Remembering Ernst Lubitsch on His 126th Birthday

The immortal Ernst Lubitsch, born 126 years ago today, is one of the few true giants of cinema. Peter Bogdanovich once described Lubitsch’s classic The Shop Around the Corner thusly: “an absolute masterpiece of wit, humanity understood and defined. Each character is vividly brought to life with compassion and love; it makes you laugh, and it can make you cry.” In our view, the same could be said of virtually all of Lubitsch’s pictures.

Here are 10 things you should know about Ernst Lubitsch…

Happy 125th birthday, Ernst Lubitsch!

The great—and we do mean greatErnst Lubitsch was born 125 years ago today in Berlin, Germany. He would go on to direct some of the greatest comedies in cinema history. Here are 10 EL Did-You-Knows:

Lubitsch’s parents were Ashkenazi Jews; his father was a tailor who hoped that his son would follow in his footsteps, but Ernst was interested in the theatre.

Lubitsch began his career as an actor, making his film debut in 1913 in The Ideal Wife. He directed his first picture in 1914. He would go on to act in approximately thirty films before making the switch to directing fulltime in 1920.

In 1922, Lubitsch was hired as a director by Mary Pickford and came to Hollywood. He and Pickford didn’t get along while they made their first and only picture, Rosita, together, but he was quickly offered a six-picture deal by Warner Brothers that gave him his choice of cast and crew and final edit privileges.

Lubitsch’s reputation for creating sophisticated comedies began in the silent era, but it was with the rise of talking pictures that he really found his stride. Many of his early sound pictures—The Love Parade (1929), Monte Carlo (1930) and The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) among them—were musicals that certainly featured elements of the stylish comedic work he would come to be associated with, but it was with his 1932 masterpiece, Trouble in Paradise (1932), that he made his first big splash in the genre of romantic comedy. He would make no more dramas after Broken Lullaby (1932).

After several years with Paramount Pictures, Lubitsch was named the studio’s production manager, making him the first director to run a major studio.

In 1939, Lubitsch moved to MGM, where he directed Ninotchka. Though he was longtime friends with the picture’s star, Greta Garbo, Ninotchka was the first and last time the pair would work together.

Billy Wilder cited Lubitsch as his favorite director. He is said to have had a sign over the door in his office that read, “How Would Lubitsch Do It?”

The Lubitsch classic The Shop Around the Corner (1940) was remade twice: In 1949 as a musical (In the Good Old Summertime, starring Van Johnson and Judy Garland) and in 1988 as a romantic comedy (You’ve Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan). The 1963 Broadway musical She Loves Me was also based on the film’s source material, the play Parfumerie by Hungarian playwright Miklós László.

Lubitsch’s unique blend of wit and sophistication came to be known in Hollywood and around the world as “the Lubitsch Touch,” a label which critic Michael Wilmington ably described: “At once elegant and ribald, sophisticated and earthy, urbane and bemused, frivolous yet profound. [Lubitsch’s pictures] were directed by a man who was amused by sex rather than frightened of it—and who taught a whole culture to be amused by it as well.” We couldn’t agree more.

In 1946, Ernst Lubitsch received an honorary Academy Award for his distinguished contributions to the art of the motion picture. He died of a heart attack the next year.

Happy birthday, Ernst Lubitsch, wherever you may be!

Ernst Lubitsch

Happy 128th Birthday, Maurice Chevalier!

Actor, singer and rake Maurice Chevalier was born 128 years ago today in Paris, France. Here are 10 MC Did-You-Knows:

  • Chevalier began his show biz career at age 13, singing in a local cafe.
  • At 27, Chevalier was involved briefly with an performer named Fréhel, among France’s biggest stars of the day. She helped him get his first major role, in a show in Marseille called l’Alcazar, for which his critical notices were very positive.
  • Chevalier once served as sparring partner to former light heavyweight champion of the world, boxer Georges Carpentier.
  • Chevalier spent two years as a prisoner of war in Germany during World War I.
  • Chevalier moved to London in 1917 and found success there at the Palace Theatre; he went on to make his Broadway debut in 1922 in the operetta Dédé.
  • When talkies arrived, Chevalier headed for Hollywood, debuting in Innocents of Paris in 1929.
  • By 1930, Chevalier had earned the only two Oscar nominations of her career, both in the Best Actor in a Leading Role category, for The Love Parade (1930), directed by Ernst Lubitsch, and The Big Pond (1930).
  • In 1959, Chevalier was awarded a special Oscar for his half-century of contributions to the world of entertainment.
  • Chevalier is said to have been very tight-fisted. When he was on contract with Paramount Pictures, he balked at the ten cents a day he was expected to pay for parking in the studio lot; he was able to negotiate a rate of a nickel a day instead.
  • Chevalier’s accent in pictures was reportedly something of a put-on. He actually became quite fluent in English and spoke with only a slight accent. But he knew which side his croissant was buttered on.

Happy birthday, Maurice Chevalier, wherever you may be!

Maurice Chevalier