Conrad Veidt Looks in the Mirror


by Gladys Hall, Silver Screen, Septamber, 1941

A woman said of him, ''He has wicked eyes. A sinister mouth. Strange hands. His walk is frightening - and fascinating. His smile can be sadistic - or very sweet. There is something not quite normal about him. But I don't know what it is. You look at him and you think 'Something is going on there!'''

Melvyn Douglas said of him, ''He is a sweet guy, a very gentle gentleman.''

His fan mail is terrific. Mostly from women. Women who find him exciting, and with excitement, say so.

His best friends call him 'Connie.' He lives in a charming, tree-shaded house in Beverly Hills. A white house, one-storied, with dark green gables. We sat in the sunroom, the doors open into the garden, flowers inside and out. Mr. Veidt wore a white tweed coat, gray flannels, blue sports shirt and scarf. As a host, he is exceedingly charming, attentive, that beautiful courtesy that comes from the Old World, from accumulated experience, from love of, and appreciation of, women. (Mr. Veidt refers to women as females). His man brought us tea, thin sandwiches, chocolate cake. Mr. Veidt has a passion - quite normal, not? - for chocolate cake. He gets up and walks while talking, paces. He doesn't rise from a chair or couch, he springs. There is a strange, subdued brilliance about him. The exciting quality is there.

I told him the things I hear said about him, a confusion of things out of which I can make no pattern. I said, ''I don't know what to thing - what do you think about yourself? How do you see yourself?''

We made a game of our interview. Mr. Veidt was to pretend to look into a mirror. The mirror, so to speak, of truth. He was to tell me what he saw there, on the surface and beneath the surface. He was to speak honestly, without reservations or reticence, without fear of being misunderstood. The object of the 'game' being that, at the end, I would be able to determine whether he is 'sadistic' or 'very sweet'; whether he is 'not quite normal' or 'a very gentle gentleman;' whether there is, in his private life, or practices, any hint of the demonical quality his roles on the screen suggest; whether 'something is going on there' - and if so, what?

He looked into the mirror and this is what he saw:

A man six foot, three inches tall, blue eyes, deep socketed, a pale skin, greying hair, an intellectual forehead, an enigmatic mouth, a man built on streamlined, greyhound lines...

He said, smiling, ''It goes back to my eyes, I suppose. Blue eyes, but very deep set. But I think they are two eyes which are quite normal. The shape of the face is long, the nose is long, the mouth is thin. The conformation of the leads to conjecture, no doubt. Perhaps it is the camera that brings to the brain an impression of something not quite normal? But I am to be honest? So I must admit that even in my private life, when people look at me, they are very kind, and say, 'Yes, charming, very nice, but...' There is always a 'but.' There is always a question mark.'

I think the face deceives. I think all faces decieve, I think all faces are masks. When I look at people myself, I never believe what I see. I do not believe there is ugliness in any human being - until his actions prove it to me. And then I believe there is an excuse for his actions. Life, which is stronger than any individual, has given his soul a maiming twist. But what is outward in a man can give you an entirely different impression. A cripple, misshapen, may have a beautiful soul.

When I see myself, I see a normal man. I see the soul of a fat, little baby looking at me out of my eyes. Of this, I will tell you later. I see a normal man, because I live my life exactly as other men. A few ywars when I was young that were a bit wild, like other young men. So, that too is normal. I am married. that is normal. I have been divorced. That, too is normal in these times. I have a daughter by my previous marriage, Viola. She is sixteen. She is now at school in Switzerland. Like every father, I am very proud.

I see a man who is without fear - except of Evil. Fear, to me, is only of Evil. Or of things he cannot see or touch. An earthquake, perhaps, yes, then I am afraid. A nightmare, dreams, regret that we have for those who are dead, because we did not give them all that we might have given of love and of kindness...such things we cannot see or touch or hear...of such things I have fear. So have all men, I think. So that is normal.

I see a man who worries. But not about himself. I do not worry about myself at all. People I have to care for, that's my daughter, her mother; my wife, her parents, I worry about them. But that, again, is normalcy. All men worry about those they have in their care. I worry, too, about little children I do not know. And women. CHildren and women who are the very innocent victims of what is going on - over there. This worries everybody. This is so cruel and dark, this is really black.

