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Bleibtreu, Hedwig (1868–1958)

Bleibtreu, Hedwig (1868–1958)

Austrian actress who had a long and distinguished career as one of the greatest tragediennes in German-speaking Central Europe. Born in Linz, Austria, on December 23, 1868; died in Pötzleinsdorf, a suburb of Vienna, on January 25, 1958; daughter of Sigmund Bleibtreu (1819–1894, an actor) and Amalie (Hirsch) Bleibtreu (1835–1917, an actress); sister of actressMaximiliane Bleibtreu (1870–1923); married Alexander Rompler, in 1900; married Max Paulsen, in 1911.

Began career in Vienna (1892); became member of Vienna's Burgtheater (1893); began acting in motion pictures (1923); acted in the Salzburg Festivals (1920s–1930s); received countless awards including the Burgtheater Ring (1930).

One of Austria's greatest actresses, Hedwig Bleibtreu was born on December 23, 1868, in Linz, Austria, into the most prominent acting dynasty of late 19th-century Central Europe. Her father Sigmund Bleibtreu (1819–1894) was a man of many talents, whose career included years as a military officer, painter, and playwright as well as a highly respected actor. Immensely popular with the audiences of the day, in 1882 he received the honor of acting in the Hofburg, the imperial palace of the Habsburg dynasty. For many years, he was the acclaimed artistic director of the Josefstadt Theater. Hedwig's mother Amalie Bleibtreu (1835–1917) was also a distinguished actress, much beloved for decades by Viennese theatergoers under the stage name of "Hybl." Hedwig's sister Maximiliane also established a strong reputation on the stages of Graz and Vienna, and was best known as a "master of masks."

Hedwig Bleibtreu studied acting at the Vienna Conservatory, completing her training in 1884. After making her stage debut in Augsburg, Germany, she returned in 1887 to her native Austria, starring at the theater in Brunn, Moravia. The next several years were busy ones as her reputation as a young star rapidly grew, and she appeared on the stage in Berlin, Kassel, and other German and Austrian cities. By 1893, she was performing on the stage of Vienna's Burgtheater, the pinnacle of theatrical life in German-speaking Central Europe, and her association with that theater would last almost half a century. In the early years of her career, Bleibtreu played sentimental and youthful heroic roles. In later decades, she excelled in the roles of mothers and mature women in drawing-room comedies. By 1906, when she received the signal honor of imperial recognition as a Hofschauspielerin, she dominated the great Goethe and Schiller roles of Klärchen, Joan of Arc, Elisabeth (in both "Maria Stuart" and "Don Carlos"), and Iphigenie. She also excelled in portraying several Shakespearean roles, including that of Ophelia. Over the many decades that she performed at the Burgtheater, she took on approximately 200 roles.

Bleibtreu survived the many catastrophes that befell her native Austria during World Wars I and II: inflation, dictatorship, and the emigration or death of colleagues who were Jewish or anti-Nazi. As one of the pillars of the Viennese stage for several generations, she received numerous honors and awards, including honorary citizenship of Vienna, the Emperor Franz Joseph Golden Cross of Achievement, the Goethe Medal for Art and Science, and—very important in a title-conscious culture—the designation "Professor." At the very end of her career, Bleibtreu's image was immortalized for future generations in the motion picture The Third Man. After one of the most extraordinary careers in the history of the German-language stage, Hedwig Bleibtreu died in Pötzleinsdorf, a suburb of Vienna, on January 25, 1958.

sources:

Doublier, Gerda. "Hedwig Bleibtreu," in Neue Österreichische Biographie. Vol. 16, pp. 132–139.

——. Hedwig Bleibtreu: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Burgtheaters. Vienna: Gerold, 1933.

—— and Walter Zeleny. Hedwig Bleibtreu: Wesen und Welt einer grossen Burgschauspielerin, zu deren 80. Geburtstag am 23. Dezember 1948. Vienna: Donau-Verlag, 1948.

Friedmann, Mitzi. Hedwig Bleibtreu: Das Portrait einer Schauspielerin. Vienna: Augartenverlag Stephan Szabo, 1933.

John Haag , Associate Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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