Max Schreck

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Schreck in 1922

Friedrich Gustav Max Schreck[1] (6 September 1879 – 20 February 1936)[2][3][4] was a German actor. He is remembered for his role in the horror movie Nosferatu (1922).

Early life[change | change source]

Schreck was born in Berlin-Friedenau, on 6 September 1879. He received his training at the Berliner Staatstheater (the State Theatre of Berlin). He completed his studies in 1902.[3] He made his stage debut in Meseritz and Speyer. He then toured Germany for two years appearing at theatres in Zittau, Erfurt, Bremen,[3] Lucerne,[3] Gera,[3] and Frankfurt am Main.[3] Schreck then joined Max Reinhardt's company of performers in Berlin.[5] Many of Reinhardt's troupe made a significant contribution to movies.[5]

Career[change | change source]

Between 1919 and 1922, Schreck appeared at the Munich Kammerspiele.[5] He had a role in the expressionist production of Bertolt Brecht's debut, Trommeln in der Nacht (Drums in the Night). He played the "freakshow landlord" Glubb.[6] During this time he also worked on his first movie Der Richter von Zalamea.[5] In 1921, he was hired by Prana Film for their first and only movie, Nosferatu. The company declared itself bankrupt after the movie was released. They did not want to pay copyright infringement costs to Dracula author Bram Stoker's widow.[5] Schreck portrayed Count Orlok in the movie. The character was very similar to Count Dracula.[5]

In 1923, Schreck was still in Munich. He appeared in a 16-minute (one-reeler) slapstick, "surreal comedy" written by Bertolt Brecht entitled Mysterien eines Friseursalons (Mysteries of a Barbershop).[7] Schreck appeared as a blind man in the film Die Straße (The Street) the same year.[2][5]

Schreck's second collaboration with Nosferatu director F. W. Murnau was the 1924 comedy Die Finanzen des Grossherzogs (The Grand Duke's Finances).[5] Murnau did not like the final product.[5]

In 1926, Schreck returned to the Kammerspiele in Munich. He continued to act in movies. He made the transition to "talkies". He died in 1936 in Munich of a heart attack.[8] On 19 February 1936, Schreck had just played The Grand Inquisitor in the play Don Carlos. That evening he felt unwell. The doctor sent him to the hospital where he died early the next morning[9] His obituary praised his role as The Miser in Molière's comedy play.[9] He was buried on 14 March 1936 at Wilmersdorfer Waldfriedhof in Berlin.[2]

Personal life[change | change source]

Schreck was married to actress Fanny Normann.[5] She appeared in a few movies. She was often credited as Fanny Schreck. The word schreck is also the German word for fright, or terror.[2] Because of this, many authors who were unaware of Schreck's on-stage credits (and ignorant of the rather sparse details of his personal life) speculated that there was really no such person,[2] and that Schreck was, in fact, some well-known actor who had chosen to adopt a pseudonym for his role in Nosferatu. One of the prime "suspects" was Alfred Abel; however, a careful examination of the photographs of these two actors is sufficient to dispel such notions.

Schreck's contemporaries recalled he was a loner with an unusual sense of humor. He was skilled in playing grotesque characters. One reported he lived in "a remote and strange world". He was said to spend time walking through dark forests.[8]

Cultural references[change | change source]

The person and performance of Max Schreck in Nosferatu has been fictionalized by actor Willem Dafoe in E. Elias Merhige's Shadow of the Vampire.[8] In a sort of secret history, Shadow posits that Schreck actually was a vampire.[10]

Scriptwriter Daniel Waters created the character Max Shreck for the film Batman Returns and compared him to the character Max Schreck played in Nosferatu.[11] Variety claimed the name was an in-joke.[12] Shreck was a character created exclusively for the movie, absent from the comics, and serves as one of the main antagonists.

Notes[change | change source]

  1. Eickhoff, Stefan. 2007
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Brill, Olaf. 2004
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Walk, Ines. 2006.
  4. All reliable sources agree as to Schreck's actual date of birth and date of death.(Brill, Olaf. 2004, Walk, Ines. 2006) However, at least until 9 March 2009 the Internet Movie Database had incorrect and self-contradictory details. (IMDB bio: "Date of Birth: 6 September 1879," ... "born on June 11, 1879" ... "Date of Death 26 November 1936," ... "death from a heart attack on February 19, 1936")
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 Enigmatic Max: The career of Max Schreck Archived 2008-07-24 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 26 December 2008.
  6. Brecht, Willett and Manheim (1970, ix)
  7. McDowell, W. Stuart. "A Brecht-Valentin Production: Mysteries of a Barbershop", Performing Arts Journal, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Winter, 1977), pp. 2-14; and "Acting Brecht: The Munich Years," by W. Stuart McDowell, in The Brecht Sourcebook, Carol Martin, Henry Bial, editors (Routledge, 2000) p. 71 - 83.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Graham 2008 Page 2. Retrieved 2008-12-26.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Brill 2004, Peter Trumm: obituary in Münchner Neueste Nachrichten vol. 89, no. 52, on 21 February 1936. "am Donnerstag früh um einhalb neun Uhr im Schwabinger Krankenhaus gestorben" (i.e. 08:30 in the morning of February 20, 1936)
  10. Nugent, Phil (2008-05-13). "Digging Up Max Shreck, the Screen's Original Dracula". Retrieved 2009-05-21. The 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire, starring John Malkovich as Murnau, was a darkly comic fantasy in which it was revealed that "Shreck" was an actual vampire (played by Willem Dafoe) that the director had brought in to lend his authenticity to the role. It was rooted in a film-scholar in-joke that went back decades.
  11. "Batman YTB". Archived from the original on 2009-01-29. Retrieved 2009-05-21. The script gave the writer (Daniel Waters) license to create his own villain in the form of Christopher Walken's nefarious Max Shreck, named after Max Schreck, the star of F.W. Murnau's NOSFERATU (1922).
  12. McCarthy, Todd (1992-05-15). "Batman Returns Review". Variety. Retrieved 2009-05-21. Max Shreck, a character named, as an in-joke, after the German actor who starred as the screen's first Dracula in F.W. Murnau's 1922 "Nosferatu."

References[change | change source]

Further reading[change | change source]

  • Eickhoff, Stefan (2007). Max Schreck - Gespenstertheater (in German). Munich: Belleville Verlag Inh. Dr. Willi Michael Farin. ISBN 978-3-936298-54-3.
  • Eickhoff, Stefan. "Max Schreck - Gespenstertheater" (in German). Retrieved 2009-03-09. (summary of Eickhoff's biography/tribute of Schreck)

Other websites[change | change source]