I see a man - '' Mr. Veidt smiled into the mirror. ''I see a man who is a great lover of women. There is a difference here. A difference between sieing one's self as the Great Lover, which means of one woman, a dozen women, and seeing one's self as a great lover of all women. As I am. Women write letters to me. Many letters since A Woman's Face. I reald them all, by the way, the letters they call 'fan letters.' They write to me that they like to see me as the lover. This is surprising, perhaps, because when I look into the mirror I do not see there the reflection of the young Romeo. But I like to believe they sense the inward thing. For when I say I am the very great lover of all women, I mean precisely that. Like a lover, I am blind to their faults. I see them through glasses with triple, rose-colored lenses. All the so-called weaknesses in women aobut which men either complain or make fun, are not there for me. For they have their excuses, and are charming. The 'little thing' women do do with which men lose their patience...Frankly, without being insufferably smug, I would never lose my temper with a female because of such things, or because of anything. It is said that women keep men waiting when they go out, but why not? Men have only to bathe and change and shave. Women have to dress and even in these days, the dress of the female is much more intricate to perform . Females have to make up. That takes time, and so it should. If we believe in beautifying all things possible of beautifying, why shouldn't the female adorn her face? They must go to the coiffeur when they dine out. They must have the appointment at four. Perhaps the coiffeur is not ready until 4.30. Things like these.

There are two different kinds of men. There are the men men, what do you call them, the man's man, who likes men around, who prefers to talk with men, who says the female can never be impersonal, who takes the female lightly, as playthings. I do not see a man like that in my mirror. Perhaps, it is because I think the female and the male attract better than two men, that I prefer to talk with females. I do. I find it quite as stimulating and distinctly more comfortable. I have a theory about this - it all goes back to the mother complex. In every woman, the man who looks may find - his mother. The primary source of all his comfort. I think also that females have become too important just to play with. When men say the female cannot discuss impersonally, that is no longer so. When it is said that females cannot be geniuses, that is no longer so, either. The female is different from the male. Because she was born to be a mother.; There is no doubt about that. But that does not mean that, in some cases, she is not also born a genius. Not all males are geniuses either. And among females today there are some very fine actresses, very fine; fine doctors, lawyers, even scientists and industrialists. I see no fault in any female when she wears slacks, smokes (unless it is on the street,one theing, the only thing, which I DON'T like), when she drives a car...when men say things like 'I bet it is a woman driving' if something is wrong with the car ahead - no, no. These are old, worn out prejudices, they do not belong in Today.

I see a man who is a Romanticist, given by nature to excessive sentimentalism. In the tole of the lover, it is of my nature to be extravagant. When I send flowers, I would not send one dozen floers, two dozen floers, but SIX! It was my wife who stopped that. She said, 'We cannot affort that in these times - one flower will do it.' This is my opinion too. Even if you are very poor, you are able to bring the one little flower. It is of the utmost importance. But you must not be too poor in the heart, in the emotions to bring that one little flower. It is of the utmost importance.

For myself, my demands are simple. I don't care how I am dressed. Only for my profession do I care how I am dressed. I am not one of those men who say, 'I must have 40 suits, 30 pairs of shoes, 20 ties.' I am terrible - particular about what I eat. If I have a hobby, it is that we have a cook of unexcelled excellence. But my tastes do not run to the blue champagne and caviar...I drink milk. I eat chocolate cake. I love sweets. Rich sweets. When I eat these, I do not gain an ounce. I drive my friends insane. They tell me, 'I'm starving. I look at you eat, it's discgusting, I hate you.''

I do not see in this mirror a man who is driving, tyrannical or sadistic. I am afraid I must disappoint you. I do not see myself as the so-called dangerous man of whom, it is so often said, women most love. I do not believe this. I believe that every females likes to feel the male can make decisions, yes. She likes to feel the male is stronger and is leading her life for her in a way she should go. Such a man I think I can say I see in the mirror, yes.

