Curd Jürgens and the Yellow Press, Part 3


    Curd Jürgens and the Yellow Press, Part 3


By Henning Engelke

Solidification and Variation of the Star Image

An image is established and propagated in the pages of the glossy magazines and with it a pattern for the interpretation of events that occur in the life of the star. With the image, selection criteria establish themselves concerning topics and themes which are worth reporting because they tie in with what is already known and so resonate among the readership. In general, however, a life does not run in unchanging patterns but is subject to a constant change which is reflected in the media figure created from this life and extends it. The repeating of this once established portrait on the one hand, and the extending of the image under the impression that public role and development of biography and/or performing image are shearing apart on the other hand, are the two major categories into which reports about Curd Jürgens can be classified. There is a third category of extreme aberrations from role expectation used to launch a report as an absurd sensation: “Curd Jürgens is studying physics”.[i] Despatches like this, however, are relatively rare.

Very much in line with the role type described here is a serial which Jürgens authorised in Quick magazine in 1961 and 1962 which, in weekly instalments, outlined the actor’s ascent: “The wonderful and hazardous adventure of being a star”. Beginning at childhood, it narrates the life path of the star by way of familiar life patterns. It features the affairs, the marriages, divorces, film roles, wages, luxury and acquaintance with celebrities. If previous articles had been linked to past events, for example when the context of a wedding indicated former marriages, then the media figure is for the first time provided with a biography in which a causal development underpins a coherent narrative.

Despite activities deviating from his star image – he appears in theatre again, playing among others the role of Sigmund Freud, and in the early 1970s takes over the management of a Parisian theatre[iii] – the rigid spatialisation of the 1950s is maintained. Stern magazine reports a quarrel in 1967 between Curd Jürgens and Alain Delon and quotes the “world star” as saying: “For me to be jealous of Delon would be like de Gaulle being jealous of the governor of Andorra.”[iv]

The first signs of the conscious attempt to change Jürgens’ image becomes evident in the 1962 interview the actor gave to Spiegel magazine. On a stage far removed from entertainment-journalism, he spoke out about the crisis of the star system in Hollywood and Europe and announced that from now on, he would turn to making films more artistically demanding than previously. Yet, though the central theme of the interview is the economic system of film and questions about Jürgens’ private life take a back seat, the article does not abstain from emphasizing in an interpolated narrative note that he would conduct himself in classical star manner, he would not conceal his wealth and would slap his wives in public.[ii] Change or possibility of change is represented in the overlay of the known image.

The tabloid press continues to show paramount interest in his marriage to Simone, his home situation, his parties and appearances at social functions. He makes allowance for the changing Zeitgeist by expressing his sympathy, if not his support, for the student movement.[v] In an article about his newly acquired property at Rosimone (Domaine de la Trappe), he points out the simplicity that is said to characterise the house compared with the magnificence of the “glory box” in Cap Ferrat.[vi]


“Curd Jürgens: Danke man lebt!”, 1971, Part 1


“Curd Jürgens: Danke man lebt!”, 1971, Part 1

At the beginning of the 1970s, Rosimone is one of the central settings for reports about the marriage of Curd and Simone Jürgens. It is the “main residence” among the numerous houses the star lived in turns. Right until the autumn of 1971, the relationship between the married couple is described as harmonious. An example is the series in Stern “Thank you, one is alive!” with the actor’s life story[vii], much as it was a decade previously in the series in Quick.

