17 May 2018

Gustav Fröhlich

Smart German actor Gustav Fröhlich (1902-1987) played Freder Fredersen, the young hero in Fritz Lang's silent classic Metropolis (1927). During the 1930s he became the fresh-faced gentleman in light comedies and musicals, and was one of the four most popular male stars of the German cinema during the Third Reich (with Willy Fritsch, Hans Albers and Heinz Rühmann). After the war he tried to escape from his standard roles as the charming gentleman playing a doomed painter in Die Sünderin (1951), but his effort went down in a scandal.

Gustav Fröhlich
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1584/2, 1927-1938. Photo: Ufa.

Gustav Fröhlich
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3018/1, 1928-1929. Photo: M. v. Bucovich (Atelier K. Schenker).

Gustav Fröhlich
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3600/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Ufa.

Gustav Fröhlich
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4145/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Ufa.

Gustav Fröhlich
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4293/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Ufa.


Gustav Friedrich Fröhlich was born an illegitimate child in Hannover, Germany in 1902. His father, Gustav König, was a well-known engineer, and his mother Hedwig Therese Sophie Fröhlich, the daughter of a worker. Gustav was raised by foster parents. His foster family moved around western Germany a lot while he was growing up, living in cities like Wiesbaden and Wurzburg.

He studied at the Homuth Realgymnasium Friedenau in Berlin. During World War I the young Gustav volunteered for a duty in occupied Brussels as supervisioner of the press.

In 1919 he started his career as a trainee at a newspaper, but he spent his spare time as a emcee at local variety shows. He also wrote two issues of a dime novel, Heinz Brandt, der Fremdenlegionär/Heinz Brandt, the Foreign Legionnaire.

After some entrances at a vaudeville theater under the stage name Gustav Geef he took acting lessons in Heilbronn. In the next few years he appeared on different minor German stages. In Berlin he played from 1923 till 1925 at the Volksbühne am Bülowplatz under the direction of Erwin Piscator.  Later he appeared as The Prince of Homburg at the Deutsche Theater under the direction of Max Reinhardt.

His film debut was a small role in a Dutch-German film produced in Germany, De bruut/Ein neues Leben/The Brute (Theo Frenkel, 1922) with Erna Morena and Adolphe Engers.

He then played a secondary role as composer Franz Liszt in Paganini (Heinz Goldberg, 1923) featuring Conrad Veidt. The following years, he played in such films as Friesenblut (1925) opposite Jenny Jugo.

Then Fröhlich landed his breakthrough role as Freder Fredersen in Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) by chance. He was only scheduled to play one of the workmen but four weeks after the beginning he was discovered on the set by Thea von Harbou, Fritz Lang's wife. Lang immediately cast him in the lead because of his striking good looks. A new star was born.

Gustav Fröhlich and Margarete Lanner in Metropolis (1927)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 71/10. Photo: Ufa / Parufamet. Publicity still for Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927). Collection: Didier Hanson.

Gustav Fröhlich
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4551/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Atelier Binder, Berlin.

Gustav Fröhlich
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4643/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Atelier Balázs, Berlin.

Gustav Fröhlich
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5196/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Ufa.

Charlotte Susa and Gustav Fröhlich Zwei Menschen (1930)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5522/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Deutsche Universal Film. Publicity Still for Zwei Menschen/Two People (Erich Waschneck, 1930) with Charlotte Susa.

Warner Brothers

After Metropolis, Gustav Fröhlich was typecast as the fresh-faced, naive 'boy next door' in such silent films as Die elf Teufel/The Eleven Devils (Zoltan Korda, Carl Boese, 1927) with Evelyn Holt, Heimkehr/Homecoming (Joe May, 1928) opposite Lars Hanson, and Asphalt (Joe May, 1929), in which he played a honest policeman who is seduced by a crook (Betty Amann).

In 1930, Fröhlich was called to Hollywood by Warner Brothers to do German versions of American sound films, such as Die heilige Flamme/The Holy Flames (William Dieterle (as Wilhelm Dieterle), Berthold Viertel, 1931) and Kismet (William Dieterle, 1931), both with Dita Parlo.

Back in Germany, he soon was subscribed for Max Ophüls’ musical comedy Die verliebte Firma/The Company's in Love (1931) next to Lien Deyers, and for Robert Siodmak's crime drama Voruntersuchung/Inquest (1931) with Albert Bassermann.

He often worked with director Géza von Bolváry. Between 1931 and 1933 they made six films together. These include Ich will nicht wissen, wer du bist/I Do Not Want to Know Who You Are (Géza von Bolváry, 1932) with Liane Haid, and Was Frauen träumen/What Women Dream (Géza von Bolváry, 1933), which was co-written by Billy Wilder.

Fröhlich often played smart gentlemen in  lighthearted musicals and romances. Because of his carefree attendance, Fröhlich was seldom allowed to play other characters. One of his greatest successes was his part of the helpful and likable policeman in Oberwachtmeister Schwenke (Carl Froelich, 1935).

He also directed films like Rakoczy-Marsch/Rakoczy march (Gustav Fröhlich, Steve Sekely, 1933), Abenteuer eines jungen Herrn in Polen/Love and Alarm (1934), and after the war Wege im Zwielicht/Paths in Twilight (1948), Der Bagnosträfling/The Prisoner (1949) with Paul Dahlke, and the crime drama Die Lüge/The Lie (1950) with Otto Gebühr.

