Connie Comes Home - Written by Vivienne Phillips
Times Group Newspaper, March 26, 1998
London Guardian, April 3, 1998
Hampstead & Highgate Gazette, April 10, 1998


March 26, 1998


When Vivienne Phillips was a teenager she fell in love with a movie star called Conrad Veidt.

Now, 55 years after his death, and by a bizarre set of coincidences, the pensioner from Hendon has become responsible for finding him a final resting place in Golders Green Crematorium.

Conrad Veidt made his name playing alongside screen greats like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and Joan Crawford in A Woman's Face. His sudden death while playing golf in 1943 shocked the film world, and Vivienne, having just dumped Errol Flynn, was devastated.

From that moment on, Vivienne,now 71, began a collection which is thought to be the largest in Britain. The most significant development, however, came ten years ago when she discovered the Conrad Veidt Society, and with it Conrad's remains.

''When his wife died in 1980 she willed all her belongings, including Conrad's ashes, to a nephew in California. A biographer got in touch with the nephew and asked if he could have a look and that's when the ashes were discovered,'' Vivienne explained.

Last year the Society issued a plea to fans saying the ashes needed a permanent home. Vivienne wrote back suggesting Golders Green Crematorium. The Society loved the idea and the placement will take place next Friday.

For Vivienne, it's a wish come true. ''When I learnt his ashes were stuck in a basement, I thought it was appalling. I must say I'm rather chuffed. He will now be with people he starred with such as Vivien Leigh and his friend, Sir Alexander Korda.''

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(Photo not reproduced here: Conrad Veidt and Joan Crawford in A Woman's Face


Friday April 3 1998

The man best remembered as the Nazi villain in Casablanca was, in real life, blacklisted by Hitler. Even stranger, 50 years after his death, his ashes are being laid to rest in Golders Green. Claire Armistead on the rise and fall of Conrad Veidt.

A handful of people will today gather at Golders Green Cemetery to inter an urnful of ashes. Nothing strange in that - except that these ashes have been hanging around for more than half a century and have travelled half way round the world to reach what, even now, may not prove to be their final resting place. They are the remains of the great German film actor Conrad Veidt and his third wife, Lilli. The arrival of the Art Deco urn in London marks the end of an odyssey as bizarre in its way as any of the films in which Veidt starred during his brilliant and turbulent movie career.

Veidt - for those who don't remember his name - was the Nazi villain Major Strasser, in Casablanca, the one Bogart guns down at the airport. In an earlier era, he also starred as the evil sleepwalker Cesare in The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari, his gaunt, lop sided form becoming one of the lasting emblems of German expressionism astride its jagged scrap-metal landscape. He made some 100 films in a career that spanned 30 years, sweeping from Germany in the early years of the century, via a stint in London, to Hollywood. George Cukor saluted his talent and Joan Crawford, who co-starred with him twice, claimed him as her inspiration. ''I had never seen an actor with such concentration and purpose,'' she said. The story of Veidt's rise and fall and rise is a strange and sobering one which is beginning to spread beyond the 150-or-so members of the Conrad Veidt society. On one of two internet sites devoted to him, an American fan asks: ''Did Garbo have a male counterpart? I answer: yes, yes, yes. His name was Hans Walter Conrad Veidt.'' He has a whole chapter devoted to him in a new book of essays about the hidden history of the British film industry in the 1930s.

It's typical of his story that the Conrad Veidt society was only set up eight years ago - 47 years after he died, on a golf-course, of a heart attack. For all his brilliance, Veidt had the misfortune to be born in a nation that was to lose itself for most of his adult life in fascism and war. "When he came to the States, he didn't get the leading men roles that people would have wanted for him," says Jim Rathlesberger, a 50-year-old civil servant from Sacramento, who founded the Conrad Veidt Society in 1990. (Their website: is here)

The Rathlesbergers became fascinated in Veidt after seeing him on television in Dark Journey, with Vivien Leigh. Rathlesberger, who claims not to be a movie buff, recalls his first encounter with Veidt like a teenager reliving love at first sight. ''There's that great scene when he's slapped across the face, and his face changes from pain to shock to recovery and his monocle stays in place without its ribbon. We were attracted because of his suave sophistication and his elegance,'' he says. ''Now we value his courage and integrity. As a civil servant, I see lots of people making compromises they shouldn't. These are small things. Veidt wouldn't compromise, even over big things.''

Born into a middle-class family in Berlin in 1893, Veidt worked in the theatre with Max Reinhardt before moving into silent film, where he became Germany's biggest male star. From his second marriage, he had a daughter, Viola, who is now in her seventies and living in the US.

When others might have dedicated themselves to their own stardom, Veidt made a series of choices that still seem astonishingly courageous today. In 1919, the same year as Dr Caligari he starred in what is held to be the first gay movie, Different From All The others, as a concert pianist blackmailed because of his sexuality. Like most of his German films, it was destroyed by the Nazis, who had tried, and failed, to lure this most conscientious of liberals into making propaganda movies for Goebbels. Veidt's principles went hand in hand with a certain recklessness: his third wife, Lilli was half-Jewish. He was offered immunity for her, but refused it. Asked to state his ethnic origins on a form, he scrawled ''Jew,'' and was slapped into detention, to be released only when British-Gaumont Pictures sent a doctor to prove he was not ill, as the Gestapo were insisting in order to justify his internment. He fled the country and moved to Hampstead, where he became a naturalised citizen, putting money from his royalties into British war relief and ensuring his place on the Nazi blacklist with films such as The Wandering Jew and Jew Suss.

