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Anton Walbrook

A Life of Masks and Mirrors

Series:

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 15 Song at Twilight: Final Performance, Death and Legacy

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CHAPTER 15Song at TwilightFinal Performance, Death and Legacy

In the mid-1960s a writer named Kurt Loup was working at the theatre archive in Düsseldorf where Walbrook’s great-great-grandfather had been director of the Bergisches Nationaltheater in the early 1800s. After working on the project for almost a year, Loup contacted Walbrook in London in the summer of 1966. He was too busy to meet Loup but wrote him a pleasant letter in reply, providing a great deal of biographical information about his family and ancestors. In the meantime, he had a new play for which to prepare. Noel Coward’s Song at Twilight had been premiered in London in April 1966, with Coward himself in the lead role.

The play examines the choices made by distinguished novelist and playwright Sir Hugo Latymer, nearing the end of his life in a Swiss hotel suite where he lives with his former secretary and wife of twenty years, Hilde. His tranquillity is disturbed by the arrival of an old flame, actress Carlotta Gray, who seeks permission to publish some of Hugo’s letters in her forthcoming biography.

After indulging in some waspish exchanges and bittersweet nostalgia, she reveals the real cause of her visit: she has the letters Hugo sent to his male lover prior to his marriage (of convenience?) back in the 1920s, revealing how he abandoned his alcoholic boyfriend in order to live a straight life that has been as dishonest as it was respectable. As Carlotta...

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