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

Excerpts from My Life in Movies, by Michael Powell

p. 154 [1926. Powell is an assistant to director Rex Ingram (not to be confused with the American actor Rex Ingram who played the Djinn in Thief of Bagdad) at his Victorine Studios in Nice. The current project is The Magician, adapted from a story by Somerset Maugham, about a mad scientist named Oliver Haddow.]

At Belfort, in the Vosges, stands a famous statue of a lion and there is a replica of him at one of the gates of Paris. A fair is held there every year, and the square is filled with tourists and Parisians. Rex [Ingram], like most film directors, adored fairs, carnivals, circuses and carousels. I would like to state here and now, that the sight of any young director's carousel shots, except those in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, makes me want to throw up. It's too much like taking candy from a baby. So, prefaced by the inevitable montage sequence from [editor] Grant Whytock, our party meets Oliver Haddow, a sinister figure in regulation costume for wizards: black slouch hat, black cloak, ebony cane and very hypnotic eyes -- Paul Wegener, the German actor who had recently played and directed The Golem, an ancient Jewish legend, and made a huge success of both chores. His formidable physique had been the basis of the Golem's shape, like a child's grotesque toy, hacked out of wood with a pocket-knife, crowned with a square mop of hair that fell to his shoulders. I feel sure that Rex would have played Conrad Veidt in the part, if he had not recently seen The Golem, and then I should have met Connie at the time when he was reputed to be the most brilliant actor and most interesting heterosexual in the German theatre. But Wegener was chosen, and so we were saddled with a pompous German whose one idea was to pose like a statue and whose one expression to indicate magical powers was to open his huge eyes even wider until he looked about as frightening as a bullfrog.

[The autumn of 1937. Powell has just joined the directing staff of Alexander Korda's London Films. p.272]

Alex's chief worry, which soon became mine, was to find a subject for Conrad Veidt. This great actor and legendary personality (who could ever forget his madman in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, or the student in The Student of Prague, or Metternich in Congress Dances) had been signed up by Korda after his successful debut in English films in Walter Forde's Rome Express. Korda was probably paying Veidt about 50,000 pounds a year and in the normal course of production such an investment would easily be worked off in a year, and would even show a profit. London Films was finding it difficult to raise finance from its backers, and a box-office subject had to be found. The case of Sabu, the Elephant Boy, was similar. In his first films he was paid a living wage and glad of it. But when he became a star, he was quick to know his value. A film called The Drum had been thrown together by A.E.W. Mason from one of Kipling's stories. It starred Sabu and the boy actor Desmond Tester as the two drummer boys on the North-West Frontier, with Roger Livesey and Valerie Hobson as the stiff-upper-lip representatives of the British Raj, and Raymond Massey as a gorgeously camp rajah.

The obvious solution, given two such exotic and expensive actors as Veidt and Sabu, was to star them together, and Korda had already commissioned Mason to develop an idea entitled The Conjurer. In all this, of course, I was neither consulted nor informed, but I had been longing to get my hands on Conrad Veidt ever since he came to England. He was such an overpowering personality that directors were afraid of him. He was tall, over six feet two inches, lean and bony. He had magnetic blue eyes, black hair and eyebrows, beautiful, strong hands, and a mouth with sardonic, not to say satanic, lines to it. He used an eye-glass. He was the show-off of all time. In private life, as I was to discover, he was the sweetest and most easy of human beings.

Because of the fear he inspired, and the admiration that his gifts awakened in his English directors, they let him get away with mispronunciations and false readings of key words that made his English unintelligible. He gave a superbly realistic performance in Under the Red Robe, a great old swashbuckling story by Stanley Weyman, but although he had our sympathy, you couldn't understand a word he said. I vowed that I would change all that and bided my time.

[Powell has become enamored of a book by Edward Thompson called Burmese Silver, which he thinks has a great part for Veidt. p. 275]

This was freebooting on a grand scale and was obviously a part for Conrad Veidt, who could annex empires without moving a muscle in his face. But where did Sabu come in?

[Burmese Silver has been put on hold. Korda tells Powell that he has another project in mind for him, an adaption of the J. Storer Clouston novel The Spy in Black, to star Veidt and Valerie Hobson. Powell is greatly dismayed after having put in so much effort on Burmese Silver, including a trip to Burma, but disappointment is transformed into enthusiasm when he attends a story meeting for the film, where he meets one Korda's new writers, Emeric Pressburger. Pressburger unveils an entirely new plot that Powell, to his surprise, finds dramatic and exciting. Korda doodles while Emeric describes his new storyline. p. 302-305 (excerpts)]

