He was one of the few German actors to achieve international fame after the Second World War: Gert Fröbe. Gert Fröbe took part not only in ten films, not in fifty, but in a total of one hundred films. His famous role as Auric Goldfinger in the James Bond film of the same name made him world famous.
The character actor was referred to as the “Hollywood star from Zwickau“ [a German city in Saxony] – but Gert Fröbe went a long way before he arrived in Hollywood…
The red violinist from Zwickau
When Gert was nine years old, his father decided: His son shall learn to play the violin.
What followed was Gert Fröbe’s first artistic career: a career as a solo violinist. Posters in Zwickau advertised “Gert Fröbe and his soloists play for the afternoon dance”: soon Gert Fröbe was known as “The Red Violinist of Zwickau”. The background of the nickname was his reddish hair.
At the age of nineteen, Gert Fröbe met an influential lady who invited him to give violin lessons to her sons.
The woman was so infatuated with Gert that she decided to set up a painting studio for him: She believed more in his painting talent than in his musical talent.
Career as a painter?
“One does not like to speak of art when someone begins to paint at seventeen and exhibits at twenty. But here one must make an exception: Gert Fröbe is the name of the artist whose paintings can already be referred to as art.”
With these words Gert Fröbe achieved his first public exhibition in Zwickau.
Now Gert Fröbe’s career started to take pace: In response to the picture exhibition, Gert Fröbe received an offer promising to finance his studies at the Art Academy in Dresden.
The city Dresden was extremely renowned in the world of fine arts in the thirties: It ranked right after Paris and Berlin.
Work as a stage painter
When Gert Fröbe arrived in Dresden, however, he was advised against studying at the art academy: “At the academy you can also be ‘deformed’,” he was told. Instead, they suggested that he accept an apprenticeship at the Dresden State Theater – not as an actor, but as a stage painter. Gert Fröbe spent three years learning the craft of stage painting.
Once Gert Fröbe was commissioned to draw the famous actor Erich Ponto: A friendship developed between the two and Ponto decided to give Fröbe acting lessons.
When Erich Ponto went to Berlin for an engagement, Gert Fröbe followed him. In Berlin, Gert Fröbe now took acting lessons with Ponto and another renowned acting teacher, Paul Günther. That was in the mid-thirties: with his arrival in Berlin, Fröbe had now arrived at the cultural centre of the times.
Fröbe was obliged to accept any role that was offered to him: this is how he developed an extensive repertoire.
After the Second World War, opportunities opened up for Gert Fröbe: the dreariness of the first years after the war was bridged by so-called “Vaudeville evenings” – Gert Fröbe wrote about this in his memoirs:
“The Vaudeville evenings were the magic formula against the dreariness of the time before the currency reform. In Schliersee [near Munich], Werner Bochmann and I organized the “Vaudeville Evenings”. Instead of Zarah Leander, the wife of an insurance director sang in the local cinema, and instead of Johannes Heesters, a master tailor who later achieved local fame with his tenor.
We had fetched the grand piano over bumpy forest roads with an ox cart from a mountain top from a remote barn (…). I made the announcements and performed solid classical music.“
Gert Fröbe as Auric Goldfinger
The James Bond producer team Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli had seen Gert Fröbe in his role as a child murderer in “It Happened in Broad Daylight”: The two were convinced that Gert Fröbe would make an excellent James Bond villain.
Gert Fröbe turned down the offer to star in the third James Bond film.
Although two successful Bond films had already been made, Fröbe was not convinced.
In his memoirs, Gert Fröbe wrote that it was thanks to his wife’s arguments that he ultimately agreed to star in the film.
Alongside Sean Connery as James Bond, Gert Fröbe played one of the most memorable James Bond villains.
When asked how the final scene in Goldfinger was shot, in which Gert Fröbe as Goldfinger falls out of an airplane, he replied:
“When the depressurization causes us to float in the cabin, Connery and I dangle from wires like puppets, and when I was finally sucked out of the window, I was – invisible to the camera – lying on a sled that workers from outside pulled through the window with a powerful jerk (…) A swollen coccyx and half a dozen bruises were my reminders of this spectacular exit from the film.“
After the success of Goldfinger, the journey of success continued for Gert Fröbe: the film “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” was chosen for the Royal Performance, a screening of the film in the presence of the English royal family.
After the screening, Queen Elizabeth II asked him, “What are you going to play next?” Gert Fröbe replied, “A baron, your majesty.” The queen followed up with a question: “A good one or a bad one?” Fröbe replied, “A German one, Majesty,” whereupon the queen ended the conversation with a thoughtful “Aha.”
In the seventies, Gert Fröbe continued his successful acting career. Among other roles, he appeared alongside Romy Schneider in “Ludwig II.” (1972) and Tony Curtis in “Monte Carlo Rally” (1969).
In the eighties, Gert Fröbe played primarily in television series.
In 1988 Gert Fröbe published his memoirs. In the same year, Gert Fröbe died in Munich.
Simon von Ludwig
Beitragsbild: Gert Fröbe (right) in 1965 with the actor Terry-Thomas (left) during the premiere of the movie “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines”, © Eric Koch / Anefo, Wikimedia Commons