Gustav Fröhlich in Liebeskommando (1931)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6261/1, 1931-1932. Photo: Super-Film. Publicity still for Liebeskommando/Love's Command (Géza von Bolváry, 1931).

Gitta Alpar, Gustav Fröhlich
Dutch postcard by JosPe, Arnhem, no. 379. Photo: Remaco. Gitta Alpár and Gustav Fröhlich co-starred in Gitta entdeckt ihr Herz/Gitta Discovers Her Heart (Carl Froelich, 1932).

Gustav Fröhlich, Gitta Alpar
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 7926/1, 1932-1933. Photo: Niedecken, St. Moritz. With Gitta Alpár.

Gustav Fröhlich, Charlotte Susa
Dutch postcard by JosPe, Arnhem, no. 279. Photo: Filma. Publicity still for Unter falscher Flagge/Under False Flagg (Johannes Meyer, 1932) with Charlotte Susa.

Gustav Fröhlich, Liane Haid
Dutch postcard by JosPe, Arnhem, no. 384. Photo: City Film. Publicity still for Ich will nicht wissen, wer du bist/I Don't Want To Know Who You Are (Géza von Bolváry, 1932) with Liane Haid.


Between 1931 and 1935 Gustav Fröhlich was married with Hungarian Opera star and actress Gitta Alpár. When she was pregnant form their daughter Julika, he left her. According to Alpár, because she was Jewish and he did not want to hurt his career in Nazi Germany.

After the war, Fröhlich tried a reconciliation with  Gitta Alpár but she never forgave him. Reportedly this gave him a tough time at old-age.

From 1936 till 1938 he lived together with actress Lída Baarová, his costar in Barcarole (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1935) and Leutnant Bobby, der Teufelskerl/A Devil of a Fellow (Georg Jacoby, 1935).

After losing Lída to Joseph Goebbels, Froelich had a quarrel with him. There is an urban legend that the quarrel culminated in a slap in the face of the powerful and feared Propaganda-Minister. Allegedly, Froehlich was banned from playing his trade for two years (1941-1943). Lída Baarová later denied this in her memoirs.

In 1937, he rented his house in Berchtesgaden to Adolph Hitler's architect, Albert Speer. In 1941 Fröhlich remarried with Maria Hajek. Since 1941 he had to serve for the Wehrmacht, interrupted by film engagements like Der Grosse König/The Great King (Veit Harlan, 1942) starring Otto Gebühr as Prussian king Friedrich the Second.

Gustav Fröhlich
Dutch Postcard by City-Film, no. 362.

Gustav Fröhlich
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6481/1, 1931-1932. Photo: Emelka. Publicity still for Gloria (Hans Behrendt, 1932).

Gustav Fröhlich
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 7000/1, 1932-1933. Photo: Atelier Marion, Berlin.

Gustav Fröhlich
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 8772/1, 1933-1934. Photo: Willinger, Wien.

Lida Baarova and Gustav Fröhlich in Barcarole (1935)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 9021/1, 1935-1936. Photo: Ufa / Lindner. Publicity still for Barcarole (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1936) with Lída Baarová.


Gustav Fröhlich was seldom involved in Nazi Propaganda films, a fact that helped him to establish a new film career after World War II.

He tried to escape from standard roles of the charming gentleman by playing a doomed painter in Die Sünderin/The Sinner (Willi Forst, 1951). The effort went down in the chaos of a scandal because of the film's open treatment of several taboos such as suicide and euthanasia, plus a brief nude performance by Hildegard Knef.

He went on to play leads in light entertainment films including Haus des Lebens/House of Life (Karl Hartl, 1952) with Cornell Borchers, and Die kleine Stadt will schlafen gehen/The Little Town Will Go to Sleep (Hans H. König, 1954) with Jester Naefe.

He remained a busy actor after the war but his roles changed from leading men to supporting parts as he got older. From the 1960s on, he had only a few TV film entrances including a part in the comedy Laubenkolonie/Allotment area (Heribert Wenk, Bertold Sakmann, 1968) with Paul Dahlke.

He was more active in the theatre, a.o. for the Renaissance-Theater in Berlin and the Schauspielhaus in Zürich. In 1973 he was honoured with the Filmband in Gold, the German Film Award for Lifetime Achievements. Ten years later, he published his autobiography Waren das Zeiten - Mein Film-Heldenleben/Those Were Times - My Life as a Film Hero (1983). His last public appearance was in 1986, when Giorgio Moroder presented his revised version of Metropolis.

From 1956 on, Gustav Fröhlich lived in Lugano, Switzerland. There he died in 1987 of a complication after surgery, at age 85. His wife Maria Hajek had passed away earlier that same year.

Gustav Fröhlich
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 8383/1, 1933-1934.

Gustav Fröhlich
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3537/1, 1941-1944. Photo: M P SS.

Gustav Fröhlich
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3608/1. Photo: Adler Film.

Gustav Fröhlich
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3703/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Quick / Ufa.

Gustav Fröhlich
German collectors card by Lux.

Sources: Lara Goeke (The Gustav Fröhlich Fan Page), Bruce Eder (AllMovie), Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Wikipedia (English and German), and IMDb.


scareface said...

Fröhlich "slap in the face" of Goebbels is only legend, its not true. (Memoirs of Lida Baar)

Bob of Holland said...

Thanks for your comment. I'll change it in the text.

JamaGenie said...

What an interesting niche you've chosen. Being an American in the Midwest, I'd never heard of most of the stars you feature!

Unknown said...