Ernst Lubitsch


Director
Ernst Lubitsch

About

Birth Place
Berlin, DE
Born
January 28, 1892
Died
November 30, 1947
Cause of Death
Heart Attack

Biography

Hailed by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut and Orson Welles as a giant among filmmakers, Ernst Lubitsch was a preeminent figure in the history of cinema who directed some of Hollywood's most sophisticated and enduring comedies. More than a great director of actors and action, he added his own personal signature - known as the "Lubitsch touch" - to all his work, a sense of...

Photos & Videos

Design for Living - Lobby Cards
Trouble in Paradise - Movie Poster
The Shop Around the Corner - Movie Posters

Bibliography

"Lubitsch"
Hans Helmut Prinzler and Enno Patalas, C.J. Bucher Verlag (1984)
"The Lubitsch Touch"
Herman Weinberg
"Ernst Lubitsch's American Comedy"
William Paul
"Passions and Deceptions: The Early Films of Ernst Lubitsch"
Sabine Hake

Biography

Hailed by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut and Orson Welles as a giant among filmmakers, Ernst Lubitsch was a preeminent figure in the history of cinema who directed some of Hollywood's most sophisticated and enduring comedies. More than a great director of actors and action, he added his own personal signature - known as the "Lubitsch touch" - to all his work, a sense of style and grace that was rarely duplicated on the screen. After making a name as a director in his native Germany, Lubitsch was brought over at the behest of star Mary Pickford to direct her in "Rosita" (1923). From there, he made comedies like "The Marriage Circle" (1924) and "Kiss Me Again" (1925), as well as dramas like "The Patriot" (1925). But with the advent of sound, the cigar-chomping director's career took off atop fascination with a new genre, the musical comedy, and he began displaying his famed Lubitsch touch with classics like "Monte Carlo" (1930) and "One Hour with You" (1932). He directed his first bona fide masterpiece, "Trouble in Paradise" (1932), and later hit his stride full force with "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" (1938), "Ninotchka" (1939) and "The Shop Around the Corner" (1940). Lubitsch reached great artistic heights with "To Be or Not to Be" (1942) and "Heaven Can Wait" (1943) before dying mid-career in 1947, leaving behind a legacy virtually unmatched by a filmmaker before or since.

Born on Jan. 28, 1892 in Berlin, Germany, Lubitsch was raised in a Jewish home, the son of Simon, a tailor, and his mother, Anna. When he was old enough, Lubitsch turned away from his father's business in order to enter the theater and by 1911, was appearing as an actor in famed director Max Reinhardt's Deutches Theater. Two years later, he had created the comic screen persona "Meyer," a slapstick Jewish archetype who became a favorite of German audiences, and was also performing in movies. But Lubitsch soon made the transition from acting to directing with his debut film, "Fraulein Seifenschaum" ("Miss Soapsuds") (1914), a one-reeler since lost to time. Eager to test his own range and gain acceptance as a dramatic actor, Lubitsch wrote and directed "Als Ich Tot War" ("When I Was Dead") (1916), but the film failed to stir the interest of an audience who loved "Meyer." Stereotyped as an actor, Lubitsch turned his full attention to directing and scored his first major success with "Schuhpalast Pinkus" ("Shoe Salon Pinkus") (1916).

The first Lubitsch picture to be shown in America was "Die Augen der Mummie Ma" ("The Eyes of the Mummy") (1918), his first teaming of Pola Negri and Emil Jannings, and the first film to mark him as a serious director. It was his second film with Negri, "Madame Du Barry" ("Passion") (1919) that proved to be his first masterwork, as well as helping to put the German film industry on the international map. With "Madame Du Barry," Lubitsch became known for an unerring ability to humanize sumptuous screen spectacles and costume dramas by giving them the warmth that would endear them to the public. He easily oscillated between drama and comedy, as he did with the historical "Anna Boleyn" (1920) and the Pola Negri comedy "Die Bergkatze" ("The Wild Cat") (1921). Lubitsch made a few more films in his native Germany, including "Das Weib des Pharao" ("The Wife of the Pharaoh") (1922) and "Die Flamme" ("The Flame") (1923), before striking out to America in search of greater success.

