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Gustaf Gründgens

Gustaf Gründgens
Gustaf Gründgens as Hamlet (1936)
Born Gustav Heinrich Arnold Gründgens
(1899-12-22)22 December 1899
Düsseldorf, German Empire
Died 7 October 1963(1963-10-07) (aged 63)
Manila, Philippines
Years active 1920–1963
Spouse(s) Erika Mann (1926–1929)
Marianne Hoppe (1936–1946)

Gustaf Gründgens (22 December 1899 – 7 October 1963), born Gustav Heinrich Arnold Gründgens, was one of Germany's most famous and influential actors of the 20th century, intendant and artistic director of theatres in Berlin, Düsseldorf, and Hamburg. His career continued unimpeded through the years of the Nazi regime; the extent to which this can be considered as deliberate collaboration with the Nazis was hotly disputed.

His single most famous role was that of Mephistopheles in Goethe's Faust in 1956/57, which is still considered by many to have been the best interpretation of the role ever given.


  • Biography 1
  • Mephisto judgement 2
  • Filmography 3
    • Director 3.1
    • Actor 3.2
  • See also 4
  • External links 5


Born in Düsseldorf, Gründgens attended the drama school of the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus after World War I and started his career at smaller theaters in Halberstadt, Kiel, and Berlin. In 1923 he joined the Kammerspiele in Hamburg, where he also appeared as a director for the first time, collaborating with the author Klaus Mann, the son of Thomas Mann, and his sister Erika. Gründgens, who meanwhile had changed his first name to Gustaf, married Erika Mann in 1926; they divorced three years later.

In 1928 he moved back to Berlin to join the renowned ensemble of the Deutsches Theater under the director Max Reinhardt. Apart from spoken theatre, Gründgens also worked with Otto Klemperer at the Kroll Opera, as a cabaret artist and as a screen actor, most notably in Fritz Lang's 1931 film M, which significantly increased his popularity. From 1932 he was a member of the Prussian State Theatre ensemble, in which he first stood out as Mephistopheles.

Gründgens' career continued after the Nazi party came to power: in 1934 he became the Intendant or artistic director of the Prussian State Theatre and was later appointed a member of the Prussian state council by the Prussian Minister-President Hermann Göring. He also became a member of the Presidential Council of the Reichstheaterkammer (Theatre Chamber of the Reich), which was an institution of the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture). In 1941, Gründgens starred in the propaganda film Ohm Krüger and also in Friedemann Bach, a film he also produced. After Goebbels's total war speech on 18 February 1943, Gründgens volunteered for the Wehrmacht but was again recalled by Göring, who had his name added to the Gottbegnadeten list.

From 1936 to 1946, Gründgens was married to the famous German actress Marianne Hoppe in what was widely seen as a lavender marriage.

Imprisoned by the Soviet NKVD in 1945, Gründgens was released thanks to the intercession of the Communist actor Ernst Busch, whom Gründgens himself had saved from execution by the Nazis in 1943. During the denazification process his statements helped to exonerate acting colleagues, including Göring's widow Emmy and Veit Harlan, the director of the film (Jud Süß). Gründgens returned to the Deutsches Theater, later became Intendant of the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus, and from 1955 directed the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg. He again performed as Mephistopheles; the 1960 film Faust by Peter Gorski was made with the Deutsches Schauspielhaus ensemble.

On 7 October 1963, while traveling around the world, Gründgens died in Manila of an internal hemorrhage. It has never been ascertained whether or not he committed suicide by an overdose of sleeping pills. His last words, written on an envelope, were, "I believe I have taken too many sleeping pills; I feel funny, let me sleep it off." He is buried at the Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg.

Mephisto judgement

Posthumously, Gründgens was involved in one of the most famous literary cases in 20th-century Germany as the subject of the novel Mephisto by his former brother-in-law Klaus Mann, who had died in 1949. The novel, a thinly veiled account of Gründgens's life, portrayed its main character, Hendrik Höfgen, as having shady connections with the Nazi regime. Gründgens's adopted son and heir Peter Gorski, who had directed Faust, successfully sued the publisher on his late father's behalf in 1966. The judgment was upheld by the Federal Court of Justice in 1968.

In the time-consuming lawsuit, the controversy over libel and the freedom of fiction from censorship was finally decided by the Federal Constitutional Court in 1971. It ruled that Gründgens's post-mortem personality rights prevailed and upheld the prohibition imposed on the publisher. However, the novel met with no further protests when it was published again in 1981 by Rowohlt.

In 1981 the novel was made into the film Mephisto, directed by István Szabó, with Klaus Maria Brandauer in the role of Hendrik Höfgen. The film was a huge commercial and critical success, and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1981.



  • Eine Stadt steht Kopf (also actor, 1932)
  • Die Finanzen des Großherzogs (1933)
  • Kapriolen (also actor, 1937)
  • The False Step (1939)
  • Zwei Welten (1939)
  • Friedemann Bach (also actor, 1940)
  • Faust (also actor)


See also

External links

  • A biographical article
  • Photographs of Gustaf Gründgens
  • Gustaf Gründgens playing Mephisto in the Hamburg Theatre production of Goethe's Faust, in German with English subtitles on YouTube
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