Continued from part one
His trip to America left a lasting impression on Curd Jürgens: On the one hand, he appreciated the courage of the U.S. cultural industry to combine old values with new ones. On the other hand, he was irritated by the way production companies treated their actors: In contrast to Europe, for many studios in America the actor was merely an instrument who had to adapt to the circumstances.
Without any doubt, Curd Jürgens hoped that his stay in the USA would help him to set foot in one of the Hollywood studios. Among others, the diseuse Greta Keller accompanied him on his journey.
In 1951, a photo was taken of Hildegard Knef and Curd Jürgens together in Hollywood: for Jürgens, who was striving for a career in Hollywood, this photo came in handy. Today, a single photo would hardly suffice to boost a movie star’s career. Back then it was different: When Jürgens met Knef at “Schwab’s Drugstore” on Sunset Boulevard, then a hangout for many Hollywood actors, the photo of it went around the world. Before that, Knef had been very careful not to be spotted alone with Jürgens in a restaurant: She was too afraid of Hollywood’s gossip columns. A seemingly random photo of Knef and Jürgens innocently shopping in Hollywood seemed like a good opportunity for both to establish themselves as Hollywood stars.
Hildegard Knef turned her back on Hollywood in the late sixties, disillusioned: Curd Jürgens fared differently. In 1951, however, Curd Jürgens was not yet ready for his Hollywood breakthrough. Nevertheless, various publicity campaigns, such as the joint picture with Knef, ensured that Jürgens was at least no longer an unknown quantity in the world of Hollywood.
The Devil’s General
In the fifties, Jürgens made one film after another in Germany and Austria: Directors and producers especially liked to cast him in uniform roles. His tall figure and natural authority predestined him for military roles. In the films Love Without Illusion and Devil in Silk (both 1955), the personalities he played already bore military traits. Although Curd Jürgens was not particularly keen on playing military roles, he celebrated his international breakthrough with a uniform role: in 1955, Curd Jürgens played the part of General Harras in the film version of the play The Devil’s General (play: Carl Zuckmayer, film version: Helmut Käutner). The film was so successful that Curd Jürgens won the Coppa Volpi for best acting performance at the 1955 Venice Film Festival.
In The Devil’s General, Jürgens played a multi-layered role: on the one hand, General Harras can be characterized as a typical collaborator who supported the National Socialists on their way to power. On the other hand, Jürgens’ character changes completely and he suddenly represents the opponent of the Nazi regime par excellence.
The success of The Devil’s General determined Curd Jürgens’ role profile during the next few years: Jürgens was cast in countless roles that revolved around the military during World War II. Thanks to his role in The Devil’s General, international cinema had now taken notice of Curd Jürgens: Jürgens once again played a general in the U.S. war epic The Longest Day (1962), one of the last major motion pictures in black and white. The film brought together a large star cast, including John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Sean Connery and Richard Burton.
The Spy Who Loved Me
With his role in the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), two of Curd Jürgens’ dreams came true: on the one hand, he got the opportunity to immortalize himself in a huge franchise that was also known for character roles. On the other, his role as Bond antagonist Karl Stromberg resonated with young people: With his earlier roles, which were mainly military in nature, Jürgens found relatively little appeal among young people. That changed with his role as the James Bond villain.
Records & Direction
During the 1960s and 1970s, Curd Jürgens recorded several records: Most of the recordings were in the Schlager style and were reminiscent of Hans Albers or Freddy Quinn. His chanson 60 Jahre – und kein bisschen weise [60 Years – And Not At All Wise], which appeared in 1975 alongside his autobiography of the same name, became particularly famous. In the film version of Bertolt Brecht’s play The Three Penny Opera (1963), Jürgens sang, among other parts, Mack the Knife.
In addition to his work as an actor, he was also active as a director: Curd Jürgens made his directorial debut in 1950 with the Austrian crime film Prämien auf den Tod [Premiums at death]. In the course of his career, Jürgens directed three more films.
Curd Jürgens knew to present himself in public in order to be considered a star. But he himself said that his own image was only partly created by himself: Much of his image had been created by the press. Some sources claim that in his late film career his screen image merged with his real person: for example, the role of Karl Stromberg was a reminiscence of Curd Jürgens himself, who – like Bond antagonist Stromberg – preferred exclusive residences and seclusion from the rest of the world.
Curd Jürgens’ legacy is extensive: his filmography includes a total of 141 titles. This makes him one of the German-speaking actors who appeared most frequently on the big screen in the 20th century.
With his later work as an actor, Curd Jürgens proved that he could still be successful when other actors of his era had long since withdrawn from the public eye. A pearl of his late work was his role in the Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), which was also one of his last major roles. In 1979, Curd Jürgens appeared in the film Just a Gigolo, for which Marlene Dietrich appeared in front of a cinema camera for the very last time.
Curd Jürgens died in Munich on June 18, 1982. His rich film legacy continues to inspire numerous cinema lovers to this day.
Simon von Ludwig
Main sources: The estate of Curd Jürgens and Specht, Heike: “Curd Jürgens – General and Gentleman”, 2015 Aufbau publishing house