Bergner, Elisabeth

BORN 22 Aug 1897, Drohobycz, Galizien (now Drogobych, Ukraine) - DIED 12 May 1986, London
BIRTH NAME Ettel, Elisabeth
GRAVE LOCATION London: Golders Green, 62 Hoop Lane (Ashes scattered in Section 1-L)

Elisabeth Bergner was the daughter of the merchant Emil Ettel (1867-1935) and his wife Anna Rosa Wagner (b.1873). She grew up in Vienna. Her parents divorced in 1913. Elisabeth made her theatre debut in Innsbruck in 1915. In 1916 she obtained a contract in Zürich, where she played Ophelia next to the famous Alexander Moissi, who fell in love with her. She rejected him as a lover (although she liked him very much and it seems she played with his feelings). The next stage in her career was Vienna, where she posed as a model for the highly talented but deeply unhappy sculptor Wilhelm Lehmbruck. Lehmbruck fell madly in love with her. She rejected him and his suicide soon afterwards shocked her. After performing in Vienna and Munich she came to Berlin in 1921. There she played in productions by Max Reinhardt and became a very popular actress.

During her early years as an actress she was often helped by the poet and critic Albert Ehrenstein, whom she called "Xaverl". Ehrenstein was also in love with her. At one time she promised him a child, but she soon changed her mind or she never had such an intention at all. Ehrenstein wrote numerous poems for her, but often she kept him at a distance. However, their friendship lasted and they continued to exchange letters.

In 1923 she made her film debut in "Der Evangelimann". In 1924 Paul Czinner gave her a role in "Nju". This was the beginning of a successful collaboration in professional as well as private life. Her most successful silent movie was "Fräulein Else" (1928).

Bergner and Czinner were both Jews and after the nazis came to power they emigrated to Vienna and then London, where they were married although Czinner was gay. She learned English and was able to continue her career. In London she befriended G.B. Shaw and J.M. Barrie, who after a long pause started writing again, especially for her. The resulting play, "The Boy David" (1936) was not successful. She also appeared as Gemma Jones in the movie version of "Escape Me Never" (1935) by Margaret Kennedy, which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress (Bette Davis won that year). Her movie "Catherine the Great" (1934) was forbidden in Germany.

During her London years she sent much of her money to relatives and friends in need. Among them Ehrenstein, who never seemed able to make any money for himself and always needed her financial assistance. Bergner's only Hollywood movie "Paris Calling" (1941) failed to attract attention. On Broadway she was more successful in "The Two Mrs. Carrolls". This was probably the inspiration for Mary Orr's story "The Wisdom of Eve" that was turned into the movie "All About Eve" in 1950.

After the war she worked in New York until she returned to England in 1950 and continued to live there. She gave much acclaimed bible readings in Israel in English, German and Hebrew. Back in Europe she resumed her stage career in Germany and in 1959 she stunned audiences and critics in Berlin with her performance in "Geliebter Lügner", a German version of Jerome Kilty's "Dear Liar", a play based on the letters exchanged between G.B. Shaw and actress Stella Campbell. In 1961 she also returned to the movies and in 1970 she debuted as a director. Her last stage appearance took place in 1973 (Paul Czinner had died in 1972).

In 1978 a volume of memoirs was published in which she shared some of her secrets with the public, like Wilhelm Lehmbruck's surprising obsession with her, but certainly not all of them. She tells the reader of a silent walk with the actor Hans Otto but not of her affair with him and she is also silent about Paul Czinner's assumed homosexuality.

In 1979 she received the Ernst-Lubitsch Prize and in 1982 the Eleonora Duse Prize Asolo. She discussed a possible return to Vienna with Bruno Kreisky, but she died from cancer at her home in London in 1986. In Seglitz (Berlin) a city park was named after her.

