Gustaf Gründgens (22 December 1899 – 7 October 1963), born Gustav Heinrich Arnold Gründgens, was one of Germany's most famous and influential actors of the 20th century, and artistic director of theatres in Berlin, Düsseldorf, and Hamburg. His career continued unimpeded through the years of the Nazi regime; the extent to which this can be considered as deliberate collaboration with the Nazis is hotly disputed.
His single most famous role was that of Mephistopheles in Goethe's Faust in 1956/57, which is still considered by many to have been the best interpretation of the role ever given.
Born in Düsseldorf, Gründgens attended the drama school of the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus after World War I and started his career at smaller theaters in Halberstadt, Kiel, and Berlin.
In 1923 he joined the Kammerspiele in Hamburg, where he also appeared as a director for the first time, collaborating with the author Klaus Mann, the son of Thomas Mann, and his sister Erika. Gründgens, who meanwhile had changed his first name to Gustaf, married Erika Mann in 1926; they divorced three years later.
In 1928 he moved back to Berlin to join the renowned ensemble of the Deutsches Theater under the director Max Reinhardt. Apart from spoken theatre, Gründgens also worked with Otto Klemperer at the Kroll Opera, as a cabaret artist and as a screen actor, most notably in Fritz Lang's 1931 film M, which significantly increased his popularity. From 1932 he was a member of the Prussian State Theatre ensemble, in which he first stood out as Mephistopheles.
Gründgens' career continued after the Nazi party came to power: in 1934 he became the Intendant, or artistic director, of the Prussian State Theatre and was later appointed a member of the Prussian state council by the Prussian Minister-President Hermann Göring. He also became a member of the Presidential Council of the Reichstheaterkammer (Theatre Chamber of the Reich), which was an institution of the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture). In 1941, Gründgens starred in the propaganda film Ohm Krüger and also in Friedemann Bach, a film he also produced. After Goebbels's total war speech on 18 February 1943, Gründgens volunteered for the Wehrmacht but was again recalled by Göring, who had his name added to the Gottbegnadeten list.
Imprisoned by the Soviet NKVD in 1945, Gründgens was released thanks to the intercession of the Communist actor Ernst Busch, whom Gründgens himself had saved from execution by the Nazis in 1943. During the denazification process his statements helped to exonerate acting colleagues, including Göring's widow Emmy and Veit Harlan, director of the film (Jud Süß). Gründgens returned to the Deutsches Theater, later became Intendant of the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus, and from 1955 directed the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg. He again performed as Mephistopheles; the 1960 film Faust by Peter Gorski was made with the Deutsches Schauspielhaus ensemble.
Gründgens married Erika Mann in 1926; the marriage ended after three years. From 1936 to 1946, Gründgens was married to the famous German actress Marianne Hoppe in what was widely seen as a lavender marriage.
On 7 October 1963, while traveling around the world, Gründgens died in Manila of an internal hemorrhage. It has never been ascertained whether or not he committed suicide by an overdose of sleeping pills. His last words, written on an envelope, were, "I believe I have taken too many sleeping pills; I feel a bit weird, let me sleep ." He is buried at the Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg.
Posthumously, Gründgens was involved in one of the most famous literary cases in 20th-century Germany as the subject of the novel Mephisto by his former brother-in-law Klaus Mann, who had died in 1949. The novel, a thinly veiled account of Gründgens's life, portrayed its main character, Hendrik Höfgen, as having shady connections with the Nazi regime. Gründgens's adopted son and heir Peter Gorski, who had directed Faust, successfully sued the publisher on his late father's behalf in 1966. The judgment was upheld by the Federal Court of Justice in 1968.
In the time-consuming lawsuit, the controversy over libel and the freedom of fiction from censorship was finally decided by the Federal Constitutional Court in 1971. It ruled that Gründgens's post-mortem personality rights prevailed and upheld the prohibition imposed on the publisher. However, the novel met with no further protests when it was published again in 1981 by Rowohlt.
In 1981 the novel was made into the film Mephisto, directed by István Szabó, with Klaus Maria Brandauer in the role of Hendrik Höfgen. The film was a huge commercial and critical success, and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1981.
- Eine Stadt steht Kopf (also actor, 1932)
- Die Finanzen des Großherzogs (1933)
- Kapriolen (also actor, 1937)
- The False Step (1939)
- Zwei Welten (1939)
- Friedemann Bach (also actor, 1940)
- Faust (also actor, 1960, co-director Peter Gorski)
- Never Trust a Woman (1930) … Jean
- Va Banque (1930) … Private detective John James Brown
- Hokuspokus (1930) … Public Prosecutor Dr. Wilke
- Danton (1930) … Robespierre
- Brand in der Oper (1930) … Otto van Lingen
- Yorck (1931) … Hardenberg
- M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder (1931) … Schränker
- Louise, Queen of Prussia (1931) … King Frederick William III
- The Countess of Monte-Christo (1931) … "The Baron", con artist
- The Theft of the Mona Lisa (1931)
- Teilnehmer antwortet nicht (1932) … Nikolai
- Liebelei (1932) … Baron von Eggersdorff
- A Love Story (1933)
- The Tunnel (1933) … Woolf
- The Tunnel (1933, French version) … Woolf
- Happy Days in Aranjuez (1933) … Alexander
- So Ended a Great Love (1934) … Metternich
- Schwarzer Jäger Johanna (1934) … Dr. Frost
- The Legacy of Pretoria (1934) … Eugen Schliebach
- 100 Tage (1935) … Fouché
- Pygmalion (1935) … Professor Higgins
- Joan of Arc (1935) … King Charles VII
- A Woman of No Importance (1936) … Lord Illingworth
- Kapriolen (1937) … Jack Warren
- Tanz auf dem Vulkan (1938) … Jean-Gaspard Deburau
- Ohm Krüger (1941) … Joseph Chamberlain
- Friedemann Bach (1941) … Wilhelm Friedemann Bach
- Faust (1960) … Mephistopheles
- Das Glas Wasser (1960) … Sir Henry St John
- Ambesser, Gwendolyn von: Die Ratten betreten das sinkende Schiff: Das absurde Leben des Leo Reuss. Verlag Edition AV, Lich/Hessen 2005, ISBN 3-936049-47-5.
- Badenhausen, Rolf (1966), "Gustaf Heinrich Arnold Gründgens", Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB) (in German), 7, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 188–189 ; (full text online)
- Berger, Renate: Tanz auf dem Vulkan. Gustaf Gründgens und Klaus Mann. Lambert Schneider, Darmstadt 2016, ISBN 978-3-650-40128-1.
- Blubacher, Thomas: Gustaf Gründgens. Biografie. Henschel, Leipzig 2013, ISBN 978-3-89487-702-6.
- Goertz, Heinrich: Gustaf Gründgens. Mit Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1982, 7. Auflage 2006, ISBN 978-3-499-50315-3.
- Carola Stern: Auf den Wassern des Lebens. Gustaf Gründgens und Marianne Hoppe. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Köln 2005, ISBN 3-462-03604-1 (Biografie).
- Carl Zuckmayer: Geheimreport. Dossiers über deutsche Künstler, Journalisten und Verleger im „Dritten Reich“. Hrsg. von Gunther Nickel und Johanna Schrön. Wallstein, Göttingen 2002, S.153 f.
- Dohm–Mann family tree
- Gustaf Gründgens at the Internet Movie Database
- A biographical article http://www.wsws.org/articles/1999/dec1999/gust-d29.shtml
- Photographs of Gustaf Gründgens
- Gustaf Gründgens playing Mephisto in the Hamburg Theatre production of Goethe's Faust, in German with English subtitles on YouTube