Excerpts from works which mention Conrad Veidt. These excerpts are placed in chronological order (rather than by author).


NON-FICTION WORKS

Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca - Bogart, Bergman and World War II, by Aljean Harmetz.

Conrad Veidt who played Major Strasser was ''to be billed in fifth position, not less than second feature and the same size type as Claude Rains''. . .

By most definitions, Conrad Veidt and Claude Rains were character actors. By others, they were stars, including the fact that Warner Bros. paid them $5,000 a week and $4,000 a week respectively for Casablanca. Veidt had been a major star in silent films in Germany (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Hollywood (The Man Who Laughs) before Hollywood demanded that he play Nazis....

Conrad Veidt was probably tired of being nasty by the time he was cast as Major Strasser in Casablanca. Former casting director Steve Trilling had suggested Otto Preminger, who was thirteen years younger than Veidt, for the role of Strasser, who was then a Gestapo captain, and Preminger was tested on April 27 [1942]. It wasn't necessary to test Conrad Veidt. He had been playing smart, malicious Germans since the mid-thirties. Including Casablanca, Veidt played Nazis in three movies that reached theaters in 1942. In M-G-M's Nazi Agent he not only played the evil Nazi spy but his loyal-to-America twin brother. In Warner's All Through the Night, he loaded a speedboat with explosives and drove it at a battleship in New York harbor but was foiled by Humphrey Bogart. Just a month before Veidt was given the role of Major Strasser in Casablanca, director Herman Shumlin refused to have him play the Nazi sympathizer in Watch on the Rhine. ''Veidt, I think, is too immediately sinister,'' Shumlin wrote [producer Hal] Wallis. ''I am afraid he would be too much the villain on first sight.'' Shumlin's resistance was another of the accidents that benefited Casablanca. If Shumlin had been pressured into accepting him, Veidt would not have been available.

Born in Berlin in 1893, Veidt had started out as the hero, not the villain. Exceptionally handsome, he had become a star overnight in 1919 as as the sleepwalker in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. In 1926, John Barrymore insisted that Veidt come to Hollywood to costar with him in The Beloved Rogue. Veidt was under contract to Universal for two years at $1,500 a week before the innovation of talking films and his imperfect English sent him back to Germany in 1929. He chose to leave despite his huge success a year earlier as the tragic clown whose face is twisted into a permanent smile in The Man Who Laughed [sic].

Veidt was not Jewish, but his second [sic] wife, Lily, [Lil was actually his third wife] was. They married in 1933 and left immediately for England. ''Veidt would never have moved away from his adored daughter, Viola, unless it was absolutely necessary,'' says Patricia Battle, who is writing a biography of the actor. ''But he made sure his daughter and first wife were safe in Switzerland before the war began. There is a story -- which may not be true -- that when Veidt left Germany for good and had to fill in a form asking religious affiliation, he wrote 'JEW.' ''

When he was interviewed by Carl Combs, a Warner publicist assigned to Casablanca, Veidt denounced Strasser. ''This role epitomizes the cruelty and the criminal instincts and murderous trickery of the typical Nazi,'' he said. ''I know this man well. He is a man who turned fanatic and betrayed his friends, his homeland, and himself in his lust to be somebody and to get something for nothing.''

Veidt became a British citizen in 1938 [sic]. By that time he was playing grand villains like the Grand Vizier in Alexander Korda's The Thief of Bagdad. When war came, he loaned the money he had in the bank to the British government. After he came to America in 1940, he donated most of his salary from his American films to the British War Relief. He was, after all, only forty-nine years old, under contract to M-G-M, with years of good movies ahead of him. But he would be the first of the major participants in Casablanca to die. He dropped dead on a golf course less than a year later.

'Connie must have thought he had fifteen, twenty years more of work,'' says Robbie Lantz, Veidt's friend and fellow immigrant. A talent agent, Lantz brought Lily Veidt to New York to work in his agency. She survived her husband by more than forty years. ''In the most touching and unsentimental and wonderful way, Lily carried the torch to the end,'' says Lantz. ''There was no man after Connie. And she never talked about Connie. Up to the end, it was too painful for her.''

In late May, Warner Bros. borrowed Conrad Veidt from M-G-M for $25,000, five weeks at $5,000 a week. By the time Warners borrowed Dooley Wilson [who played Sam the piano player] from Paramount and Veidt from Metro, the war had caused the studios to cooperate in ways that would have been unthinkable six months earlier.....

The right-wing fervor that swept America from 1947 to 1957 can be read in the files of Bogart, Peter Lorre and even Ingrid Bergman. From this distance, those FBI reports create a world like the one in Alice in Wonderland where the Knave of Hearts is guilty of writing a letter he swears he didn't write because, if he were an honest man, he would not have disguised his handwriting and refused to sign his name.

. . . Like all the files, two-thirds of Lorre's is unreadable because all but two or three words on a page have been blacked out to protect the informer or the internal practices of the FBI. Conrad Veidt's files manage to have their cake and eat it too. Veidt is accused of having pro-Axis leanings and of being associated with fervent anti-Nazis.

The day that Veidt finished work on Casablanca, July 20, 1942, he had plans for the evening. According to FBI file No. 100-3514, Veidt was to be a speaker at the Free Peoples' Dinner held at the Beverly Hills Hotel under the auspices of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee and the Council on African Affairs. Guests included the mayor of Los Angeles, the vice-consul of the USSR, Charles Laughton, Major William Wyler, and an FBI agent who detailed the pro-Russian sentiments of the guest of honor, Paul Robeson. Although Veidt's name was on the program, he never showed up. He may have gone out to celebrate the end of his role in Casablanca or simply gone home to bed. But the fact that he was expected to appear is on file forever.


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