There is one essential difference, however: just as the memoires that are published a few years later, the story is narrated in the first person who sees to it that it is the star granting authentic insights into his private life. And yet this is only his public life presented to his audience once again. The end of the life story presented to the reader in numerous illustrations is his happy conjugal life in his country house in the south of France. Alongside this series appeared a further series of articles in which the harmonious relationship of the Jürgens’ household is portrayed against the backdrop of a visit to the estate, in contrast with the image of the “heart-breaker”: “On a visit to Simone Jürgens, the woman who tamed an world star.“[viii] A perfect husband, that exists: I have one!”[ix]

Le Soir

“Un mari parfait, ça existe; j’en ai un!”, 1971

Le Soir

“Un mari parfait, ça existe; j’en ai un!”, 1971


“Warum sich Curd Jürgens von seiner Frau trennt. Ein Lehrstück für glückliche Ehepaare, die das Glück für selbstverständlich halten” by Marianne Schmidt. In: QUICK, No. 50, 1971

At the end of 1971, the harmony comes to an end. The picture that had been carefully built up in public begins to shift. With the representation of happiness, a potential is damned up that is now discharged in an unexpected sensational development. “Without any doubt, this happiest of all celebrity marriages is in great crisis.”[x]


“Warum sich Curd Jürgens von seiner Frau trennt. Ein Lehrstück für glückliche Ehepaare, die das Glück für selbstverständlich halten” by Marianne Schmidt. In: QUICK, No. 50, 1971

A circumstance that the popular press will report on in subsequent years. First the question arises, “Why has Curd Jürgens separated from his wife?”[xi] The answer follows the interpretive pattern specific to the public image of the star. At the same time, types of role patterns that were previously buried now emerge anew. According Quick[xii], Simone Jürgens is attempting to disentangle herself from a husband who, because he is an actor, is constantly travelling, who parties with the jetset community and, playing the patriarch, demands from his wife that she follows him everywhere and is always at his beck and call. But there are also moments which slow things down. Bunte has the title: “The last word remains to be said”[xiii].

An interview in which Simone Jürgens comments on her husband’s new affair opens with the sentence: “I am greatly afraid for Curd.”[xiv] When it transpires that Simone herself has a young director for a lover, then it is obviously all over between them. “Curd Jürgens: I’m getting a divorce.”[xv] Over the next years the reader can pursue the divorce process in the gossip columns – the delays, the missed deadlines, the discussions about compensation and the dispute over the surname of a son born between Simone and the director.[xvi]

The tabloid press says very little about the actor’s film roles. This can be explained on the one hand by the diminishing quality and promotion of the films in which he is primarily involved as a means of making money, and on the other hand by his disparately more spectacular role in private and public life.[xvii]


“Curd Jürgens: ‘Ich lasse mich scheiden'”, 1973


“Curd Jürgens hat sich von seiner Frau getrennt”, 29.11.1971

In reports about affairs which Jürgens has or is alleged to have had, the role of seducer and heart-breaker is again voiced. “It is incredible that this man – after all, everyone knows that he will be divorced on 9 October – is again fascinating to women. The reason is perhaps not only that he is one of the relatively small number of German international film stars but that he just radiates male aplomb.”[xviii]

His role as Everyman at the Salzburg Festival is alluded to in the same article. Without a doubt it is a prestigious role but there is an additional motive that becomes attached to the image of the star: there is now a shadow behind the bon vivant. Illness and old age increasingly become themes when reporting on Curd Jürgens: in 1967, suffering from arteriosclerosis, an artificial artery was inserted by an American specialist.[xix] Upon the death of the woman he loves, Mathilda Mizart, in an accident, psychological pain is added to the image of physical hurt: “Blinded by tears, he splutters: It’s not true. It can’t be true… His name: Curd Jürgens. No director is giving directions. Because the scene is bitter reality.”[xx] A truth as brutal as the popular press, the private drama publicly spreading out over their pages; concentrated in simple speech images that promise an undifferentiated emotive sensation.

