Oskar Werner (13 November 1922 - 23 October 1984) was an Austrian actor.
He is known for his film performances in Jules and Jim (1962), Ship of Fools (1965), The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), Fahrenheit 451 (1966) and The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968). Werner received an Academy Award nomination in 1966, two BAFTA award nominations in 1966 and 1967, and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture in 1966.
Born Oskar Josef Bschließmayer in Vienna, Werner spent much of his childhood in the care of his grandmother, who entertained him with stories about the Burgtheater, the Austrian state theatre, where he was accepted at the age of eighteen by Lothar Müthel. He was the youngest person ever to receive this recognition. He made his theatre debut using the stage name Oskar Werner in October 1941.
In December 1941, Werner was drafted into the Deutsche Wehrmacht. As a pacifist and staunch opponent of National Socialism, he was determined to avoid advancement in the military.
So many officers had been killed on the Russian front that they needed replacements desperately. And, I was for them the embodiment of the Aryan type. But I am a pacifist. I didn't want any responsibility, so I behaved stupidly. I fell from my horse and made mistakes reading the range finders on the cannon, and finally they kicked me out of training school.
He was assigned to peeling potatoes and cleaning latrines instead of being sent to the Eastern Front. In 1944, he secretly married actress Elisabeth Kallina, who was half-Jewish. They immediately had a daughter, Eleanore. That December, he deserted the Wehrmacht and fled with his wife and daughter to the Wienerwald, where they remained in hiding until the end of the war. He would later remember, "The artillery fire was constant for two and a half days. The shells hit all around our little hut and it was shaking like a leaf ... We knew that to go out there would be suicide, but it was better than to have to wait for execution."
Werner returned to the Burgtheater, and also acted in productions at the Raimund Theater and the Theater in der Josefstadt, frequently playing character roles. He made his film debut in Der Engel mit der Posaune, directed by Karl Hartl, in 1948. The following year he portrayed Ludwig van Beethoven's nephew Karl in Eroica.
In 1950, Werner journeyed to the United Kingdom to reprise the role he had played in Der Engel mit der Posaune in its English-language version, The Angel with the Trumpet, under the direction of Anthony Bushell. He and his wife divorced at about this time but remained friends. He appeared in a few more German-Austrian films before going to Hollywood for a lead role in the 20th Century Fox war film Decision Before Dawn. When the subsequent roles promised by the studio failed to materialize, he returned to Europe and settled in Triesen, Liechtenstein, in a home he designed and built with a friend. He returned to the stage and performed in Hamlet, Danton's Death, Henry IV, Henry V, Torquato Tasso, and Becket, among others. In 1954 he married Anne Power, the daughter of French actress Annabella and adopted daughter of Tyrone Power.
After a period of inactivity in films, Werner appeared in five in 1955, among them Mozart, in which he played the title role, and Lola Montès, directed by Max Ophüls. It was not until 1962, when he appeared in Jules and Jim, that he began to draw critical acclaim and international recognition.
Werner's portrayal of the philosophical Dr. Schumann in the 1965 film Ship of Fools won him the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor and nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actor, the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama, and the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actor. His portrayal of Jewish East German spy Fiedler in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) won him the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture and his second BAFTA nomination. In 1966, he played book-burning fireman Guy Montag in François Truffaut's film adaptation of the cult-classic Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. He played an orchestra conductor in Interlude and a Vatican priest loosely based on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Shoes of the Fisherman in 1968, the same year he divorced Power.
In the early 1970s, Werner returned to the stage and spent time traveling in Israel, Italy, Malta, France, and the United States. He appeared in an episode of Columbo in 1975, and the following year made his final screen appearance in Voyage of the Damned, for which he received another Golden Globe nomination.
Werner was an alcoholic, which was a deciding factor in the decline of his health and career. His last stage appearance was in a 1983 production of The Prince of Homburg, and he made his last public appearance at the Mozart Hall in Salzburg ten days prior to his death.
Death and burial:
On 22 October 1984, Werner cancelled a reading at the Hotel Europäischer Hof in Marburg, Germany because he was feeling ill. He was found dead of a heart attack the following morning, two days after French film director François Truffaut had died. He is buried in his adopted country of Liechtenstein.
Filmography and television work:
Linen for Ireland
Der Engel mit der Posaune
The Angel with the Trumpet
Das gestohlene Jahr
Ruf aus dem Äther
Ein Lächeln im Sturm
Decision Before Dawn
Cpl. Karl "Happy" Maurer
The Last Ten Days
Lt. Zeno von Baumgarten
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Ein gewisser Judas
Jules and Jim
Ship of Fools
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor,
Nominated-Academy Award for Best Actor,
Nominated-BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role,
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture,
Nominated-BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
The Shoes of the Fisherman
Fr. David Telemond
Harold Van Wick
Voyage of the Damned
Professor Egon Kreisler
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license