Hans Walter Conrad Veidt (22 January 1893 – 3 April 1943) was a German actor best remembered for his roles in films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920),The Man Who Laughs (1928), The Thief of Bagdad (1940) and Casablanca (1942). After a successful career in German silent film, where he was one of the best paid stars of Ufa, he left Germany in 1933 with his new Jewish wife after the Nazis came to power. They settled in the United Kingdom, where he participated in a number of films before emigrating to the United States around 1941.
Veidt was born in a bourgeois district of Berlin, Germany, the son of Amalie Marie (née Gohtz) and Phillip Heinrich Veidt. (Some biographies wrongly state that he was born in Potsdam, probably on the basis of an early claim on his part.) His family was Protestant.
In 1914, Veidt met actress Lucie Mannheim, with whom he began a relationship. Later in the year Veidt was drafted into the German Army during World War I. In 1915, Veidt was sent to the Eastern Front as a non-commissioned officer and took part in the Battle of Warsaw. He contracted jaundice and pneumonia, and had to be evacuated to a hospital on the Baltic Sea. While recuperating, he received a letter from Mannheim telling him that she had found work at a theatre in Libau. Intrigued, Veidt applied for the theatre as well. As his condition had not improved, the army allowed him to join the theater so that he could entertain the troops. While performing at the theatre, he ended his relationship with Mannheim. In late 1916, he was reexamined by the Army and deemed unfit for service; he was given a full discharge in January 1917. Veidt returned to Berlin to pursue his acting career.
From 1916 until his death, Veidt appeared in well over 100 films. One of his earliest performances was as the murderous somnambulist Cesare in director Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), a classic of German Expressionist cinema, with Werner Krauss and Lil Dagover. Of his role as a disfigured circus performer in The Man Who Laughs (1928) the Los Angeles Times critic wrote: “Conrad Veidt starred in this semi-silent film based on Victor Hugo’s novel in which the son of a lord is punished for his father’s disrespect to the king by having his face carved into a permanent grin.” Veidt also starred in other silent horror films such as The Hands of Orlac (1924), another film directed by Robert Wiene, The Student of Prague (1926), and Waxworks (1924) where he played Ivan the Terrible.
Veidt also appeared in Magnus Hirschfeld’s pioneering gay rights film Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others, 1919). In 1929 he was in Das Land ohne Frauen (The Country Without Women, 1929), Germany’s first talking picture.
He moved to Hollywood in the late 1920s and made a few films, but the advent of talking pictures and his difficulty with speaking English led him to return to Germany. This is incongruent — just below in the emigration section it states that Veidt “perfected his English” and made films with none other than M. Powell.
Veidt fervently opposed the Nazi regime and donated, even while making American films, a major portion of his personal fortune to England to assist in the war effort. Soon after it took power, Joseph Goebbelsstarted to “purge” the film industry of liberals and Jews. In 1933, a week after Veidt’s marriage to Illona Prager, a Jewish woman, the couple emigrated to the United Kingdom before any action could be taken against either of them. There he perfected his English and became a British citizen in 1938. He continued making films in Britain, including three with director Michael Powell: The Spy in Black (1939),Contraband (1940) and The Thief of Bagdad (1940). In the early 1940s, he and Ilona moved to Hollywood, California. He starred in a few films, such as Nazi Agent (1942), in which he had a dual role as a Nazi and as the man’s twin brother. His best-known role was as Major Heinrich Strasser in Casablanca (1942).
In 1943, he died suddenly of a massive heart attack while playing golf at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. In 1998, his ashes were interred at the Golders Green Crematorium in London. Conrad Veidt married three times: he first married Augusta Holl, a cabaret entertainer known as “Gussy”, on June 18, 1918. They divorced the following autumn. Gussy later married German actor Emil Jannings. Veidt’s second wife Felicitas Radke was from an aristocratic German family; they married in 1923. Their daughter, Vera Viola Maria, called Viola, was born August 10, 1925. He last married Ilona Prager, a Hungarian Jew called Lily, in 1933; they were together until his death. He loaned his considerable fortune to the British Government, and donated large amounts of his film salaries to help with the British war effort.