Related persons
• was written about by Eloesser, Arthur
• cooperated with George, Heinrich
• knew Kokoschka, Oskar
• worked as a model for Lehmbruck, Wilhelm
• knew Lenya, Lotte
• cooperated with Moissi, Alexander
• has a connection with Otto, Hans
• was directed by Reinhardt, Max
• was a friend of Schnitzler, Arthur
• knew Wedekind, Frank

17/11/1917First performance of Frank Wedekind's 'Schloss Wetterstein'. At the Pfauentheater in Zürich. Wedekind was Tschamper and Elisabeth Bergner was Effie. [Wedekind, Frank]
18/10/1921Elisabeth Bergner's Berlin debut in "Der lasterhafte Herr Tschu" at the Lessing Theatre [Veidt, Conrad]
25/4/1923Premiere of "Wie es euch gefällt" ("As you like it") with Elisabeth Bergner at the Lessing Theatre in Berlin [Reinhardt, Max]
14/10/1924Elisabeth Bergner in "Die heilige Johanna", Deutsches Theater, Berlin 
20/10/1925Elisabeth Bergner in "Kreidekreis", Deutsches Theater, Berlin (premiere) 
25/10/1928Elisabeth Bergner in "Romeo und Julia", Berliner Theater, Berlin (premiere) 
28/3/1929Performance of Frank Wedekind's "Der Marquis von Keith" in honour of the recently deceased Albert Steinrück. It took place at the Schauspielhaus at the Gendarmemarkt in Belrin. Director was Leopold Jessner and Heinrich Mann speeched. Among the participating actors were Heinrich George, Werner Krauss, Carola Neher, Tilla Durieux, Jakob Tiedtke, Conrad Veidt, Max Pallenberg, Elisabeth Bergner, Paul Wegener, Hans Albers, Käthe Dorsch and Veit Harlan. [Albers, Hans][Brausewetter, Hans][Dietrich, Marlene][Durieux, Tilla][George, Heinrich][Goetz, Curt][Harlan, Veit][Körber, Hilde][Kortner, Fritz][Krauss, Werner][Mann, Heinrich][Pallenberg, Max][Steinrück, Albert][Veidt, Conrad][Wedekind, Frank][Wedekind, Tilly][Wegener, Paul]
21/11/1933Elisabeth Bergner in "Escape me Never", Opera House, Manchester (premiere) 
14/12/1936London Premiere of "The Boy David" by J.M. Barrie. At His Majesty's Theatre. Barrie hadn't written a play in years but he wrote this one after he had met the Jewish actress Elisabeth Bergner, who had fled Germany for nazis. The play was unsuccesful. 


'Mädchenkopf' (Elisabeth Bergner) by Wilhelm Lehmbruck.


Elisabeth Bergner as "Fräulein Julie" (1922).

Elisabeth Bergner as "Fräulein Julie" (1922).

Elisabeth Bergner in "Liebe".


Elisabeth Bergner in "Liebe".


Elisabeth Bergner.

The memorial plaque for Elisabeth Bergner at Golders Green Crematorium, London.
Picture by Androom (17 Mar 2006)


Elisabeth Bergner.


Elisabeth Bergner.

Elisabeth Bergner.

Elisabeth Bergner.
Picture by Veit Harlan


Rudolf Forster and Elisabeth Bergner.
Picture by Matador-Film


Elisabeth Bergner.
Picture by Nero-Film


Elisabeth Bergner in "Dreaming Lips".

• Bergner, Elisabeth, Bewundert viel und viel gescholten, Elisabeth Bergners unordentliche Erinnerungen, Bertelsmann, München, 1978
• Völker, Klaus, Elisabeth Bergner, das Leben einer Schauspielerin, ganz und doch immer unvollendet, Hentrich, Berlin, 1990
Diskussion:Frank Wedekind - Wikipedia
Albert Steinrück: Abschiedsvorstellung am Gendarmenmarkt

Bériot, Charles Auguste de

Published: 01 Jan 2006
Last update: 19 Jan 2022