Nazi Sympathizer Wins Oscar

German actor, Emil Jannings, the very first leading male actor ever to receive an Academy Award, was an ardent supporter of the Nazi Party and made movies which glorified their cause. He was a friend of Josef Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment, who appointed Jannings as head of a film production company. After the war, his close association with the Nazis led to his disgrace and he died in obscurity in 1950.

Joseph Goebbels (center left) and actor Emil Jannings (center right) during a boat trip on the Wolfgangsee in 1938.

In 1924 when he starred in his great silent movie masterpiece, The Last Laugh, made in Germany, film critic Roger Ebert, says Jannings was “considered one of the world’s greatest stars…” On the strength of that performance he came to Hollywood and made several American movies.

At the initial Academy Awards ceremony, held in 1929, he received the very first Oscar ever given for Best Actor. At that time an actor could be nominated for more than one performance and Jannings won the Oscar for two movies: The Way of All Flesh which was made in 1927 and The Last Command made in 1928. These both were silent pictures.

Copies of The Last Command are available but according to the International Movie Database, no copies of The Way of All Flesh exist. It is the only Oscar winning film for which a copy cannot be found. Although he spoke fluent English, his heavy German accent didn’t please American moviegoers and he returned to Germany.

His return was fortuitous for he was cast in the first “talking picture” to be made in Germany alongside a complete unknown named Marlene Dietrich. The film was The Blue Angel or Der Blaue Engel. Because both stars spoke fluent English, the movie was shot in a German version and an English version. While the film was meant to showcase Jannings, the spotlight fell on Marlene Dietrich and it became her star vehicle. She also recorded the very famous song in the film, “Falling In Love Again” in both German and English.

After the Nazis came to power, Dietrich exiled herself to the US while Jannings, who supported Hitler and the Nazis, stayed in Germany and made films supporting the Nazi cause. Because of this, he fell into disgrace after the war and died in 1950, unmourned and forgotten.

According to the International Movie Database, he appeared in 80 films.

[Images courtesy of Wikimedia, Movie Poster Shop, Listal.com, and Imp Awards.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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