Lubitsch entered a new phase of his career when star Mary Pickford invited him to Hollywood to direct his first American film, "Rosita" (1923), a renamed adaptation of Jules Massenet's comic opera, "Don César de Bazan." The film proved to be both a commercial and critical hit, though Lubitsch and Pickford allegedly battled behind the scenes and never worked together again. Because of the success of "Rosita," Lubitsch signed a three-year, six-movie deal with Warner Bros., which granted him near-absolute creative freedom, including final cut and his choice of technicians. With sophisticated comedies like "The Marriage Circle" (1924), inspired by Chaplin's "A Woman of Paris;" "Forbidden Paradise" (1924), which reunited him with Pola Negri; and "Kiss Me Again" (1925), starring party girl Clara Bow, he began to hone his craft into his famed "Lubitsch Touch." Though he made occasional forays into drama, as he did with "Three Women" (1924), Lubitsch came to specialize in the artfully risqué sex farce, where raised eyebrows and closed doors meant everything. After directing "Kiss Me Again" (1925) and "Lady Windermere's Fan" (1925), his contract with Warner Bros. was dissolved due to his film's marginal profitability.

Lubitsch made his first picture for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, "The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg" (1927), which earned critical praise but was a financial failure. However, once he made the transition to sound, his career began to take off, thanks to his embrace of the newly popular genre of musical comedies. Following "The Patriot" (1928), he earned his first Academy Award nomination for Best Director for "The Love Parade" (1929), and proceeded to churn out such early classics as "Monte Carlo" (1930), "The Smiling Lieutenant" (1931), and "One Hour with You" (1932), all made for Paramount Pictures. After making what amounted to his last drama, "Broken Lullaby/The Man I Killed" (1932), starring Lionel Barrymore, Lubitsch hit his stride with "Trouble in Paradise" (1932), a romantic comedy about two jewel thieves (Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins), who break into a rich woman's home, only to have one fall in love with her. Filled with sophisticated comedy and fun innuendo - which actually led to the film being pulled from circulation post-Hays Code - "Trouble in Paradise" was the first masterpiece from the director and one of his personal favorites.

Lubitsch continued to delight audiences with "Design For Living" (1933), starring Frederic March and Gary Cooper, both of whom fall for Miriam Hopkins, and "The Merry Widow" (1934), based on the 1905 operetta by Franz Lehar. In 1935, Lubitsch was named head of production at Paramount, but since his real talent was in producing and directing motion pictures - not studio administration - he was relieved of his duties a year later. Following the disappointing "Angel" (1937) with Marlene Dietrich, and "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" (1938), starring Cooper and Claudette Colbert, Lubitsch returned to form with "Ninotchka" (1939), which starred Greta Garbo in a rare comedy role. In fact, it was so unusual for the Swede to appear in comedies that the movie poster immortally declared "Garbo Laughs!" - a cheeky reference to the famed "Garbo Talks" splashed across her 1930 talkie debut in "Anna Christie." In this comedy classic, Garbo played a dedicated, but humorless communist sent to Paris by Moscow to retrieve a trio of Russian delegates and a cache of diamonds, only to loosen up and enjoy herself in the decadent city, thanks to Melvyn Douglas. Lubitsch next directed one of his most popular films, "The Shop Around the Corner" (1940), which starred James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as two store co-workers who detest each other in person, but carry on an anonymous letter-writing relationship without either knowing who the other is. With wry, subtle humor, the film was one of the greatest romantic comedies of its era and beyond - it would later be remade with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in the lead roles, "You've Got Mail" (1998).

