Bergner, Elisabeth

Bergner, Elisabeth
(Elisabeth Ettel Czinner, 1897-1986)
   Actress. Bergner became one of the most sought-after actresses in the Weimar Republic, and when she was forced to leave Germany in 1933 she established herself as a film actress in Great Britain and the United States. Bergner began acting studies at the age of 15 in Zurich, where at 19 she made her debut as Rosalind in As You Like It. In Zurich she later played Ophelia to Alexander Moissi's Hamlet, and on his recommendation she found work in Munich, Vienna, and by 1922 Berlin. In the capital, she played a number of trouser roles because her legs were so shapely; in the title role of Strindberg's Queen Christina at the Lessing Theater, she made a lasting impression on critics and audiences. She then worked for Max Reinhardt at the Deutsches Theater and for Leopold Jessner at the State Theater; critics hailed her portrayals of Shakespearean heroines, as they did her Nora in A Doll's House, Nina in the German-language premiere of Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude, and the title role in George Bernard Shaw's St. Joan. Bergner's film career commenced in Berlin as well; beginning in 1923 with Der Evangelimann, she made more than 30 films, receiving an Oscar nomination for Escape Me Never in 1935. In 1936 she reprised Rosalind in the film version of As You Like It with Laurence Olivier as Orlando.
   Bergner's stage work in both London and New York continued well into the 1930s and 1940s. She did four productions in New York, including the Margaret Kennedy play Escape Me Never on which the film was based; The Two Mrs. Carrolls by Martin Vale ran for two years on Broadway (1943-1945). The producer of nearly all these efforts, both on stage and in film, was her husband Paul Czinner (1890-1972), whom she had married in 1933.
   They returned to Germany in 1954 and she resumed working, mostly in television. She was awarded the Ernst Lubitsch Prize in 1979 and the Eleonora Duse Prize in 1982. In 1987, a park in the Steglitz district of Berlin was named in her honor.

Historical dictionary of German Theatre. . 2006.

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