Paul Henreid Profile
Born Paul Georg Julius Hernried Ritter von Wasel-Waldingau on January 10, 1908, in the Italian city of Trieste (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), Henreid was the son of an aristocratic Viennese banker. He studied theater in Vienna, where he worked for a time as translator and book designer for a publishing company run by Otto Preminger, later to become world-famous as a film director. Preminger introduced Henreid to the illustrious stage director Max Reinhardt, who signed the young actor to a contract and introduced him at the Reinhardt Theatre in a production of Faust. Henreid made his film debut in German movies beginning with Dawn (1933). He was billed as Paul von Hernried; in the early 1940s he would eliminate the "von" and change the spelling of his last name.
With World War II looming and Henreid despising fascists and their increasing power (like his character in Casablanca), he emigrated from Austria to England in 1935. After some work on the British stage, his debut in English-language films came with Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), in which he plays a sympathetic German master who befriends Robert Donat's character. Next up were two roles as Nazis - incongruous because of Henreid's hatred of them - in Mad Men of Europe and Night Train to Munich (both 1940). He moved to the U.S. in 1940 and quickly established himself on Broadway in Flight to the West with a strong performance as a bombastic German consul. That success led to radio work and a leading role as a French squadron leader in RKO's wartime drama Joan of Paris (1942) opposite Michele Morgan. He became a U.S. citizen in 1941.
Then came Henreid's signature roles. In Now, Voyager, he provides the romantic interest for the Bette Davis character, a timid spinster who kicks over the traces to find glamour and love on a South American cruise. Davis gave Henreid full credit for the invention of one of the most famous bits of business in film, when he lights two cigarettes in his mouth and seductively passes one to her. In Casablanca, Henreid memorably plays Victor Laszlo, an idealistic Czechoslovakian underground leader whose wife (Ingrid Bergman) has had an affair with an exiled American (Humphrey Bogart). Henreid's dignity and earnestness are among the stabilizing factors of this much-loved World War II melodrama.
Henreid settled in at Warner Bros., serving as leading man to a series of the studio's dynamic female stars. In Our Time (1944) casts him as a Polish count who marries young Englishwoman Ida Lupino and again fights fascism after they cultivate a farm together. He works opposite Eleanor Parker in both Between Two Worlds (1944), based on Outward Bound, a play about passengers aboard a mysterious ship who realize they are headed for the afterlife; and Of Human Bondage (1946), a second film version of the Somerset Maugham novel about a handicapped man and his unhappy affair with a sluttish waitress. At the time of the latter film, Parker and Henreid suffered critical comparisons to original stars Bette Davis and Leslie Howard; but later evaluations have acknowledged their effectiveness in the roles.
The Conspirators (1944) seems an attempt to recapture the magic of Casablanca, with Henreid again cast as a WWII freedom fighter fleeing the Nazis, this time in Lisbon. Former costars Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre are reunited in another blend of intrigue and romance, and this time Hedy Lamarr (who was almost cast in Bergman's role in Casablanca) is the woman with a mysterious past. In Devotion (1946), a fictionalized account of the Bronte sisters, Henreid is a clergyman whose affections are coveted by both Lupino's Emily and Olivia de Havilland's Charlotte.
Deception (1946) offered a rematch with Bette Davis, as she and Henreid play a musically inclined couple whose happiness is threatened by her former lover (Claude Rains). For this film Henreid convincingly "played" the cello with the help of two expert cellists who reached their arms around him to provide the bowing and fingering! At MGM Henreid held his own with another formidable leading lady, Katharine Hepburn, in Song of Love (1947), a beautifully acted musical biography in which the two stars play composer Robert Schumann and his wife, Clara Wieck.
Beginning in the mid-1940s and continuing for a decade, Henreid would enjoy a change of pace with a series of modest swashbucklers in which he cuts a dashing figure. According to his daughter Monika Henreid, he performed many of his own stunts: "He was a good athlete, well-trained in fencing, fighting, gun-handling and horse-riding." He played pirates in RKO's The Spanish Main (1945), in which he is billed above leading lady Maureen O'Hara; Columbia's Last of the Buccaneers (1950), as Jean Lafitte; and Pirates of Tripoli (1955). Also at Columbia were two tongue-in-cheek Arabian Nights adventures, Thief of Damascus (1952) and Siren of Bagdad (1953). The latter film kids Now, Voyager with a scene in which Henreid holds two hoses of hookah (water pipe) in his mouth and lights both, passing one to a harem girl.
Henreid delivers some of his strongest work playing against type as "heavies" in a pair of atmospheric films noir of the late 1940s. In Eagle-Lion's Hollow Triumph (1948), co-starring noir darling Joan Bennett, he has a double role as a criminal on the lam who resorts to murder and takes on the identity of a look-alike psychiatrist. In Paramount's Rope of Sand (1949), he plays an arrogant, sadistic South African commandant in a cast headlined by Burt Lancaster, with Claude Rains and Peter Lorre on hand to again lend Casablanca-like atmosphere. So Young So Bad (1950) casts Henreid as a real (and sympathetic) psychiatrist, working to improve conditions in a reformatory for young women. In the mid-1950s Henreid began acting in television, where he would appear in a dozen or so series along with several TV movies. He also continued in features and had supporting roles in several MGM films including Deep in My Heart (1954), a musical biography of Sigmund Romberg (Jose Ferrer) in which Henreid plays legendary showman Florenz Ziegfeld; the musical Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956), as the manager of Cyd Charisse; Ten Thousand Bedrooms (1957), a musical comedy starring Dean Martin; Never So Few (1959), a WWII drama with Frank Sinatra and Steve McQueen; Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1962), a remake of the Rudolph Valentino saga with Glenn Ford in the lead; and Operation Crossbow (1965), another wartime drama starring Sophia Loren.
Henreid enjoyed a reunion with Katharine Hepburn in The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969), playing "The General" in the Jean Giraudoux fable about homeless eccentrics plotting to save Paris from mercenaries and warmongers. His final film role was as the Cardinal in Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), starring Richard Burton. Toward the end of his acting career he also toured with Agnes Moorehead in a stage production of Don Juan in Hell.
Henreid's film-directing career began with the feature For Men Only (1952), a low-budget drama about a college student's death due to hazing in which he also played the professor investigating the case. He began directing for television in 1957 and worked on numerous series including Maverick, Bonanza, The Big Valley, Bracken's World and, most notably, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, for which he directed numerous episodes beginning in 1957. Hitchcock had hired him in defiance of the blacklist and helped establish him as a leading TV-series director. For Warner Bros., Henreid directed Bette Davis in the feature Dead Ringer (1964), a somewhat campy melodrama in which his old friend and former costar makes the most of a juicy double role.
Henreid has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for films and another for television. He married Elizabeth "Lisl" Gluck in 1936, and the couple had two daughters, Mimi and Monika. Paul Henreid died of pneumonia in 1992.
Profile by Roger Fristoe