The action of The Spy in Black took place during the 1914-18 war, and the place was the anchorage of Scapa Flow, which was still, in 1938, the base for the British North Sea Fleet. It is in the Orkneys, not more than fifty miles from Foula, as the gannet flies! Emeric praised the atmosphere, but pointed out that the object of the exercise was to provide a stunning part for a great star, Conrad Veidt, and in the present script no such part existed. It was also necessary to provide an intriguing part for Miss Hobson, who was no dummy. No such part existed, and so long as we were bound to the iron rails of Storer Clouston's plot, it would never exist. Emeric threw it out and invented a new one. He brought action which had taken place off-stage in the book and in the existing script onto the screen. Instead of the shadowy, conventional spy figures that were usual in British thrillers of this kind, he invented a whole gallery of masculine types, led by the magnificent Conrad Veidt as a gallant U-boat commander who, acting under sealed orders, risked his command and his own person on a secret mission to sink half the British fleet.

In the original story, the ''spy in black'' had been a Scottish minister of religion whose black cloth had been a symbol of his respectability and anonymity. (In the weeks to come, we racked our brains, and turned the studio wardrobe inside out, to find ways to clothe the gallant Captain Hardt in black.). . .

At this point, Alex had completed his doodle and bestirred himself. Before anybody else could speak, he spoke. ''Well now, Micky and Emeric, that all sounds very nice. So why don't you go away and find Conrad Veidt and Valerie and work out the rest of the script with them?''. . .

A script conference which could have gone on all day, and left the participants floundering and divided, was over in a quarter of an hour. A story which consisted of nothing more than a situation and an anecdote, had been turned into an efficient and entertaining little thriller. The part of Captain Hardt, as interpreted by Conrad Veidt, was to measure up to some of his best performances.

Conrad Veidt was seated alone at a table by the window drinking coffee when Emeric and I arrived at the studio restaurant. Emeric and I exchanged a glance. This magnificent animal was reserved for us. . .

''Let's talk to Connie Veidt before [producer] Irving [Asher] gets at him,'' I said. I was learning rapidly from the Hungarians. Emeric, like me, looked upon Conrad Veidt as a legendary figure. For us, he was the great German cinema. For us, he was invention, control, imagination, irony and elegance. He was the master technician of the camera, who knew where every light was placed. Only in the English language did he lose his magnificent authority, walking like a tongue-tied Samson amongst the Philistines. I went over and stood at his table. He looked up and I got the full impact of those deep blue eyes under black brows.

I said: ''Mr. Veidt, my name is Michael Powell. Alexander Korda has told me that we are to work together on The Spy in Black.''

He said: ''Ye-e-e-s.'' Pumas purr like that.

''May I sit down?'' A thin smile gave me permission. I sat down and looked at him across the table. ''I imagine that Alexander Korda has discussed with you the changes that Pressburger is making in the scirpt. But I know your work, and the theme as I see it, is about a man who is completely devoted to his duty.''

I wouldn't say that he relaxed, but a slight thaw set in. He fetched a monocle from some recess and a handkerchief from his breast-pocket, polished the monocle, put it in his eye and looked at me with attention. ''Proceed,'' he said. I waved across the crowded restaurant to Emeric to come and join us.

The Old House at Denham was a Hungarian enclave transported to Buckinghamshire. There Alex had his office and a suite of rooms. The office in the main block was only for state occasions. His brother Zoli had an office there too, when he was not plowing through Congo swamps making Sanders of the River, or frying in the Sudan to make The Four Feathers. Vincent Korda had his studio there. Lajos Biro had his scenario department there. Miklos Rozsa had his piano in one of the rooms, and the room above him and room below him shared in the composition of his themes, whether they liked it or not. Now, for three weeks, the four of us -- Conrad Veidt, Valerie Hobson, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger -- had a room there too. It was right up in the roof of the red-brick Old House, and it was sparsely furnished with four chairs and a table. But what did we care! We were creating a film!

[Winter of 1938-39. Filming of The Spy in Black is complete and it is being edited. Powell's contract with London Films has ended and he is contemplating new projects. p. 319]

We had by no means lost contact with Conrad Veidt either. He was far too shrewd a person and far too good an artist not to know what we had done for him. He had seen all the dailies and had spent quite a lot of time in the cutting room, chatting and seeing rough-cut sequences with [editor] Hugh Stewart. . . I had made no concessions to [cinematographer] Bernard Browne's inexperience and gave him a hard time, and he had responded magnificently. There were effects shots and close-ups of Conrad Veidt that were as good as any of the German Expressionist films. Veidt knew how to use the muscles of his face and eyes, and I knew how to photograph them. In all this Veidt had collaborated and he had noted the result.

[Korda is ready to proceed with The Thief of Bagdad, in which Veidt will play Jaffar, the evil vizier.]