After going independent to direct the comedy of manners, "That Uncertain Feeling" (1941), a remake of his own "Kiss Me Again" (1925), Lubitsch helmed the classic political satire, "To Be or Not to Be" (1942), starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard as a husband and wife who perform anti-Nazi plays in Warsaw at the beginning of World War II. But in the ruins of war-torn Poland, they find themselves forced to impersonate Nazi officers - and even Hitler himself - in order to survive. Though darkly satirical, "To Be or Not to Be" was a highly entertaining picture that crossed a number of genre boundaries - thriller, political propaganda, comedy - and remained one of Lubitsch's finest creative efforts. But the film suffered at the box office when weeks before its release, the film's star Lombard died on Jan. 16, 1942 in a fiery airplane crash outside of Las Vegas, NV after raising money for war bonds in her home state of Indiana. A bereaved Lubitsch was forced to cut Lombard's line "What can happen on a plane?" from the movie and saw his greatest film do lackluster business, as a grieving public was in no mood to watch a beloved yet now deceased comedienne make them laugh. He went on to sign a new contract with 20th Century Fox and directed his first Technicolor movie, "Heaven Can Wait" (1943), a sophisticated, romantic and rather charming comedy about a lifelong cad (Don Ameche) who dies in his seventies and seeks entrance into Hell by trying to convince a doubtful Satan (Laird Cregar) that he has earned his way in by recounting his life's many sins. The film earned him his last Oscar nomination for Best Director and was seen as his last effort displaying the Lubitsch touch.

In fact, Lubitsch would go on to direct one final completed film in his career. He began making the romantic comedy "A Royal Scandal" (1945), which depicted a fictional event in the life of Catherine the Great (Tallulah Bankhead), but he fell ill during production. He was replaced by Austrian director, Otto Preminger, who did his best to maintain the Lubitsch touch, but ultimately fell short of the mark. Lubitsch returned to health and directed what became his last feature, "Cluny Brown" (1946), which starred Jennifer Jones as the titular character, the niece of a plumber who takes over for her uncle at an upscale home after he becomes indisposed and falls in love with a Czech author (Charles Boyer). Though not on the level as "Shop Around the Corner" or "To Be or Not to Be," "Cluny Brown" was still charming entertainment that pleased critics and audiences. Lubitsch returned to musical comedy for the first time since 1934 with "The Lady in Ermine" (1948), starring Betty Grable and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. But just eight days into production, on Nov. 30, 1947, he died of a heart attack. He was 55 years old. Preminger again returned to fill the void, though Lubitsch received sole credit as director.