Frau im Spiegel:

“Curd Jürgens kehrt zu Simone zurück”, No. 32, 1972

The image of the media figure Curd Jürgens is now extended to include illness, loneliness and death[xxi] – though the older role types are still on hand, the add-on being ignored when the report requires[xxii], or when they serve as a foil for the change. Neue Welt sees the star in a “melancholy and self-critical mood“. He is “no longer the Norman wardrobe.”[xxiii] Frau mit Herz dubs him “the hermit of Gstaad”, who though not having lost “his ability to party” has “grown tired of the jetset’s goings-on.”[xxiv] Hörzu attests to his “flashes of psychic frailness” but resurrects the image of seducer and patriarchal man: “the evening with the men, the night with the woman!”[xxv]

Playing with his image of aging lover, Jürgens is engaged in Ulli Lommel’s film DER ZWEITE FRÜHLING (Second Spring, 1975). For the first time in his career, he is shown in a love scene as an “over mature”[xxvi] man almost naked with a young partner. Aside from the sensational impact produced by an unclothed sixty year old, the popular conception of the actor is transposed here consciously into the film character. The popular image of “the nymphomaniac”[xxvii] – merges into the performing image.[xxviii]

The autobiographical novel und kein bißchen weise proceeds from the media figure’s public image.[xxix] The novel was largely written on the Bahamas. The photosets printed in the colour magazines show the writer at work consequentially as the Hemingway-Jürgens.

In line with the book’s promise in the cover text to reveal “behind the masks and rehearsed roles of the actor an artist in his sensitivity and vulnerable humanity”, a tension is built up between Jürgens’ private life as portrayed in the press, and his self-characterisation with its aura of authenticity. To meet this claim, the book refers to details, primarily of a sexual nature, that had not been published in the press previously. The book promises a glimpse into the depths of the soul of a media figure, a glimpse going beyond the horizon of press representation – and yet, with its publication, everything written in the book merges into the iridescent surface of the media image: “Curd Jürgens wrote memoires filled with sex: The way I did it was fantastic.”[xxx] The autobiography is read by the tabloid press from the standpoint of the star image. And from their perspective it can’t be read any differently, as that image is the only reference frame available: “The world has known Curd Jürgens thus for decades: whisky voice, dull blond hair, now thinning, china-blue eyes. A Siegfried. Cigarette in the corner of his mouth. Nonchalant grand seigneur. Able to hold his drink. A girl in each arm, a glass in each hand.“[xxxi]

Again the star makes headlines with a love story. His relationship with Margarethe “Margie” Schmitz, later Jürgens, is presented in the tabloid press cut to the same pattern as his previous female acquaintances. It begins with rumours of an affaire[xxxii], continues with depictions of a love relationship[xxxiii], that might lead to marriage[xxxiv], then there follows a disclaimer about marriage plans[xxxv] and finally there is the announcement of a wedding.[xxxvi] A new house is of course built, and sumptuously illustrated reports about the couple’s joint life in the domestic environment are published in the popular press: “A paradise for his new love”.[xxxvii]

Yet the theme of illness becomes more and more insistent. The real body behind the media figure is threatened, and this cannot e ignored any longer. “Herr Jürgens, just how ill are you?“ asks the Neue Presse[xxxviii].

Curd Jürgens dies in 1982. All of his roles reappear in the obituaries.[xxxix] For a time his death occupies the colour magazines. His widow’s reminiscences are serialised in the Neue Post: “My unforgettable years with Curd Jürgens” and with them there is a report about his “words from beyond.”[xl]

The Nature of Star Image

A phantom reports from the realm of the dead. But a phantom adhered to the figure of the star represented in the tabloid press, even when he was alive. Every detail of his reported life ends up entangled in the surface of the image. The real persona shies away at every attempt to grasp it.

This hybrid being with a core that exists in the world but is not accessible, and with a shell that is highly visible but exists only in the world of the media, gives coherence to the events evoked. The star’s story is told again and again. Without the dazzling shell, the narrative would lose its substance. This is true as much for stories of a private-life where very little happens, as it is for stories about love affairs and scandals. Tension builds up around the star that is composed of antonyms: near and far, private and public, fictional and real. Popular journalism resorts to this tension in order to stimulate and maintain interest. The fascination emanating from a figure is based on the fact that the figure is infinitely distant and yet, at the same time, every reader can enter its private sphere. As the figure is anchored in the living environment, it is possible to refer to an authentic core and to sell the report as revealing the authentic person.

