Oskar Werner


Oskar Josef Schliessmayer


This remote, rather morose and, as a result, intriguing Viennese talent was born in 1922, not far from the birthplace of "Waltz King" Johann Strauss, and christened Oskar Josef Bschließmayer. His parents divorced when he was fairly young. While growing up in school, performing in plays aroused a deep desire to act. As a teenager, he was further tempted when his uncle managed to find him some unbilled roles in a couple of German and Austrian war-era films.

He decided to drop out of high school in order to pursue acting roles. Not long after, he became the youngest actor ever to be offered membership to the Burgtheater up until that point. His name was changed to "Oskar Werner" and he made his official debut in 1941. His career, however, was almost immediately interrupted by World War II. An avowed pacifist and fervent despiser of the Nazi regime, Werner was eventually forced to wear the Axis army uniform but finagled his way into KP duty feigning incompetence. Moreover, he married Elizabeth Kallina, a half-Jewish actress, which further endangered his life. Their daughter, Elinore, was born in 1944. The young family spent much of their time hiding out in the Vienna Woods from both the Russians and Germans after the city was shelled.

In post-war years, he returned to the Burgtheater and widened his range on the classical stage. Performing in such productions as "The Misanthrope", "I Remember Mama", "Julius Caesar" and "Danton's Death", he also played a wide range of character roles and "older men" parts. He did not make any kind of dent in films until appearing in both the Teutonic (1948) and English versions of The Angel with the Trumpet (1950) as one of the more dissolute members of a family of piano makers.

An aloof, handsome blond with wide-set, hooded eyes and quietly solemn features, Werner showed extreme promise in just a few Austrian/German films, including the role of composer "Beethoven"'s manipulative young nephew "Karl" in the Austrian-made Eroica (1949). He had a resounding hit with his very first English-language film as the German prisoner of war protagonist in the Fox feature Decision Before Dawn (1951). Ripe for film stardom, the studio hurt and disappointed Werner, however, when it failed on its promise to develop him into a Hollywood commodity. As a result, he returned to Europe and his theatre roots, determined only to come back to films when it suitably piqued his interest. He fulfilled that promise, perhaps to his career detriment.

Having evolved into one of the most esteemed young Western European players on stage, he hit international celebrity with his definitive portrayal of "Hamlet" in 1952, a role he would return to frequently. He returned to filming a few years later; four of his features were released in 1955. He played a German captain in the film The Last Ten Days (1955) [The Last Ten Days of Hitler]; Lieutenant Baumgarten in the historical thriller Spionage (1955) [Colonel Redl]; the title role in the romanticized biopic The Life and Loves of Mozart (1955); and the student in the Max Ophüls drama Lola Montès (1955). In 1957, he founded the Theatre Ensemble Oskar Werner where he performed in such productions as "Bacchus." He would also return on occasion to the Burgtheater where he played "Henry V" and "Prince Hal" in "Henry IV".

His interest in filming was not piqued again until 1962 when he became an international sensation alongside French star Jeanne Moreau in François Truffaut's "New Wave" cinematic masterpiece Jules and Jim (1962) as the highly romantic and intellectual "Jules". He stood firm, however, despite the rash of critical kudos, and did not make a film again until four years later, earning an Oscar nomination for his tortured shipboard romance with Simone Signoret (also nominated) in the glossy high seas drama Ship of Fools (1965). Notable for his roles of almost unbearable but restrained intensity, Werner furthered his film reputation by co-starring with Richard Burton and Claire Bloom in the now-Cold War classic The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965). Truffaut blessed him as well with another sterling role in the futuristic classic Fahrenheit 451 (1966), but the relationship between both men was irreparably damaged over artistic differences while filming.

The unhappiness of that film experience triggered an already burgeoning drinking problem and the decline of his career. Werner made only three films following the Truffaut affair but the roles, as usual, were enacted superbly. He played the suave and very-married symphony conductor who has an illicit affair with a reporter (Barbara Ferris) in the tender remake of the June Allyson/Rossano Brazzi tearjerker Interlude (1968); he appeared as an unorthodox Jesuit priest in the all-star epic The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968); and boarded another WWII-era ship as German Faye Dunaway's Jewish husband in the all-star feature Voyage of the Damned (1976). Sadly, his longstanding problem with alcohol turned him into a virtual reclusive. Divorced twice (his second wife was Anne Power, the daughter of Annabella and adopted father Tyrone Power), Werner later had a son, Felix, from a 1966 liaison with American model Diane Anderson. His subsequent years were spent traveling internationally, committing to poetry/pacifist readings, and occasionally performing on the stage. In 1967, he presented his one-man show "An After-Dinner Evening with Oskar Werner", which was comprised of the readings of Schiller, Goethe and others and, in 1970, he toured again with "Hamlet". His last stage appearance was in a 1983 production of "The Prince of Homburg".

Werner was found dead of a heart attack on October 23, 1984, at the age of 61, after canceling a concert reading at a German drama club the night before due to illness. He was laid to rest in his adopted country of Liechtenstein. Ironically, he passed away only two days after Truffaut.

Actor ( 36 credits )

Two in the Wave (2010) Himself (archive footage)
Die Zweite Republik - Eine unglaubliche Geschichte (2005)  Himself (archive footage) (1 episode, 2005)
My Sister Maria (2002) Himself (archive footage) (uncredited)
Österreich - Unser Jahrhundert (1999)  Reader - 'Melancholie' von Georg Trakl (1 episode, 199
François Truffaut: Portraits volés (1993) Himself (archive footage)
Voyage of the Damned (1976) Professor Egon Kreisler
La nuit des Césars (1976)  In Memoriam (archive footage) (1 episode, 1985)
Good Morning America (1975)  Himself (1 episode, 1977)
Columbo (1971)  Harold Van Wick (1 episode, 1975)
The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968) Fr. David Telemond
Interlude (1968) Stefan Zelter
The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968) Himself (uncredited)
Fahrenheit 451 (1966) Guy Montag
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) Fiedler
Ship of Fools (1965) Dr. Schumann
Venusberg (1963) (voice)
Jules and Jim (1962) Jules (as Oscar Werner)
The Merv Griffin Show (1962)  Himself (1 episode, 1967)
Pariser Journal (1961)  Himself (1 episode, 1966)
The Life and Loves of Mozart (1955) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The Last Ten Days (1955) Hauptmann Wüst
Spionage (1955) Leutnant Zeno von Baumgarten
Lola Montès (1955) Student
Wonder Boy (1951) Rudi
Decision Before Dawn (1951) Cpl. Karl Maurer aka Happy
Ein Lächeln im Sturm (1951) Francois Mercier
Ruf aus dem Äther (1951) Der Student
Das gestohlene Jahr (1951) Peter Brück
The Angel with the Trumpet (1950) Herman Alt
Eroica (1949) Karl
The Angel with the Trumpet (1948) Hermann Alt
Marguerite : 3 (1939) Page, der die Tafel mit der Aufschrift 'Herr Findeisen
Liebe - streng verboten! (1939) Page, der die Tafel mit der Aufschrift 'Herr Findeisen
Linen for Ireland (1939) Hotelpage (uncredited)
Hotel Sacher (1939) Liftboy
Geld fällt vom Himmel (1938)