Fritz Lang (I) (1890–1976)Director | Writer | Producer
Date of Birth 5 December 1890, Vienna, Austria-Hungary
Date of Death 2 August 1976, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA
Birth Name Friedrich Christian Anton Lang
Height 5' 11" (1.8 m)
Fritz Lang was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1890. His father managed a construction company. His mother, Pauline Schlesinger, was Jewish but converted to Catholicism when Lang was ten. After high school, he enrolled briefly at the Technische Hochschule Wien and then started to train as a painter. From 1910 to 1914, he traveled in Europe, and he would later claim, also in Asia and North Africa. He studied painting in Paris from 1913-14. At the start of World War I, he returned to Vienna, enlisting in the army in January 1915. Severely wounded in June 1916, he wrote some scenarios for films while convalescing. In early 1918, he was sent home shell-shocked and acted briefly in Viennese theater before accepting a job as a writer at Erich Pommer's production company in Berlin, Decla. In Berlin, Lang worked briefly as a writer and then as a director, at Ufa and then for Nero-Film, owned by the American Seymour Nebenzal. In 1920, he began a relationship with actress and writer Thea von Harbou (1889-1954), who wrote with him the scripts for his most celebrated films: Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922), Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (1924), Metropolis (1927) and M (1931) (credited to von Harbou alone). They married in 1922 and divorced in 1933. In that year, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels offered Lang the job of head of the German Cinema Institute. Lang--who was an anti-Nazi mainly because of his Catholic background--did not accept the position (it was later offered to and accepted by filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl) and, after secretly sending most of his money out of the country, fled Germany to Paris. After about a year in Paris, Lang moved to the United States in mid-1934, initially under contract to MGM. Over the next 20 years, he directed numerous American films. In the 1950s, in part because the film industry was in economic decline and also because of Lang's long-standing reputation for being difficult with, and abusive to, actors, he found it increasingly hard to get work. At the end of the 1950s, he traveled to Germany and made what turned out to be his final three films there, none of which were well received.
In 1964, nearly blind, he was chosen to be president of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival. He was an avid collector of primitive art and habitually wore a monocle, an affectation he picked up during his early days in Vienna. After his divorce from von Harbou, he had relationships with many other women, but from about 1931 to his death in 1976, he was close to Lily Latte, who helped him in many ways.
He studied at the College of Technical Sciences of Vienna's Academy of Graphic Arts but unhappy with the career path chosen for him by his parents, he ran away to study art in Munich and Paris. He then spent many years travelling the world including Asia. In 1913, he returned to Paris to paint. When World War I began, he was drafted into the Austrian army. After the war, he became a story editor, then screenwriter and actor.
Lily Latte (1971 - 2 August 1976) (his death)
Thea von Harbou (26 August 1922 - 26 April 1933) (divorced)
Lisa Rosenthal (1919 - 1921) (her death)
All his films feature a shot of his hand
Usually wore a monocle, and probably only for dramatic effect
His protagonists are frequently hateful, violent but ultimately sympathetic figures
His films are dark (both visually and in tone)
Dorothy Parker once remarked, in reference to Lang's wife's "campaigning" for his career, "There's a man who got where he is by the sweat of his Frau."
According to Lang himself, on 25 March 1933, two days after The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) had been banned, he was summoned to the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda to meet with Joseph Goebbels himself. Goebbels explained the reason for the ban (the Nazi party slogans are fed into the mouth of the villain at the film's conclusion) and apologized to Lang. He then shocked Lang by offering him the position of production supervisor at the UFA studios, where his first film would be a biography of Wilhelm Tell. Lang claims he suspected a trap and attempted to throw off Goebbels by telling him, "My mother had Jewish parents," to which Goebbels responded, "We'll decide who's Jewish!" Lang then expressed interest in the position and said he needed some time to think it over. He describes how he looked at a clock and how during the entire meeting all he could think about was leaving as soon as possible so he could get to the bank and flee with all of his money. Lang says he didn't get there in time so he sold his wife's jewelry, boarded a train to Paris that same evening, leaving most of his money and personal possessions behind, along with his wife, Thea von Harbou, who divorced him later that year and went on to write and direct films for the Nazi propaganda machine. This story is possibly exaggerated by Lang for dramatic effect because there is evidence he left weeks after that.
Interred at Forest Lawn (Hollywood Hills), Los Angeles, California, USA, in the Enduring Faith section, just to the right of plot #3818, two in from the curb.
Before his death in 1976, he planned to make a film about the hippie culture.
As a soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I--he was an Austrian, not German as is commonly believed--he fought in Russia and Rumania, where he was wounded three times. He also fought in Italy, where he was also wounded, and wound up being commissioned as a lieutenant (he enlisted as a private).
Both in Germany and the United States, he was one of the most personally disliked directors around, a fact that hurt him at times in Hollywood because some actresses and actors would refuse to work with him.
Was voted the 30th Greatest Director of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890-1945." Pages 609-624. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.