On set in Jew Suss, in 1934, he impressed Christopher Isherwood, who wrote tellingly of a break in filming, when a technician offered him a sweet: ''He remained Suss, and through the eyes of Suss he looked down from the cart upon this sweet Christian girl, the only human being in this cruel city who had the heart and the courage to show kindness to a condemned Jew. His eyes filled with tears. With his manacled hands he took the candy from her and tried to eat it - for her sake, to show his gratitude to her. But he couldn't. He was beyond hunger, too near death. And his emotion was too great. He began to sob. He turned his face away.'' It sounds as if he had discovered method acting a decade before Lee Strasburg. But by the late thirties, Veidt was succumbing to the leaden casting that proved his downfall. After an appearance in a Michael Powell film, Contraband, he was condemned by a film magazine: ''The man who is built by nature to petrify kings and emperors with a look, rot the marrow of their bones with a sibilant whisper, is bent on setting himself down in your memory and mine as a commonplace, well-meaning ninny.''

In 1939, he was lured to Hollywood, where - ironically and inevitably - the bad casting continued, with the defier of Fascism doomed always to appear as smooth Nazi villains. In Casablanca, he played the last of them, and he died in 1943 before having a chance to see the finished film. There, his story takes a bizarre turn. He was interred at a Hollywood cemetery, but the urn was removed after the death of Lilli, who wanted her ashes to be mingled with his. That was the last that was heard of them, until - in the early nineties- the Rathlesbergers were contacted by Lilli's nephew, who had learnt of the society and wanted to pass on the memorabilia he had inherited from his aunt.

Along came posters, Veidt's cigarette case and a press cuttings book, kept by Lilli, which poignantly ended with his obituaries. And along came the urn. ''I was quite surprised,'' says Rathlesberger, who stashed the ashes in his garage and put out an international appeal for ideas as to where they should go. There had been a plan for them to be sent to Bablesberg, where Veidt had made his greatest films. But that idea was rejected by members of the society who were concerned about the rise of neo-Nazism in Germany. Then a fan from Hendon piped up. The Veidts had spent happy years in Hampstead, so why not bring him to Golders Green crematorium, where he could join his old muckers Alexander Korda and Vivien Leigh in the book of remembrance? The society agreed. The $5 yearly subscriptions (now $10, web editor) secured a 10 year lease on a niche in the columbarium, and the Rathlesbergers brought him over: What will happen to him once the 10 years is over is uncertain. It costs UKP 2,860 to secure a plot in perpetuity at Golders Green, and Veidt - for all his talent and integrity - was, in his own words, "only an actor". In death, as in life, a man without a place.

''The Unknown 1930s: An Alternative History Of The British Cinema 1929 - 1939,'' edited by Jeffrey Richards and published by IB Tauris, is out this week, price UKP UK UKP 29.50.

(Illustrations in the article not reproduced here: A half-page spread of Veidt as Major Strasser seated next to Claude Rains' Louis Renault. An insert of Veidt's Cesare from Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. )


Friday April 10 1998


By Amanda Gilbraith

The remains of the distinguished German film actor Conrad Veidt have been brought to Golders Green Crematorium after years in a cellar on the other side of the world.

Last Friday a group of fans - who had travelled from, among other places, New York, Berlin and Copenhagen - gathered at the crematorium in Hoop Lane to place at rest the ashes of of the actor and his third wife, Lilli, on the 55th anniversary of his death.

The arrival of the casket, containing an art deco solid bronze urn, marks the end of a long journey to bring Veidt back to Britain. After fleeing the Nazi regime in Germany, where he was blacklisted by Hitler, he settled in Platt's Lane, Hampstead. He became a British subject.

Born in Berlin in 1893, Veidt starred in some 100 films during a career spanning 30 years, which swept him from Germany to London and on to Hollywood, where he featured in such classics as Casablanca, The Thief of Bagdad, Dark Journey, and the pioneering silent movie, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - his big break.

Veidt died at the age of 50 on a golf course, from a massive heart attack. He was cremated in Hollywood. His widow, Lilli, who was half-Jewish, then moved to New York, where she laid his ashes at a crematorium nearby for 30 years until her death in 1980.

Her body was cremated and, as she wished, the ashes mingled with Veidt's. From then on, little was heard about the urn.

For more than a decade it languished in the basement of a house in California belonging to Lilli's nephew, Ivan Rado, who inherited Veidt memorabilia and the urn after his aunt's death.

When Mr. Rado learned of a fan club set up eight years ago by Jim Rathlesberger, a 50-year old civil servant from Sacramento in California, he decided to hand over all the memorabilia, including the urn. The urn eventually came into the hands of the Conrad Veidt Society after Mr. Rathlesberger put an international appeal in the Society's newsletter for ideas as to where the ashes should be placed.

A fan from Hendon, Vivienne Phillips, 71, suggested Golders Green Crematorium because of Veidt's many happy years spent in Hampstead. After unanimous agreement among members, Mr. Rathlesberger removed the case from his garage in California and brought it to London.

The Society has managed to secure a 10-year lease on a space in the columbarium for 400 pounds, which they hope to renew as money gradually trickles in. The cost of securing a plot in perpetuity at Golders Green - 2,860 pounds - is just too great for the Society.

''I feel shattered because it has been such a build-up and now it's finally over and he is here, finally at home,'' said Miss Phillips, who has been a Veidt fan since 1940 when she first saw him in The Thief of Bagdad.

''This has been a wish of mine to bring him home ever since that day in 1943 when I first heard of his death. For 55 years his ashes have been shunted from one place to another, which was dreadful, and now he is in a proper place together with Lilli.''

(Photographs not reproduced here: Conrad Veidt at his home in Platt's Lane, Hampstead, and a color photo of Jim Rathlesberger and Vivienne Phillips at Golders Green.)

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