Elisabeth Bergner

Definition

Theater

  • (1900 - 86) Austrian actress, who made her name in Berlinin the 1920s before becoming a star in Britain and America. Born inVienna, she made her stage debut in Z├╝rich and later worked underMax Reinhardt at the Deutsches Theatre before moving into films. In1933 she married the producer-director Paul Czinner. When AlexanderKorda invited the couple to Britain to make Catherine the Great,Bergner saw this as an opportunity to avoid Hitler, who had just cometo power: "I thought, good, I shall go to England and when wereturn it will all have blown over." When asked to tour theEnglish provinces she snapped, "What is Birmingham?" Nevertheless,she made her British stage debut at the Opera house, Manchester, in1933 and later that year appeared in London to great acclaim. Whenshe became ill, the producer C. B. Cochran closed the theater forthree weeks.

    In 1936 she told J. M. Barrie that her greatest artisticexperience had been seeing Rembrandt's painting David Playing theHarp for Saul. Barrie was so moved that he wrote The Boy Davidfor Bergner, who hoped that playing the title role would change herelfin image (she was then 36). The play, Barrie's last, flopped andBergner fled to Switzerland, refusing to return for a commandperformance.

    Bergner spent the war years in Hollywood and on Broadway.When she returned to Britain in 1950 The Daily Telegraph notedsourly: "Five years after the last bomb has fallen, she haselected to return." In 1963 she was awarded the Schiller Prize"for outstanding contributions to the cultural life of Germany".Ten years later, at the age of 73, she was triumphant in Cat'sPlay by Istvan Orkeny at the Greenwich Theatre; the critics stillreferred to her "coy Peter Pan little figure".

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