I see a man who once had a demoniac temper, yes, also. But I have learned to control it. Or Life has learned that lesson for me. I drive Mrs. Veidt MAD - you knkow why? Because I don't react. Because, if an angry argument arises, and no matter how much two people love, this is liable to happen. I get kinder and kinder. I will argue, yes, of course, but not in temper. Mrs. Veidt tells me, 'You are not human, you are cruel, it is monstrous.' But I say that loss of temper, even for an hour, is a waste of time. At the end of that hour, what have you got? You have lost an hour of harmony. You have gained exactly nothing. Because if you do not care for the person with whom you are arguing, you can only say, 'I shall go away, and not return.' But you could have said that in the beginning. If you do care for the person with the person with whom you are arguing, you can only humble yourself and ask forgiveness. So what? If always you have in mind that potent American expression 'So what?' you can save yourself so much.

It is the same with the frantic attempt to save time. I hate fast driving, because I was once in an accident. When anyone drives me too fast for an appointment, saying, 'but we must step on the gas or you will be late,' I say, 'If you go to fast, how much time do you save? two minutes...three minutes...so what is that?

I must tell you something that will disappoint you...far from being one engaged in strangle rituals of thought or action, what I like best to do is sit in this small garden, on this terrace, and - just sit. Sometimes, I confess, I think a lot; about my past. About my parents who are dead. I like to dream, to go away...At other times, I sit and read. I read, often, a whole day through. I play golf. I used to be a golf fiend. Now I am not a fiend even on the links. Now I play because it is relaxation. I like the beach very much, the sea. I go to the films often, to the neighborhood theater, my wife and I. Sometimes we go to the Palladium, where there is dancing. It is an amazing sight to me to see young people, how they are like they were thirty years ago,how they hold hands, how they enjoy their lives. To me, the most beautiful thing in California is the Hollywood Bowl, the Concerts Under the Stars. For me, it is a terrif experience. I have never seen an audience in my life like that. 30,000 people, simple people, most of them, listening to music under the stars. I have never seen 30,000 people, simple people, so quiet. Si one. I like to think of them as a symbol that one day there may be that oneness for all mankind....

'But,' people say, 'Life makes its marks on faces'....how then, account for this face in the mirror which is believed strange? Perhaps, this is so, that Life makes its mark on our faces. But I say the marks are only on the faces, they are not inward marks. When I was born - this is very funny - I was fat. Such a fat baby you never saw. I had a brother three years older than I. He was a most handsome little boy. When people saw him walking on the street with our nurse, they would stop and say, 'What a beautiful little boy!' They would go on about him. They would then look at me in my perambulator and say, 'Oh.' Just that'. 'Oh.' for there was a fat, ugly, snoring baby. Bow-legged, too, like this.'' Mr. Veidt sprang up from his chair and gave an excellent pantomime of a fat, snoring and bow-legged baby. It was a treat to see. He said, ''Why shouldn't my sould be that of the fat baby? Has Life done to me such things that that little fat soul is so changed? Well,'' he smiled, - he sat forward on his chair, hands clasped between his knees, eyes interested - he likes to talk, he handls ideas as a juggler handles the vivid implements of his craft, he said, ''Well, let us see what I have done, what I have thought during the years of my life to make the face what we see it is. For it is the thoughts we think, the things we do that make the marks upon our faces, is it not? So, I see a man who was once for years studying occult things. The science of occult things. I had the feeling there must be - something else. There are things in our world we cannot trace. I wanted to trace them. The power we have to think, to move, to speak, to feel - is it electricity, I wanted to know? Is it magnetism? Is it the heart? Is it the blood? When the body dies, where is all that? Where is the power that made the body live? No one can tell me it is not somewhere. If you believe in waves, which you must believe after you have the radio, why couldn't human beings contact the wave lengths of someone who is dead?....this is the kind of thing with which I was, for many years, preoccupied. This is what I tried to find, the answer. I did not find it. But in looking for it there was etched, perhaps, on my face, some hint of the strange cabals I kept with unseen and unknown powers. I did not find it, I say. But I found something else. Something better. I found - faith. I found the ability, very peaceful, to accept that which I could neither see, nor hear nor touch. I am a religious man. My belief is that if we could help to make all people a little more religious, we would do a great lot (sic). If we would pray more...we forget to pray except when are are in a mess. That is too bad. I believe in prayer.l Becayse when we pray, we always pray for something good.''

