Self Portrait of Conrad Veidt (
Self Portrait of Conrad Veidt (
Conrad Veidt

Work in progress

Conrad Veidt (22 January 1893 -- 3 April 1943) was a German-born British actor best known for his work in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) , The Man Who Laughs (1928), and Casablanca (1943).He maintained a successful career as a German film star but ultimately left the prosperous Ufa in order to move to the United Kingdom. There he worked further as an actor before eventually moving to the United States of America in 1941. Veidt was a prolific film star appearing in over 100 films from 1917-1943. [1] He is best known for portraying villanous characters.

Early Career in Germany

He was born Hans Walter Conrad Weidt to a working class family in Berlin. The reason for the change of his surname from W to V was his own idea. It so that American audiences would pronounce his name correctly . He was known to have a great love for the outdoors and especially wildlife. Originally a German stage actor that performed with Emil Jannings, he was encouraged to take up acting in motion pictures.[2] His first role came in 1916 with the film The Road of Death. Veidt did a variety of work and even acted in Magnus Hirschfield’s gay rights film Anders als die Andern (Different From the Others) (1919). Veidt may actually have been the first to portray a homosexual character written specifically for the screen.

He later became involved in the production of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) in which he was cast as the terrifying and murderous Cesare. It was this performance that would give Veidt substantial recognition as his character Cesare became one of Germany’s most recognizable figures. He became stereotyped by the public and film industry as a horror genre actor. He once tried to explain to a Berlin film-magazine that, "Characters called evil are not as bad as they appear on the surface; if I enjoy playing them, it is not because their destuctiveness attracts me, but rather because I want to show the remnant of humanity which is hidden." [3] Conrad's final image in Caligari--a black clad, sad figure caressing a flower-suggests that he is an actor that can play non-horrific roles with equal panache.[4]
In 1924 Veidt was cast in Peter Leni's Waxworks(1924), another German expressionist work that was largely inspired by Robert Wiene's Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919).[5] It revolves around a poet that is hired by the owner of a wax museum in a circus to write tales about Harun al Raschid, Ivan the Terrible and Jack the Ripper. While writing, the poet and the daughter of the owner, Eva, fantasize about these fantastic stories and fall in love for each other.[6] Veidt played Ivan the Terrible across from Emil Jannings as Harun al Raschid.

After performing in the German film, The Student of Prague (1926), Veidt was recruited to travel to America to portray King Louis XI in The Beloved Rouge (1927). Because of Caligari, Veidt spent much of his silent German film career portraying sinister characters. He finally fulfilled his long cherished ambition to play Victor Hugo's Gwymplaine (a deformed circus performer) in the celebrated classic The Man who Laughs (1928). It was a large production by Universal with a budget of millions and a cast of thousands. Directed by Paul Leni the film is a striking example of Gothic macabre cinema.[7] The film focuses on Gwynplaine, son of Lord Clancharlie, who has a permanent smile carved on his face by the King, in revenge for Gwynplaine's father's treachery. Gwynplaine is adopted by a travelling showman and becomes a popular idol. He falls in love with the blind Dea. The king dies, and his evil jester tries to destroy or corrupt Gwynplaine. Unlike in the original story by Victor Hugo, the lovers escape to France.[8] Veidt did however inspire another iconic character. Bob Kane and artist Jerry Robinson used his likeness as Gwynplaine as their inspiration for Batman’s The Joker.[9]

Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs
Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs
Despite his success in these roles Veidt refrained from entering the "grotesque horror" business.[10] Instead he attempted to portray more complex characters in German, English and American cinema. However, despite his attempts to brach out he was qouted in his late Hollywood years as saying, "No matter what roles I play, I can't get Caligari out of my system."[11] Veidt also had a role in Germany’s first talking picture, Bride 68. (1929). In 1931 he was even chosen by Universal Pictures head Carl Laemmle personally to play Dracula. Tod Browning eventually took over as director of the project and Bela Lugosi was cast instead.[12]

Hitler Comes to Power

In 1933 Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and at around the same time Veidt married Ilona Prager. Ilona was Jewish and is considered to be one of the possible causes for Veidt to flee Germany for Britain. However, there were rumors that Veidt’s reputation in social circles as a staunch anti-Nazi caught the attention of the Gestapo.[13] His public display of distain for Hitler and the Nazi’s caused the Gestapo to formulate an assassination attempt. Supposedly, Veidt found out about the attack and fled Germany before being harmed.[14] Once in Britain he became one of the most fervent supporters of the Allies’ fight against Germany. At one point he almost put his entire house up for sale to be used in the war effort. In 1939 he became a British citizen.

Late Life and Career in Britain and Hollywood

In England he continued making movies, often with director Michael Powell, including such films as: Contraband (1940) and The Thief of Bagdad (1940), which was his only color film. Like so many German refugee actors he would often play the role of a Nazi villain. He eventually made the move to Hollywood in 1941 and was cast in the Michael Curtiz film Casablanca (1942). Amazingly, he was the highest paid actor on set despite Claude Reins, Ingirid Bergman, and Humphrey Bogart being in the movie. His role as the Gestapo captain Strasser in Casablanca was by far his most recognizable Hollywood role. Unfortunately, Veidt passed away because of a heart attack he suffered while playing the 8th hole at the Riveria Country Club on April 3rd 1943. Ironically he was playing with his physician at the time who made the official declaration of death. [15]


Allen, Jerry (1987). Conrad Veidt: from Caligari to Casablanca. Boxwood Press.ISBN 0940168049, 9780940168046

Eisner, Lotte (2008). The Haunted Screen: Expressionism in the German Cinema and the Influence of Max Reinhardt. University of California Press, 2008 ISBN .0520257901

Prawer, S.S (1980). Caligari's Children: The Film as a Tale of Terror. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-217584

Prince, Stephen (2004). The Horror Film. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0813533635

Turner Classic Movies:

External Links

IMDB Conrad Veidt:



  1. ^ Wikipedia. The Online Encyclopedia. Conrad Veidt
  2. ^ Allen, Jerry. "Conrad Veidt" pg 144
  3. ^ Prawer, S.S "Caligari's Children", pg 182
  4. ^ Prawer, S.S "Caligari's Children", pg 182
  5. ^ Eisner, Lotte "The Haunted Screen p115
  6. ^ Eisner, Lotte "The Haunted Screen p115
  7. ^ Prince, Stephen "The Horror Film" p54
  8. ^ Turner Classic
  9. ^ Conrad Veidt
  10. ^ Prawer, S.S "Caligari's Children", pg 183
  11. ^ Prawer, S.S "Caligari's Children", pg 184
  12. ^ Allen, Jerry. "Conrad Veidt" pg 17
  13. ^ Allen, Jerry. "Conrad Veidt" pg 142
  14. ^ Allen, Jerry. "Conrad Veidt" pg 142
  15. ^ Conrad Veidt.