By Shawn Dwyer

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

That Lady in Ermine (1948)
Director
Cluny Brown (1946)
Director
Here Is Germany (1945)
Original prod and Director
Heaven Can Wait (1943)
Director
The Meanest Man in the World (1943)
Director of retakes
To Be or Not to Be (1942)
Director
That Uncertain Feeling (1941)
Director
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Director
Ninotchka (1939)
Director
Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938)
Director
Angel (1937)
Director
Desire (1936)
Fill-In Director
La veuve joyeuse (1934)
Mise en scène [Dir]
The Merry Widow (1934)
Director
Design for Living (1933)
Director
Une heure près de toi (1932)
Director
Broken Lullaby (1932)
Director
One Hour with You (1932)
Director
Trouble in Paradise (1932)
Director
If I Had a Million (1932)
The Directors: ["The Clerk"]
The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)
Director
Galas de la Paramount (1930)
Director
Paramount on Parade (1930)
Director
Monte Carlo (1930)
Director
The Love Parade (1930)
Director
Eternal Love (1929)
Director
The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1928)
Director
The Patriot (1928)
Director
So This Is Paris (1926)
Director
Lady Windermere's Fan (1925)
Director
Kiss Me Again (1925)
Director
Three Women (1924)
Director
Forbidden Paradise (1924)
Director
The Marriage Circle (1924)
Director
Rosita (1923)
Director
Die Flamme (1922)
Director
The Loves of Pharaoh (1922)
Director
The Wildcat (1921)
Director
One Arabian Night (1921)
Director
Kohlhiesels Tochter (1920)
Director
Sumurun (1920)
Director
Romeo und Julia im Schnee (1920)
Director
Anne Boleyn (1920)
Director
Die Austernprinzessin (1919)
Director
The Doll (1919)
Director
Die Puppe (1919)
Director
Meine Frau, die Filmschauspielerin (1919)
Director
Madame Du Barry (1919)
Director
Rausch (1919)
Director
Der Fall Rosentopf (1918)
Director
Carmen (1918)
Director
Das Madel vom Ballet (1918)
Director
Der Rodelkavalier (1918)
Director
Das Madel vom Ballett (1918)
Director
Ich möchte kein Mann sein (1918)
Director
The Eyes of the Mummy (1918)
Director
Meyer aus Berlin (1918)
Director
Marionetten (1918)
Director
Der Blusenkonig (1917)
Director
Wenn vier dasselbe tun (1917)
Director
The Merry Jail (1917)
Director
Das Fidele Gefangnis (1917)
Director
Ossi's Tagebuch (1917)
Director
Prinz Sami (1917)
Director
Als ich tot war (1916)
Director
Die Neue Nase (1916)
Director
Der G.m.b.H. Tenor (1916)
Director
Schuhpalast Pinkus (1916)
Director
Das Schonste Geschenk (1916)
Director
Der Gemischte Frauenchor (1916)
Director
Kasekonig Hollander (1916)
Director
Der Kraftmeyer (1915)
Director
Blindekuh (1915)
Director
Sein einziger Patient (1915)
Director
Fraulein Seifenschaum (1915)
Director
Zucker und Zimt (1915)
Director
Der Letzte Anzug (1915)
Director
Aufs Eis gefuhrt (1915)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Mr. Broadway (1933)
At the Central Park Casino
One Arabian Night (1921)
Sumurun (1920)
Der Rodelkavalier (1918)
Meyer aus Berlin (1918)
Der Fall Rosentopf (1918)
Prinz Sami (1917)
Das Fidele Gefangnis (1917)
Hans Trutz im Schlaraffenland (1917)
Der Blusenkonig (1917)
Doktor Satansohn (1916)
Schuhpalast Pinkus (1916)
Das Schonste Geschenk (1916)
Der G.m.b.H. Tenor (1916)
Als ich tot war (1916)
Kasekonig Hollander (1916)
Der Gemischte Frauenchor (1916)
Die Neue Nase (1916)
Fraulein Seifenschaum (1915)
Der Schwarze Moritz (1915)
Der Letzte Anzug (1915)
Aufs Eis gefuhrt (1915)
Der Kraftmeyer (1915)
Blindekuh (1915)
Ein Verliebter Racker (1915)
Zucker und Zimt (1915)
Fraulein Piccolo (1915)
Arme Maria (1915)
Robert und Bertram oder: Die lustigen Vagabunden (1915)
Sein einziger Patient (1915)
Bedingung - kein Anhang! (1914)
Die Firma heiratet (1914)
Sigmund Lachmann
Der Stolz der Firma (1914)
Die Ideale Gattin (1913)

Writer (Feature Film)

To Be or Not to Be (1983)
Story By
Here Is Germany (1945)
Story preparation
To Be or Not to Be (1942)
Original Story
The Merry Widow (1934)
Contract Writer
If I Had a Million (1932)
Contract Writer
Three Women (1924)
Story
One Arabian Night (1921)
Screenwriter
The Wildcat (1921)
Screenwriter
Kohlhiesels Tochter (1920)
Screenwriter
Romeo und Julia im Schnee (1920)
Screenwriter
Sumurun (1920)
Writer
Der Lustige Ehemann (1919)
Screenwriter
Meine Frau, die Filmschauspielerin (1919)
Screenwriter
Die Austernprinzessin (1919)
Screenwriter
Die Puppe (1919)
Screenplay
The Doll (1919)
Writer
Der Fall Rosentopf (1918)
Screenwriter
Ich möchte kein Mann sein (1918)
Screenwriter
Der Rodelkavalier (1918)
Screenwriter
Das Fidele Gefangnis (1917)
Screenwriter
Der Blusenkonig (1917)
Screenwriter
Wenn vier dasselbe tun (1917)
Screenwriter
Prinz Sami (1917)
Screenwriter
Kasekonig Hollander (1916)
Screenwriter
Zucker und Zimt (1915)
Screenwriter
Zucker und Zimt (1915)
From Story