Conrad Veidt was equally well informed, and although there was no script (there never was) he knew that the part of the villainous magician Jaffar was being planned for him. Sabu, the little elephant boy, was to play the thief. ''Connie'' had rented a house on a hill at Denham, only a stone's throw from the studios. We went there several times for lunch on Sundays. Lillie Veidt and her sister were a great attraction. They were tall, intelligent, handsome girls who had started a nightclub in Berlin in the days when Berlin was Bert Brecht and Kurt Weill and Billy Wilder. To everybody's surprise, Conrad Veidt, at the height of his career as the great screen lover, married Lillie and lived happily ever after. The sisters were Hungarian Jews, and had to leave Berlin when the purges started, and of course Connie Veidt left with them. This greatly upset Dr Goebbels, who looked on Veidt as one of Germany's assets. He made many efforts to tempt him back. Veidt went back once or twice, but finally settled in England. His marriage was one of the happiest I have ever known.

p. 326

I fancy that Connie Veidt put in a word or two about me as soon as he learned what Korda's intentions were with regard to Dr [Ludwig] Berger [director of The Thief of Bagdad]. He had seen the fine-cut of The Spy in Black and he knew that he had never been directed and photographed like that since he made The Last Column in Germany. Also, here was a sympathetic side to the famous Conrad Veidt menace. Connie had always been a master of sardonic humour. Emeric and I gave him lightness and charm. I never forgot that I was dealing with a great star who knew where the camera was as well as I did.

[Powell has been brought in to direct some scenes of The Thief of Bagdad, including the film's opening scene which depicts the docking of Jaffar's ship at the port of Basra. Powell, on p. 327, describes Veidt as "magnificent in red turban and gold scimitar." Producer Alex Korda is watching the shooting. p. 328]

Connie Veidt, who was in the next sequence, was standing nearby. "Alex, did you see the dailies of the scenes with June?" he asked.
June Duprez had got the part of the Princess in the picture, and a picture she made of the part. . .
Alex said: "Yes, Connie, they were very good."
''Don't you think, Alex, that I was overacting in my close-up a little bit?''
''My dear Connie, you are supposed to be a magician in a Technicolor film. Nobody minds if a magician overacts. A little bit.''

p. 338-339 [War has broken out between England and Germany. Production has shut down on The Thief of Baghdad, which will eventually resume shooting in Hollywood. Powell and Pressburger, once again under contract to Korda, have a new movie, Contraband, for Veidt and Hobson.

In twenty-four hours, I was back in London and having breakfast with Emeric. His story was no great shakes, but it served its purpose, which was to provide two stunning parts for Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson which they simply could not refuse, even if England were to be invaded next morning. It was called Contraband.

Conrad Veidt's part was again that of a sea captain -- Captain Andersen -- this time not of a German U-boat, but of a Danish merchant vessel, a freighter that carried passengers. His home port was Copenhagen, and he was bound for Rotterdam, at that time a neutral port. His cargo was valuable chemicals, and if it fell into enemy hands it oculd be used in a very unfriendly manner. The other explosive element in his cargo was passenger -- a Mrs. Sorenson, an elegant Danish lady who refused to wear a lifebelt at breakfast -- Valerie Hobson, of course.

So far it was a conventional beginning to an obvious romance between two attractive principals. . .

p. 341 [Contraband is shooting on location in Ramsgate.]

That evening, at the Ramsgate Hotel, I could hardly believe my eyes as I looked around the crowded lounge. The bar was doing a brisk business, and our crew, including Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson and Esmond [Knight], were hobnobbing with the Royal Navy, the Royal Naval Reserve, and the Royal Volunteeer Reserve, all very much on deck. Connie and Valerie had the biggest crowd around them, asking what it was like to be a film star, and telling them what a wonderful job they had done in The Spy in Black. Connie had been granted British citizenship the year before, but here in another group was [production designer] Alfred Junge, an enemy alien... holding forth to a circle of admiring senior officers on how you design a motion picture. . .

p. 348 [Powell and Pressburger are planning to shoot 49th Parallel in Canada.]

Emeric and I had seen Connie Veidt off to America on the Queen Mary, together with Lillie and her sister, only a week or two before, wishing him luck with the submarines, and we were now to follow him on one of the Canadian Lines, for we had decided that the sooner we went Canadian, the better. . .

I had been preparing for a leading part in my profession for thirteen years, and I was ready for it. One thing followed another. I was offered opportunity after opportunity and took them with both hands. The Spy in Black, coupled with the reports of Vincent Korda and Connie Veidt, had put me in solid with Alexander Korda..

There are other, minor references to Veidt in My Life in Movies as well as in the second volume of Powell's memoirs, Million Dollar Movie. In the latter book, Powell devotes a good part of a page (p. 471) recalling by name the people in film who had inspired him at various points along the way, and towards the end he writes: ''Conrad Veidt, a legend.''

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