His first wife, Lisa Rosenthal, committed suicide by shooting herself in the chest. It was rumoured that she did this after finding her husband in a compromising situation with Thea von Harbou.
President of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 1964.
An animated version of Lang appeared in the Japanese animated movie "Full Metal Alchemist: Conquerors of Shamballa" (Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa (2005)). Originally mistaken by Edward Elric as being one of the Homonculi from his own world, this animated Lang aided Edward in his quest to return home. He was voiced by Hidekatsu Shibata.
Second son of Anton Lang, an architect, and Pauline Schlesinger.
Collected primitive art.
Was nearly blind at the time of his death.
Interviewed in Peter Bogdanovich's "Who the Devil Made It: Conversations With Robert Aldrich, George Cukor, Allan Dwan, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Chuck Jones, Fritz Lang, Joseph H. Lewis, Sidney Lumet, Leo McCarey, Otto Preminger, Don Siegel, Josef von Sternberg, Frank Tashlin, Edgar G. Ulmer, Raoul Walsh." NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
His films, particularly his earlier work, were hugely influential and he was cited as influencing the work of directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Luis Buñuel and Orson Welles.
His second wife, Thea von Harbou, divorced him after finding some evidence of his intimate relationship with Lily Latte, who was his contact in Paris during his visits and then his stay in France. Lilly was also married, and also divorced shortly after, having lived with Lang and serving as his personal assistant, from 1931-71, when they were married.
Learned to speak French and English as an adult in addition to his native German.
An extensive interview with Peter Bogdanovich resulted in a book, "Fritz Lang in America" published by Praesger in 1967.
Lang was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Army during WW I in 1915. As a lieutenant in Italy he was wounded in the shoulder, for which he was decorated.
Producer Erich Pommer offered Lang The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), but the director felt the film's expressionistic style would not be understood by audiences. Instead he did Die Spinnen, 2. Teil - Das Brillantenschiff (1920), the last part of "The Spiders".
Lang dubbed Peter Lorre's whistling in M (1931). He felt his off-key whistling was right for the character.
When he decided to leave Germany in 1933, his wife Thea von Harbou divorced him. She remained in Germany and made propaganda films for the Nazi regime.
He claims to have invented "the countdown" for dramatic purposes in his film Woman in the Moon (1929). His use of countdown is the first ever recorded, inspiring real life rocket launch sequences.
After the outbreak of World War I he volunteered for the Austro-Hungarian army and was sent to the front of Russia, Rumania and Italy, where he was wounded several times. He was awarded several medals for bravery. During his time in the military hospital he wrote his first scripts and one of them was very probably realized for the Stuart-Webbs serial of director Joe May After 1917 May adapted several of Lang's scripts for Das rollende Hotel (1918), the follow-up to the successful "Joe Deebs" serial Sein schwierigster Fall (1915).
In 1933 Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels invited Lang to his office for a talk. Goebbels offered him the leadership of the German movie business. Lang told him he would need to think it over, and when he left the meeting he went directly to the train station and hopped a train to Paris, France.
After a journey to America Lang returned to Germany to make what is probably his most famous work, Metropolis (1927). It was on this film that Lang acquired the reputation for being a "tyrant" on the set (even in the 1940s, long after he had settled in the US, many actors and actresses in Hollywood would refuse to work for him because of his abusive behavior on set).
Lang made only a few movies in the 1920s compared to other German directors, but the relative few he made are considered classics of film history.
Despite his reputation as somewhat of a bully and tyrant while filming, he would often arrive on set at 7:00 am and stay until 11:00 pm or even later.
He was known in Berlin as something of a "man of the world", and was often seen wearing a monocle, which was fashionable in those days.
Unlike many silent-era directors, he welcomed the advent of sound, but didn't rush into it--while the sound era is generally agreed to have started in 1927, he didn't make a sound film until 1931, but it was one of his finest--M (1931). The film, a dark tale about a pedophile who molests and murders a little girl, was a smash international hit and made a star out of its lead, Peter Lorre. The film was especially meaningful to German audiences because of the recent cases of two serial-killing pedophiles, Peter Kurten and Fritz Haarman.
He was quite unhappy when a scene didn't come out exactly the way he wanted it to, and would often take out his frustrations on his cast and crew.
After he left Germany he made several pictures in France, then went to England and finally the US. It was there he helped found the Anti-Nazi League.
In 1918 he met producer Erich Pommer in Berlin, who hired him as an actor and scriptwriter.
Prior to World War I he had a keen interest in art. He often visited the Academy of Graphic Arts in Vienna and spent 1913 and 1914 as an artist in Paris, France.
Although he was losing his eyesight by the time he directed his last film, "The Thousand Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse", he did try to initiate subsequent projects for a few years, including an original screenplay by himself designed as a vehicle for Jeanne Moreau and a version of John Le Carre's novel, "A Murder Of Quality", which he discussed with the author.