Producer (Feature Film)

That Lady in Ermine (1948)
Producer
Cluny Brown (1946)
Producer
Dragonwyck (1946)
Producer
A Royal Scandal (1945)
Producer
To Be or Not to Be (1942)
Producer
That Uncertain Feeling (1941)
Producer
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Producer
Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938)
Producer
Angel (1937)
Producer
Desire (1936)
Producer
I Loved a Soldier (1936)
Producer
Broken Lullaby (1932)
Producer
One Hour with You (1932)
Producer

Editing (Feature Film)

The Patriot (1928)
Film Editor

Production Companies (Feature Film)

To Be or Not to Be (1942)
Company
Ninotchka (1939)
Company
Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938)
Company
Angel (1937)
Company
La veuve joyeuse (1934)
Company
The Merry Widow (1934)
Company
Design for Living (1933)
Company
Une heure près de toi (1932)
Company
One Hour with You (1932)
Company
Trouble in Paradise (1932)
Company
The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)
Company

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Going Hollywood: The War Years (1988)
Other

Director (Short)

The Blouse King (1917)
Director

Cast (Short)

The Blouse King (1917)

Life Events

1911

Associated with director Max Reinhardt, appearing in his stage productions

1913

Began acting in movies in Germany

1914

Made directorial debut with the short film "Fraulein Seifenschaum"/"Miss Soapsuds"

1922

Moved to USA; put under contract to Mary Pickford

1923

First American film "Rosita", starring Pickford

1926

Signed contract with Paramount

1927

Helmed the silent "The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg", starring Ramon Navarro and Norma Shearer

1928

Received first Best Director Oscar nomination for "The Patriot"

1929

First sound film, "The Love Parade", his first pairing of Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette MacDonald; garnered second Best Director Academy Award nomination

1932

Made the atypical pacifict drama "The Man I Killed"

1933

Became an American citizen

1937

Returned to directing; directed first film in three years, "Angel"

1942

Directed the delightful wartime comedy "To Be or Not To Be", teaming Jack Benny and Carole Lombard

1943

Signed contract with Fox

1943

Earned third Best Director Oscar nomination for "Heaven Can Wait"

1946

Completed last film, "Cluny Brown"

1947

Died while working on "That Lady in Ermine" (1948), film completed by Otto Preminger; Lubitsch given screen credit

Photo Collections

Design for Living - Lobby Cards
Here are some Lobby Cards from Design for Living (1932), directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, and Gary Cooper. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Trouble in Paradise - Movie Poster
Here is a Window Card movie poster for Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise (1932), starring Mirian Hopkins, Kay Francis, and Herbert Marshall.
The Shop Around the Corner - Movie Posters
Here two styles of American one-sheet movie poster for The Shop Around the Corner (1940). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
The Shop Around the Corner - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes of The Shop Around the Corner (1940). Stars James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan are seen working - and playing - with director Ernst Lubitsch.

