• BEGINNINGS IN THE THEATRE

    By Julia Danielczyk

Jürgens began his theatrical career as a singing bonvivant in “Ball der Nationen” in the Central-Theater Dresden, which was a branch of the Berlin Metropol-Theater. He appeared in Berlin at the Theater and Komödie am Kurfürstendamm in so-called conversation pieces. In 1937, on the advice of his theatrical colleague Lizzi Waldmüller, Curd Jürgens applied for a position with the director Rolf Jahn at the – as it was then – Deutsches Volkstheater in Vienna, but at least initially no contract followed.

It was not until March 1938, directly after the National Socialists had seized power in Austria, that Jan offered the Berlin actor a guest appearance in the comedy “Ein ganzer Kerl” by Fritz Peter Buch. Jürgens was by no means a star at this time; the Berlin critics had seen in him the prototype of the good-looking young German; but his acting capabilities were less discussed. No reputation preceded him. For the time being, his annunciation had achieved nothing.

Then early in 1938, when there was a new political environment in Austria, an engagement in Vienna promptly ensued. Jürgens was meant to replace Hans Jaray who had not long since emigrated to the USA. In a file at the Education Ministry, there is this statement concerning the Deutsches Volkstheater, Jürgens’ first Austrian theatre: “Contracts with non-Arian artists were to be annulled, The Vienna Volkstheater was to be acquired by Reichs-German groupings.”[i]

  • As Benvolio in “Romeo und Julia”

    "Romeo und Julia"
  • With Fred Liewehr in “Romeo und Julia”

    "Romeo und Julia"
  • As Benvolio in “Romeo und Julia”

    "Romeo und Julia"

With the charisma of the “sun-bright, blond, youthful daredevil”[ii] alongside Gusti Huber who, like Jürgens, would later find success in the cinema, the actor, unknown in Vienna, was received with enthusiasm. With critical distance Jürgens himself comments many years later:

“I am probably praised primarily because the new blond German matches what the Viennese in their enthusiasm for the “Anschluss” want to see – and hear.”[iii]

And:

“I felt like an intruder because I had come little by little to the conviction that, but for Hitler’s invasion, I would never have come here, would never have been engaged.”[iv]

Jürgens was received as the “new young romantic lead in the mould of Albers”, as a “proper outdoorsman”[v], an “attractive young daredevil”, a “rakishly elegant man of the world”[vi] and as a “blond and blue-eyed Siegfried figure”.[vii]

For the moment, this image was to remain; and so he subsequently played the classic Casanova in the comedy “Liebe ist zollfrei”. More light comedies followed.

Through the mediation of the actress Käthe Dorsch, Jürgens was engaged by the then director of the Burgtheater Lothar Müthel to appear in the “première house” of the German-speaking world. When Müthel’s casting policy is looked at from the perspective of today, then the specialist casting of Jürgens as young hero is obvious. He started his career at the Burgtheater in the role of the “colourless”[viii] Benvolio in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, in which he could do no more than show “external means”.[ix]

  • As Don Juan d’Austria in “Madame Kegels Geheimnis” (1941)

    "Madame Kegels Geheimnis"
  • With Käthe Dorsch in “Madame Kegels Geheimnis” (1941)

    "Romeo und Julia"
  • With Käthe Dorsch in “Madame Kegels Geheimnis” (1941)

    "Madame Kegels Geheimnis"
  • With Käthe Dorsch in “Madame Kegels Geheimnis” (1941)

    "Madame Kegels Geheimnis"
  • With Käthe Dorsch in “Madame Kegels Geheimnis” (1941)

    "Madame Kegels Geheimnis"
  • With Käthe Dorsch in “Madame Kegels Geheimnis” (1941)

    "Madame Kegels Geheimnis"
  • With Käthe Dorsch in “Madame Kegels Geheimnis” (1941)

    "Madame Kegels Geheimnis"
  • With Lothar Müthel in “Madame Kegels Geheimnis” (1941)

    "Madame Kegels Geheimnis"

  • As Pylades in “Iphigenie in Delphi” (1942)

    "Iphigenie in Delphi"
  • As Pylades in “Iphigenie in Delphi” (1942)

    "Iphigenie in Delphi"
  • With Liselotte Schreiner in “Iphigenie in Delphi” (1942)

    "Iphigenie in Delphi"
  • With Liselotte Schreiner in “Iphigenie in Delphi” (1942)

    "Iphigenie in Delphi"
  • With Liselotte Schreiner in “Iphigenie in Delphi” (1942)

    "Iphigenie in Delphi"
  • With Liselotte Schreiner in “Iphigenie in Delphi” (1942)

    "Iphigenie in Delphi"
  • “Iphigenie in Delphi” (1942)

    "Iphigenie in Delphi"
  • “Iphigenie in Delphi” (1942)

    "Iphigenie in Delphi"
  • “Iphigenie in Delphi” (1942)

    "Iphigenie in Delphi"
  • Costume design for Curd Jürgens by André Bakst

    "Iphigenie in Delphi"

Emanating youthful radiance as Stephan von Menzingen in Hauptmann‘s “Florian Geyer”, as a Siegfried-like Pylades “bright and heroic”[x] in Hauptmann‘s “Iphigenie in Delphi”, as a “heroic, fresh, youthful Don Juan”[xi] in Zimmermann‘s “Madame Kegels Geheimnis”, as a “likeable aristocrat”[xii] in Gherardi‘s “Die Söhne des Herrn Grafen”, as a “chivalrous count palatine Siegfried”[xiii] in Hebbel‘s “Genoveva” and, just as chivalrous and dashing, as Count Gherardo in Forzano’s “Florentiner Brokat”, he was acclaimed by audiences and critics alike. The critic Otto F. Beer gets to the heart of the matter about how the actor was perceived, when he states: “Curd Jürgens is somewhat youthful, the mature mastery of irony is not his thing.”[xiv]

Jürgens left bombed-out Vienna in 1945 and established the “Münchner Gastspielbühne Curd Jürgens”, where he staged a production of his own play “Geliebter Michael” and took over the artistic direction of the Stadttheater Straubing until October 1946.

