By Julia Danielczyk

“Richter in eigener Sache” (1966)

The degree to which the public – and the Viennese public with its theatre – and the actor-cult in particular, needs clear labelling, appears in the consistent but at the same time risible attempts to categorise Curd Jürgens’ artistic work. After applying himself exclusively to film and television for nine years, he returned to Vienna after the long absence from the Burgtheater to play the role of Bill Maitland in John Osborne’s “A Patriot for Me”, for which he was to receive the Kainz-Medal of the City of Vienna. The Österreichische Neue Tageszeitung wrote on the occasion of his home-coming: “They (the Viennese public) first met him as a glib man of the world, as an outdoorsman in the big city, as a vivid and articulate speaker of lines in classical theatre. In the meantime he has become – as splendidly proved with his performance as Harras in the film version of DES TEUFELS GENERAL – the mature type of character lover.”[i]

The award’s document of the Josef-Kainz-Medaille from the city of Vienna, 1966

Correspondence between Erwin Heidrich and Karl Löbl about the shortened performance of “Galilei”

“Das Leben des Galilei” (1966)

Jürgens was a darling of the public, to whom the highest level of professionalism was ascribed – if nothing else, he was a film star who performed in three languages. He received an invitation from the then director of the Burgtheater Ernst Haeussermann to play the title role in “The Life of Galileo” (1966), the first Bertolt Brecht-production in the history of the Burgtheater. That theatrical work had little importance for the actor turned world star is shown by the scandal surrounding a performance that Jürgens delivered 45 minutes faster in order to be punctual for film work that was running at the same time. Jürgens’ portrayal of Galileo Galilei was his final performance at the Burgtheater for the probable reason that no further interesting roles were offered. For what it’s worth, in Brecht’s original conception Fritz Kortner should have played the title role in Leopold Lindtberg’s staging.[ii]


After some not very successful stage appearances in Paris – whether due to the inappropriate choice of the play, as Jürgens writes in his autobiography, the hapless hand of the director or the fact that the Parisian audiences wanted to see Curd Jürgens on the cinema screen, be that as it may – there did not ensue an attractive theatre engagement for Jürgens again until 1973: That was Hofmannsthal’s “Jedermann” at the Salzburg Festival, a role which belongs to the repertoire of a multitude of great German-speaking actors.

The theatre actor could be seen here in a role that seemed tailor-made for him. The life of the man whose private escapades were sufficiently known to the public from the tabloid press and whose dictum was “Rather give the years more life than life more years”, seemed to align itself fully with the life of the hero of Hofmannsthal’s play.

With Jürgens as the “template of the mature epicure (…) with the whiskey voice”[iii], but who did not always reach the audience on the Cathedral Square, he appeared to be the perfect casting for the part of a man of pleasure. The private person and the role he played were in perfect congruence. “He too is an aging Lothario rolling in money who has lost the brilliance of youth and whose white hair hints disconcertingly at the borderline his life is crossing.”[iv] Many years later Martin Benrath, who had the role of the devil in this staging of the play, added: “It was an impressive success for him as his life seemed to align itself so much with the life of “Everyman.”[v]

  • “Jedermann” (1973)

  • “Jedermann” (1973)

  • “Jedermann” (1973)

  • “Jedermann” (1973)

  • With Grete Zimmer as The Debtor’s Wife. “Jedermann” (1973)

  • “Jedermann” (1973)

  • With Nicole Heesters as Paramour. “Jedermann” (1973)

  • “Jedermann” (1973) Rehearsals with Nicole Heesters and Fritz Muliar

  • “Jedermann” (1973) Rehearsals mit Nicole Heesters

  • “Jedermann” (1973) Rehearsals

  • “Jedermann” (1973) Rehearsals with director Ernst Hausserman

  • “Jedermann” (1973) Rehearsals with Nicole Heesters and Fritz Muliar

Though he continued to play the role at the Salzburg Festival until 1977, Jürgens’ Everyman received mainly negative reviews: Fiction and reality were too congruent. “That Jürgens interprets the seedy play with his own character is proof of how much defiant courage and perhaps also rage must be concealed in the much tousled man: For it is no small thing to be expected to act against myriad prejudice, to counter the malicious comparison of who behaved worse, the character or the interpreter.”[vi]

The (lack of) seriousness of cultural reporting at the time is disavowed by the critics who were more interested in the casting of the title role and thus, like the tabloid press, focused on the persona of the interpreter whilst ignoring the performance of the ensemble and the quality of the direction.

It seems an irony of fate that Jürgens’ cause of death while playing Everyman on the stage accords with his own death some nine years later. The reality transcended all the clichés. It was as if “the play about the rich man’s life and death” had anticipated Jürgens’ own death by heart-failure.

After his performance of Everyman, Jürgens, by his own account, would have liked to have taken on with the great Shakespearean roles, but the necessary infrastructure was apparently not in place. It seems in effect as if Jürgens’ theatrical career had indeed ended with the death of the director Berthold Viertel; all the ensuing stage appearances in the German-speaking world are not comparable with the successes when the artistic team had worked in tandem. Without the hand of this magnificent director, Jürgens again seemed saddled with those labels that had been ascribed to him at the start of his creative career: an attractive Everyman, but not a King Lear.

Jedermann (1975)

  • With Senta Berger as Paramour, Klausjürgen Wussow as Death and Walther Reyer as Everyman’s Good Deeds. “Jedermann” (1975)

  • With Senta Berger as Paramour. “Jedermann” (1975)

  • With Senta Berger. “Jedermann” (1975)

  • With Walther Reyer. “Jedermann” (1975)

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)

Translation: Elizabeth Ward


[i] N.N.: Curd Jürgens. In: Österreichische Neue Tageszeitung, 7.10.1955, Newspaper article, Österreichisches Theatermuseum.

[ii] See Hilde Haider-Pregler: Das Zürcher Schauspielhaus und die Theater in Österreich. In: Das verschonte Haus. Das Zürcher Schauspielhaus im Zweiten Weltkrieg. Zurich 1987, p. 58.

[iii] Hilde Spiel: Curd Jürgens als Jedermann. Newspaper article of the Curd Jürgens’ inheritance, Deutsches Filminstitut Frankfurt am Main, no place and year.

[iv] Bruno Russ: Ein gebildeter Menschenfeind und ein alternder Jedermann. Newspaper article of the Curd Jürgens’ inheritance, Deutsches Filminstitut Frankfurt am Main, no place and year.

[v] Martin Benrath: Marrrtin. In: Margie Jürgens [ed.]: Curd Jürgens. Wie wir ihn sahen. Erinnerungen von Freunden. Wien, München 1985, p. 39.

[vi] Hans-Dieter Seidel: Tönernes Monument seiner selbst. Curd Jürgens als jüngster Jedermann. Newspaper article of the Curd Jürgens’ inheritance, Deutsches Filminstitut Frankfurt am Main, no place and year.