Videos

Movie Clip

To Be Or Not To Be (1942) - Do We Not Bleed? Pilot Stanislav (Robert Stack) with actress Maria in her Warsaw dressing room, news of the Nazi invasion, her husband Joseph (Jack Benny) confused, director Ernst Lubitsh's documentation resumes, actors Greenberg and Bronski (Felix Bressart, Tom Dugan) reflecting, in To Be Or Not To Be, 1942.
To Be Or Not To Be (1942) - August 1939 Director Ernst Lubitsch's famous opening, Tom Dugan as the German chancellor, stopping traffic in Warsaw, Jack Benny as the Nazi colonel, Charles Halton tangling with actor Felix Bressart, revealing the narrative device, in To Be Or Not To Be, 1942.
To Be Or Not To Be (1942) - I Love My Slippers! Bachelor pilot Stanislav (Robert Stack) on a secret mission back from England, discovered by actor Joseph (Jack Benny) in his apartment in occupied Warsaw, his actress wife Maria (Carole Lombard) returning with news of the suspected traitor, in Ernst Lubitsch's To Be Or Not To Be, 1942.
Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938) - I'll Buy The Trousers Continuing the opening scene, the emphatic meet-cute, from the first screenplay collaboration by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, Ernst Lubitsch directing, as Claudette Colbert appears, in a French Riviera department store, rescuing Gary Cooper as a rich American who’s refusing to buy pajama-pants he doesn’t need, with Rolfe Sedan and Lionel Pape, in Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, 1938.
Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938) - American Understood The opening shot established the French Riviera, now we meet Gary Cooper, the implied American, shopping, met by Rolfe Sedan, then Lionel Pape, which leads to Charles Halton on the phone, in Ernst Lubitsch’s Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, 1938, also starring Claudette Colbert, from a screenplay by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder.
Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938) - How Does One Get A Job? Claudette Colbert as financially-challenged French Riviera denizen Nicole arrives on the beach, meeting David Niven as pal Albert, when they’re confronted by Gary Cooper as American millionaire Brandon who, we discover, has bought a bathtub from her equally impoverished dad, aiming to woo her, in Ernst Lubitsch’s Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, 1938.
Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938) - It's The Same Ocean! With French Riviera hotel staff (Franklin Pangborn accompanied by Armand Cortes) offering new rooms, Gary Cooper as the still not-named American millionaire who’s having trouble sleeping, the surprise appearance of Edward Everett Horton as the Marquis, in Ernst Lubitsch’s Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, 1938, also starring Claudette Colbert.
Design for Living (1933) - Immorality May Be Fun George (Gary Cooper) romancing Gilda (Miriam Hopkins) in her Paris apartment then bumping into her chivalrous employer Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton), who delivers the same speech he just made to Cooper's roommate, who's also fallen for her, in Ernst Lubitsch's Design for Living, 1933.
Design for Living (1933) - Bonjour! Snoozing on a French train, George (Gary Cooper) and Tom (Fredric March) can be forgiven for assuming Gilda (Miriam Hopkins) is French, in the first scene from Ernst Lubitsch's Design for Living, 1933, from a Noel Coward play and Ben Hecht screenplay.
Design for Living (1933) - Bassington Speaks! American Tom (Fredric March) at his Paris garret writing "un-produced plays" when Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton), visiting to discourage his pursuit of his employee Gilda (Constance Bennett), inadvertently inspires him, in Ernst Lubitsch's Design for Living, 1933.
Design For Living (1933) - Artistic Bums! Max Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton), successful international ad agency executive and chivalrous employer but frustrated suitor of American Paris-based artist Gilda (Miriam Hopkins), visits after having told off her two new romantic interests, a painter (Gary Cooper) and playwright (Fredric March), in Ernst Lubitsch’s Design For Living, 1933.
Design For Living (1933) - No Woman Is Worth It! Broke Paris roommates, painter George (Gary Cooper) and playwright Tom (Fredric March) have decided they must end their friendship because they’re in love with the same girl (Miriam Hopkins) they met on the train, then changing their minds, Ernst Lubitsch directing from the Noel Coward play and Ben Hecht screenplay, in Design For Living, 1933.

Trailer

Promo

Family

Simon Lubitsch
Father
Tailor.

Bibliography

"Lubitsch"
Hans Helmut Prinzler and Enno Patalas, C.J. Bucher Verlag (1984)
"The Lubitsch Touch"
Herman Weinberg
"Ernst Lubitsch's American Comedy"
William Paul
"Passions and Deceptions: The Early Films of Ernst Lubitsch"
Sabine Hake