  • “Geliebter Michael” (1946) Poster

    "Geliebter Michael"
  • “Geliebter Michael” (1946), Script by Curd Jürgens

After a two-year absence from the Burgtheater, he returned to Vienna and played Fernando in Goethe’s “Stella”. With this character he would have had the opportunity, in the role of this inwardly fragmented hero, of casting off his previous image of essentially “extraordinarily good-looking actor”[xv] and displaying his theatrical craft, but he “tended rather towards the Tellheim”[xvi] (in Lessing’s Minna von Barnhelm).

As early as 1943 Jürgens made this comment about the roles he had been offered:

“In any case I consider the change of role, the slipping into vastly different characters (…) as the most gratifying part of my profession.”[xvii]

That he was already well on his way there is shown by the reception of “Titania”, where it was said of Jürgens: “Curd Jürgens makes a successful excursion into the realm of the character part: he captures Konrad by means of a gently implied unworldliness and sympathy without removing from him the amusing sides.”[xviii]

Until the “break” of 1948 when he began to work with the director Berthold Viertel upon his return from emigration, Jürgens was considered to be the actor with the “sun shine-boy image” – “Curd Jürgens (…) is persuasive in the area that fate ordained him to be: a handsome man.”[xix]

Extract from “Regarding the Theatre Work of a Film star, or The Question: what would have become of Curd Jürgens if it had not been for Berthold Viertel” by Julia Danielczyk.
In: Hans-Peter Reichmann (ed.): Curd Jürgens. Frankfurt am Main 2000/2007 (Kinematograph No. 14)

Notes:

[i] Austrian Public Record Office, AVA, BmU, Gz 15, Business number: 16921, 1937.

[ii] N.N.: Deutsches Volkstheater. Komödie ,Ein ganzer Kerl’. Newspaper article of the Curd Jürgens’ inheritance, Deutsches Filminstitut, Frankfurt am Main, no place, May 1938.

[iii] Curd Jürgens: … und kein bißchen weise. Locarno 1976, p. 179f.

[iv] Ibid., p. 180.

[v] Herbert Mühlbauer: Ein ganzer Kerl. Newspaper article of the Curd Jürgens’ inheritance, Deutsches Filminstitut, Frankfurt am Main, no place, May 1938.

[vi] N.N.: Volkstheater-Premiere: Buch: ,Ein ganzer Kerl’. In: Neue Freie Presse, 5.5.1938.

[vii] Adelbert Muhr: Deutsches Volkstheater. ,Ein ganzer Kerl’ von Fritz Peter Buch. In: Neues Wiener Tagblatt, 5.5.1938.

[viii] Curd Jürgens: … und kein bißchen weise, loc. cit., p. 223.

[ix] Mirko Jelusich: ,Romeo und Julia’ in der Burg. Newspaper article of the Curd Jürgens’ inheritance, Deutsches Filminstitut, Frankfurt am Main, no place and year.

[x] Joseph Handl: Hauptmann-Erstaufführung des Burgtheater. Newspaper article of the Curd Jürgens’ inheritance, Deutsches Filminstitut, Frankfurt am Main, no place, March 1943.

[xi] Bruno Prohaska: Burgtheater: ,Madame Kegels Geheimnis’ von Joachim Zimmermann. Newspaper article of the Curd Jürgens’ inheritance, Deutsches Filminstitut, Frankfurt am Main, no place and year.

[xii] Zeno von Liebel: Ein Vater ,entdeckt’ seine Söhne. Italienische Komödie im Akademietheater. In: Wiener Mittag. Newspaper article of the Curd Jürgens’ inheritance, Deutsches Filminstitut, Frankfurt am Main, no place and year.

[xiii] Felix Fischer: ,Genoveva’ im Burgtheater. In: Wiener Mittag, 4.6.1942, newspaper article of the Curd Jürgens’ inheritance, Deutsches Filminstitut, Frankfurt am Main.

[xiv] Otto F. Beer: Theater, Romantik und Witz. ,Der Lügner und die Nonne’ im Akademietheater. In: Wiener Mittag, 19.6.1942, newspaper article of the Curd Jürgens’ inheritance, Deutsches Filminstitut, Frankfurt am Main.

[xv] N.N.: ,Stella’. Gastspiel des Wiener Burgtheaters. Zürcher Theaterwochen. In: Die Tat, 21.6.1947, newspaper article of the Curd Jürgens’ inheritance, Deutsches Filminstitut, Frankfurt am Main.

[xvi] Herbert Mühlbauer: ,Stella’ im Akademietheater. In: Wiener Kurier, 23.5.1947.

[xvii] N.N.: Curd Jürgens spielt Operette. No Place, 1943, newspaper article, Österreichisches Theatermuseum.

[xviii] Zeno von Liebl: ,Titania’ im Akademietheater. In: Neues Wiener Tagblatt, 19.2.1944.

[xix] Rudolf Holzer: Die Frau des Potiphar. In: Die Presse, 9.8.1947.