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Anton Walbrook

A Life of Masks and Mirrors


James Downs

Viennese-born actor Adolf Wohlbrück enjoyed huge success on both stage and screen in Germany during the 1920s and 1930s, becoming one of the first truly international stars. After leaving Nazi Germany for Hollywood in 1936, he changed his name to Anton Walbrook and then settled in Britain, where he won filmgoers’ hearts with his portrayal of Prince Albert in two lavish biopics of Queen Victoria. Further film success followed with Dangerous Moonlight and Gaslight, several collaborations with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger – including his striking performance as Lermontov in The Red Shoes – and later work with Max Ophuls and Otto Preminger.

Despite great popularity and a prolifi c career of some forty films, alongside theatre, radio and television work, Walbrook was an intensely private individual who kept much of his personal life hidden from view. His reticence created an aura of mystery and «otherness» about him, which coloured both his acting performances and the way he was perceived by the public – an image that was reinforced in Britain by his continental background.

Remarkably, this is the first full-length biography of Walbrook, drawing on over a decade of extensive archival research to document his life and acting career.

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Chapter 7 ‘I want to know more about the man!’ British Stage and Screen, 1939–1940


CHAPTER 7‘I want to know more about the man!’British Stage and Screen, 1939–1940*

After the buzz surrounding the premiere of Sixty Glorious Years had died down, Walbrook headed for Paris where he planned a quiet break away from crowds and photographers. Travelling from London on the same train was a young Norwegian named Ferdinand Finne, returning from a research trip to the British Museum where he had been working on a book about the history of silk. A former costume designer for the National Theatre in Norway, he had developed a fascination with silk after moving to Paris to work in the fashion industry. Although regarded as something of a dandy by his colleagues, Finne’s career was only just beginning, and – with limited funds – the cost of the second-class rail ticket had left him barely enough money for a meal on the train. On his way to the dining car, he passed through the first-class carriages and noticed the handsome, dark-haired man sitting alone. Their eyes met, almost unconsciously, perhaps only for a moment – but it was enough. Finne left the carriage and used his dinner money to upgrade to first class. Walbrook saw him return, and they were soon deep in conversation.1

Apart from the evident physical attraction, both men had much in common: on a cultural level, they shared a passion for the theatre and a rich appreciation of art and literature. More personally, they both knew what it was like...

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