte, Britt Lindberg
German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/358. Photo: Bernard of Hollywood. Publicity still for Fanny Hill (1964) with Renate Hütte and Britt Lindberg.

Letícia Román
German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/302. Photo: Bernard of Hollywood / CCC-Zugsmith Co-produktion. Publicity still for Fanny Hill (Russ Meyer, 1964) with Leticia Román.


In 1971 Ulli Lommel directed his first film, Haytabo (1971), starring Eddie Constantine. His second feature film as a director, Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe/Tenderness of the Wolves (1973) with Kurt Raab as a gay serial killer, became a cult hit. It was based on the story of murderer Fritz Haarmann, who was also the inspiration for Fritz Lang's M (1931).

It brought Lommel in 1977 to New York, where he began working with Andy Warhol at The Factory. The Warhol / Lommel years spawned several features, including Cocaine Cowboys (1979) and Blank Generation (1980) with Carole Bouquet, both of which were directed by Lommel and feature Warhol in an acting role.

In 1980 Lommel moved to Hollywood and made independently The Boogey Man (1980), starring John Carradine, which became an overnight sensation and grossed over $35 million worldwide.

Many of Lommel's post-Boogeyman films, such as Olivia (1983), BrainWaves (1982) starring Tony Curtis, The Devonsville Terror (1983) starring Donald Pleasence, also starred his wife at the time, Suzanna Love.

Since Rainer Werner Fassbinder's death in 1982, Lommel has also been travelling the world and participating in numerous retrospectives dedicated to his Fassbinder years, among them the Museum of Modern Art in N.Y., Harvard, the Louvre, London and Beijing.

In 2004 Lommel started his own repertory group in Venice, California, where he and his collaborators have made 16 genre films. In 2008 Lommel teamed up with David Carradine, who starred in Lommel's drama Absolute Evil (2009).

In 2013 Lommel went for nine months to Brazil, where he wrote a book and also made two films. The first was the bio-epic documentary Mondo Americana (2015) and the second a film about Campo Bahia, the official camp for the German National Soccer Team. His autobiography, Tenderness of the Wolves, was released in 2015.

Ulli Lommel married and divorced three actresses, Katrin Schaake, Suzanna Love, and Cookie Lommel.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder in Liebe ist kälter als der Tod (1969)
German postcard by Hias Schasko Postkarten, München. Photo: Filmverlag der Autoren. Publicity still for Liebe ist kälter als der Tod/Love Is Colder Than Death (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1969) with Fassbinder himself.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder, shooting Händler der vier Jahreszeiten (1971)
German postcard by Verlag Hias Schaschko, München (Munich), no. 209. Photo: Rainer Werner Fassbinder during the shooting of his film Händler der vier Jahreszeiten/The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971), then still called Der Obsthändler/The Grocer.

Trailer Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe (1973). Source: Alles kino (YouTube).

Trailer The Boogey Man (1980). Source: Silky Stalin (YouTube).

Sources: CJ McCracken (IMDb), Les Gens du Cinéma, Wikipedia and IMDb.

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