So, I see a man who learned a lesson - for after a time, perhaps too long a time, I stopped the research I was doing. Research into the realms that are, I came to understand, none of my mortal business. It was wrong to do it, that is why I gave it up. It is wrong and it is dangerou because it makes Life become so unimportant, and so silly. It is wrong to do it because some mysteries are forbidden. I was trying to find the solution to the Forbidden Mystery. And maybe I went a bit too far. Maybe that gave me, shall we say, an expression...so that when people look at me, they get the feeling, he is a deep-thinking man - something is going on!''

But to prove my point that such marks are outward, not inward, all that is 'going on' is that I am now modest, content to be grateful with what God gives me, content with the simple faith of that fat baby who had not learned to dare - or was too wise to dare - to ask unanswerable questions.

When I was very young, perhaps sixteen, I wanted to become a doctor. I see that young man too, wanting to be one of the men who fight Life against Death. I admire that young man, and I agree with him. He knew this is a grim fight, and the most gallant men make. He thought so then; he thinks so now. This, too, may have set its mark upon my face. Since the face is bitten, often, I think, with the things men men might have done and might have been, as well as with the things they have done and have been...a dream cuts with a deeper blade than a deed....

Then I became an actor. A free life, the actor's life. I had no responsibility. I had an easy success. I lived, then, the life of blue champagne and extravagances and adventures and amours. I became, for a little time, the Great I Am, with the puffed-up conceit of arrogant youth. Until Life - and the loss of those I loved, by death, by the other kinds of death, too, which takes place in our hearts...and war and its suffering...and experience with its sometimes balanced, sometimes unbalanced scales of pain and pleasure, taught me what it is worth...There must also be written upon the face, I suppose the story of indulgences which are discilined. If you are long enough in this profession, you lose something of normalcy, I supposse. Perhaps, it may be asked can an actor be normal? In 1912, when I left school, wanting to be an actor, my father was very unhappy. He said, 'an actor is a gypsy, an outcast.' For in 1912 actors were not normal to other people. NOw it beomces a profession, like any other.

Normalcy, I think, depends greatly uon the dates on a calendar and - a point of view. Then - twenty-five years of playing the characters I have played. From the demon in my first film, through The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, up to and including A Woman's Face. Now, in Balllerina, with Loretta Young (The Men in Her Life Web editor) I play a good man...a man of nostalgia for that which he loved most, which is gone. But most of the men I have played have not been quite of this earth. This, maybe, reflects in my expression, in the movement of my hands, my walk. So, I become a bit abnormal to other people.

There is another idea I have...it is true, I think, that, after a while in every life, there is something very like a circle. The circle is, I think, the Symbol. And perhaps the Certainty. My first part on the screen as I have said, was a so-called demon. This was in 1916 or 1918. In 1939 I made The Thief of Bagdad, which is the same sort of person. In 1926, when I was in Hollywood, I had a house on Camden Drive. When I arrived in Hollywood again, in 1940, I was starting a picture. I could not look for a house. Mrs. Veidt found a house for us - on Camden Drive. She did not know I had lived there because we have been married since then.

These are the smaller things, small things in the shape of circles, which, I believe, all men find in their lives. But there are also the larger aspects...I began life as a fat baby. There is nothing very sinister in that. I have told you what I am now, in my private life, how I like to sit in the sun and just sit...how I read, play golf, go to the films, control my temper, worry as other men worry...so now I will show you how the circle completes itself; my ideal has always been a farm. Since childhood I have wanted a farm, not too big, a few cows, a few chickens, things grownign, barnyard sounds. That is what, one day now, I shall have. So now I look in the mirror and I see...the fat baby, who became the man with the wicked eyes, who became the fat baby again, now a farmer!''

Mr. Veidt laughed. ''That's completing the circle,'' he said. ''and in the completing of the circle the face in the mirror is, I submit, accounted for - in full!''

Is it?

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