A clear change in authentication strategies emerges at the beginning of the 1970s. While up to this point, simple assertions supported by photographs and occasional quotations were thought sufficient, there is now an attempt to legitimise the representation by using first person narrative or expert-led information, above all from psychologists. Furthermore, because it is anchored in the living world, there ensues a narrative openness about the reports. Because no one can exactly predict what the outcome of the story will be, every report implies the promise of a continuation. Reference to the world is, however, not so comprehensive so that a reader is forced to accept consequences for his own conduct: what is presented is “a world very much like our own, but a world where nothing really much matters”[xli]. In narratives and pictures, the reader is offered a chance to reproduce the emotions that have been evoked – or not. In this sense, the world of the star that is propagated by the tabloid press is a fictitious one.[xlii] In the tension between the conscious real background and the fiction which allows the recipient to bring his own imagination to bear on the representation, life is breathed into the figure of the star.

A life though, which is implemented in simple word images and whose function expends itself in evoking a superficial emotional reaction. Although the individuality of the star is constantly evoked and his way of life is emphasised as being entirely different from that of the reader, there is a sense that the images attuned to emotional resonance are being constantly infiltrated by the ordinary and the general. A play develops with emotionally enriched content that is limited to one surface: pure entertainment. Seen negatively, this form of entertainment paralyses all reflection: “The heroification of the average is part of the cult of the cheap. “[xliii] From a more positive point of view, the representations of the tabloid press allow a free play with experiences which are of importance even in everyday life, at a level where they have no consequences.[xliv]

Curd Jürgens made his image available for this game – and this had consequences for him. By committing his image to the public sphere, he became the alienated figure of the star, even the only “world star that German post-war cinema produced.”[xlv]

His rise was unquestionably based on his acting accomplishments and charisma, but the current that swept him to the top had its origin in the pages of the popular press. The price that he paid for this was that a part of his private person was dissipated in his public persona.

Henning Engelke

Published as: “Every Child will know me… Curd Jürgens and the Tabloid Press“. In: Hans-Peter Reichmann (ed.): Curd Jürgens. Frankfurt am Main 2000/2007 (Kinematograph No. 14)

Translation: Elizabeth Ward


[i] Düsseldorfer Express, 20.7.1977.

[ii] Der Spiegel, No. 33, 1962, no page.

[iii] On the role as Freud in Le fil rouge see Elle, 29.3.1963, no page. On the shortly given up theater project see Femina, No. 22, 1971, no page, and Hörzu, No. 40, 1971, no page. On the failure of the project informs Jour de France, 28.12.1971, no page.

[iv] Stern, No. 48, 1967, p. 221.

[v] ele, No. 25, 1969, no date and page.

[vi] Constanze, 14.10.1969, no page.

[vii] Stern, No. 51, 1970 to No. 5, 1971, no page.

[viii] Das Neue Blatt, No. 25, 1971, no page.

[ix] Le Soir Illustré, 11.3.1971, no page.

[x] Quick, No. 50, 1971, no page.

[xi] ibid., loc. cit., no page.

[xii] ibid., loc. cit., no page.

[xiii] Bunte, No. 52, 1971, no page.

[xiv] Jürgens complains of this circumstance in an interview with Bunte: „Schlimmer als all die Sachen ist doch die Tatsache, daß ich nur noch mit solchen Dingen in die Zeitung komme. Natürlich haben die Leute das Recht, auch über unser Privatleben Bescheid zu wissen. Aber schließlich bin ich doch Künstler, immerhin Burgschauspieler, ich war Theaterdirektor und arbeite auch als Regisseur. Dafür scheint sich heute niemand mehr zu interessieren.“, loc. cit., no page.

[xv] Bild-Zeitung am Sonntag, 9.7. 1972.

