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

Watching the stars come out

We have a grand time when we visit Los Angeles (pronounce it “Angle-eez,” with the hard G, if you please). As movie buffs, we get a kick out of just driving around the various neighborhoods and imagining who once lived in the bungalows we’re passing. Lucille Ball, f’rinstance.

Then there are the more substantial residences that the familiar stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood moved into, once they’d hit it big.

In our several trips to Tinsel Town, we’ve never taken one of the commercial tours of the stars’ homes, but we suspect they tend to focus on the abodes of contemporary stars—Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Justin Bieber—at the expense of the former residences of your Humphrey Bogarts, your Bette Davises, your Una Merkels. And who can blame them? It’s always good policy to give the people what they want, and we who are more interested in seeing where and how the stars of yesteryear lived are undeniably in the minority.

There are guidebooks that provide pointers that allow us to catch a glimpse of where Bogart, Davis, and Merkel lived, worked, and played, of course (we’re partial to Richard Alleman’s Hollywood: The Movie Lover’s Guide: The Ultimate Insider Tour of Movie L.A.), but what if one doesn’t have the wherewithal (or accrued vacation days) to to arrange a Southern California sojorn?

In that case, one turns, as one tends to do these days, to the internet—specifically to Image-Archeology.com and their collection of vintage linen postcards that depict the residences of those performers who made our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents laugh, cry and tap their toes (though not simultaneously).

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks’
home, Pickfair
Jean Harlow’s Beverily Hills residence Claudette Colbert’s hilltop residence
in Hollywood

At this delightful site, one can gaze upon a palatial Hancock Park home while imagining Buster Keaton stepping out to pick up the morning paper, compare contrast two of Groucho Marx‘s Beverly Hills homes, and kill two birds with one stone as you assess the love nest once blissfully shared by a pair of stars who were married once upon a time, Dick Powell and Joan Blondell.

And the list goes on—Myrna Loy, Harold Lloyd, Ginger Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck; one could grow breathless reciting them. All the cards, from A to Z (well, A to Y—Loretta Young is the last star on the list) are in terrific shape and lovingly presented. We encourage all our readers to experience a little California sunshine by spending some time there.