Nationality: British. Born: Elisabeth Ettel in Drohobyez, Poland (now Drohobych, Ukraine), 22 August 1897; became citizen of Great Britain, 1938. Education: Vienna Conservatory, c. 1915–19. Family: Married director Paul Czinner, 1931 or 1933 (died 1972). Career: 1919—stage debut in Zurich; 1923—film debut in Der Evangelimann; late 1920s-early 1930s—international reputation for stage work, particularly in Max Reinhardt productions Peer Gynt and St. Joan; 1933—moved to England with Czinner; successful London stage debut in Escape Me Never, and on Broadway in 1935; late 1930s—5-year contract with United Artists stipulating that the films be made in England; 1940—moved to U.S.; 1950—resettled in England 1950s-1960s—worked intermittently in Germany and Austria; 1962—returned to film acting after 20-year absence. Awards:
Best Actress Academy Award for Escape Me Never, 1935. Died: In London, 12 May 1986.
Films as Actress:
Der Evangelimann (Holger-Madsen)
Nju (Husbands or Lovers) (Czinner)
Der Geiger von Florenz (Impetuous Youth; The Violinist of Florence) (Czinner); Liebe (Czinner)
Dona Juana (Czinner)
Queen Louise (Königin Luise) (Grune)
Fräulein Else (Miss Else) (Czinner)
Ariane (The Loves of Ariane) (Czinner) (title role)
Der traümende Mund (Dreaming Lips) (Czinner)
Catherine the Great (Czinner) (title role)
Escape Me Never (Czinner) (as Gemma Jones)
As You Like It (Czinner) (as Rosalind)
Dreaming Lips (Czinner and Garmes) (as Gaby Lawrence)
Stolen Life (Czinner) (as Sylvia/Martina Lawrence)
Paris Calling (Marin)
Die glücklichen Jahre der Thorwalds (Staudte)
Strogoff (Courier to the Tsar) (E. Visconti)
Cry of the Banshee (Hessler) (as Oona)
Der Füssgänger (The Pedestrian) (Schell)
Der Pfingstausflug (The Pentecost Outing; The Whitsun Outing) (Gunther)
Feine Gesellschaft—Beschränkte Haftung (Runze)
Der Garten (Liebeneiner)
By BERGNER: book—
Bewundert viel und viel gescholten . . . : unordentliche Erinnerungen, Munich, 1978.
By BERGNER: articles—
Interviews in Picturegoer (London), 6 January and 18 August 1934.
Interview by Eva Orbanz in Exil—SechseSchauspieleraus Deutschland, Berlin, 1938.
Filmecho/woche (Germany), 11 December 1981.
On BERGNER: book—
Völker, Klaus, Elisabeth Bergner: das Leben einer Schauspielerin, Berlin, 1990.
On BERGNER: articles—
Close Up (London), December 1932.
Film Weekly (London), 10 November 1933, 24 August and 14 December 1934.
Picturegoer (London), 2 February 1935, and 1 April 1939.
"Elisabeth Bergner," in Films in Review (New York), April 1973, additions to filmography in November 1974 and January 1976 issues.
Shipman, David, in The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years, revised edition, London, 1979.
Ciné Revue (Paris), 9 October 1980.
Kino, Spring 1981, Spring 1983, and Summer 1983.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 21 May 1985.
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The dramatic art of Elisabeth Bergner was nourished on stage first in Zurich and then in various Austrian and German cities. When she came to Berlin her popularity was soon established as she captivated spectators and critics with strongly emotive portrayals in such stage productions as Romeo and Juliet, Queen Christine, and Camille. She subsequently began to specialize in playing women with childlike or boyish traits. Her stage and film career is closely related to the work of Hungarian director Paul Czinner who had come to Germany from Budapest via Vienna. He became both her artistic partner and her husband.
Their film collaboration began with Nju and continued with Der Geiger von Florenz, Liebe, Dona Juana, and Fräulein Else. Her co-stars included the great German film actors Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt, and Albert Bassermann. The bisexual type that she portrayed in Der Geiger von Florenz and in other film and stage roles reflected a contemporary German taste derived, according to Kracauer in From Caligari to Hitler, from an "inner laxity of manners."
With the coming of sound, Bergner began to portray a more sentimental and delicate woman. Soon critics labeled her characters as fragile, emotional, or nervous. Bergner acted her roles in such a manner as to charm her audience in an almost hypnotic way. Czinner allowed her to play the whole gamut of emotional experience in a series of films made in Germany, and then in Great Britain to which both of them fled after the rise to power of the Nazis.
The peak of her career is represented by her work in two films. In the first, Ariane, an adaptation of a novel by the French author Claude Anet, Bergner played a girl who plunges into adventure with an older, more experienced man. The second is the drama Der träumende Mund, an adaptation of a play by Henri Bernstein. Here Bergner played a sensitive, pure woman who cannot escape her passion for a musical virtuoso, but does not want to hurt her loving husband. This film was remade by Czinner as Dreaming Lips, with Bergner again in the leading role. None of her later films achieved such critical popular success. After having made a few films in England, Bergner again dedicated herself to the theater, both as an actress and director. Her profoundly sensitive acting, which influenced the German cinema of the 1920s and 1930s, is, fortunately, preserved on film for future generations.