[xvi] Stern, No. 13, 1973, no page.

[xvii] To the legally valid divorce it comes first in 1977. See tz, München, 20.4.1977, or Braunschweiger Zeitung, 21.4.1977. Another sensational result of the divorce was the publication of the memoirs of Simone Jürgens in an Austrian newspaper that Curd Jürgens adjusted by a court order. See: Tele, No. 22, 1974, no page. Bunte headlines: „Curd Jürgens: ‚Das ist ein Skandal‘“ a report on the controversy surrounding the memoirs and prints a sample that illustrates the permissive sexual life of the couple, No. 5, 1974, no page.

[xviii] Bunte, No. 36, 1973, no page.

[xix] E.g. Münchener tz reported on an upcoming check-up: „Curd Jürgens: ‚Ich habe ganz schön Bammel.‘ Steht eine zweite Operation bevor?“, 25.4.1970.

[xx] Bild-Zeitung, 9.6.1974, no page.

[xxi] Exemplary Curd Jürgens reported on experiences during his operation in the New Age magazine: „Ich war klinisch tot – und erlebte die Hölle“, No. 20, 1976, no page, a report the magazine hardly changed published for seven days under the headline „Scheintot. Erregende Dokumente aus dem Niemandsland zwischen Leben und Tod“, No. 10, 1977, no page.

[xxii] E.g. Tele Zeitung: „… man sucht vergeblich nach Spuren von langen Whisky- und anderen Nächten und einem schlimmen Playboyleben.“, 27.11.1977, no page.

[xxiii] No. 34, 1975, no page.

[xxiv] No. 48, 1975, no page.

[xxv] No. 10, 1975, no page.

[xxvi] Jürgens in an interview with the magazine Esprit, No. 10, 1975, no page.

[xxvii] Bunte, No. 48, 1974, no page. See also N.N.: Warum alle meine Frauen um die 20 sind. In: Berliner Zeitung, 22.3.1976, no page.

[xxviii] What may work in the star system does not apply tocharacter roles: „Identifizierung gelungen. Nachdem von Sigmund Freud bis Jedermann schon mancher in des Mimen Hülle geschlüpft ist, präsentiert sich, so muß man es wohl sehen, nunmehr der Gründer des zweiten Deutschen Reiches, Otto von Bismarck, als Curd Jürgens“. In: Stern, No. 8, 1974, no page.

[xxix] loc. cit., no page.

[xxx] Bild-Zeitung,17.8.1976, no page.

[xxxi] Düsseldorfer Express, 2.3.1977, no page.

[xxxii] N.N.: Schon wieder eine neue Simone. Eine entschlossene Hamburgerin bildet sich den Weltstar ein. In: Bunte, 24.1. 1976, no page.

[xxxiii] Das Goldene Blatt, No. 8, 1977, no page.

[xxxiv] Neue Post, No. 10, 1977, no page.

[xxxv] Neue Welt, No. 18, 1977, no page.

[xxxvi] Neue Post, No. 2, 1978, no page.

[xxxvii] Das Goldene Blatt, No. 30, 1976, no page. Neue Post reports: „In seinem luxuriös ausgestatteten Heim führt der Weltstar mit Margie ein glückliches Leben.“, No. 10, 1977, no page.

[xxxviii] 1979, no date and page.

[xxxix] E.g. Bild-Zeitung am Sonntag, 20.6.1982.

[xl] Neue Post, No. 31-36, 1982, no page.

[xli] Joshua Gamson: Claims to Fame. Celebrity in Contemporary America. Berkeley, Los Angeles 1994, p. 196.

[xlii] Luhmann, loc. cit., p. 133.

[xliii] Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno: Kulturindustrie. In: Dialektik der Aufklärung. Frankfurt am Main, p. 165.

[xliv] Gamson, loc. cit., p. 185.

[xlv] Süddeutsche Zeitung, 20.6.1982, no page.