Friedhof Ohlsdorf, Fuhlsbüttler Str. 756, 22337 Hamburg, Germania
Gustaf Gründgens (22 December 1899 – 7 October 1963), born Gustav Heinrich Arnold Gründgens, was one of Germany's most famous and influential actors of the 20th century, and artistic director of theatres in Berlin, Düsseldorf, and Hamburg. His career continued unimpeded through the years of the Nazi regime; the extent to which this can be considered as deliberate collaboration with the Nazis is hotly disputed.
His single most famous role was that of Mephistopheles in Goethe's Faust in 1956/57, which is still considered by many to have been the best interpretation of the role ever given.
Born in Düsseldorf, Gründgens attended the drama school of the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus after World War I and started his career at smaller theaters in Halberstadt, Kiel, and Berlin. He was an ardent communist at the time, known for giving fiery speeches about the need for revolution in Germany.
In 1923, he joined the Kammerspiele in Hamburg, where he also appeared as a director for the first time, collaborating with the author Klaus Mann, the son of Thomas Mann, and his sister Erika Mann. Gründgens, who meanwhile had changed his first name to Gustaf, married Erika Mann in 1926; they divorced three years later.
In 1928, he moved back to Berlin to join the renowned ensemble of the Deutsches Theater under the director Max Reinhardt. Apart from spoken theatre, Gründgens also worked with Otto Klemperer at the Kroll Opera, as a cabaret artist and as a screen actor, most notably in Fritz Lang's 1931 film M, which significantly increased his popularity. From 1932 he was a member of the Prussian State Theatre ensemble, in which he first stood out as Mephistopheles.
Gründgens' career continued after the Nazi party came to power: in 1934 he became the Intendant, or artistic director, of the Prussian State Theatre and was later appointed a member of the Prussian state council by the Prussian Minister-President Hermann Göring. It is thought that he embraced Nazi ideology at the time to further his career. He also became a member of the Presidential Council of the Reichstheaterkammer (Theatre Chamber of the Reich), which was an institution of the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture). In 1941, Gründgens starred in the propaganda film Ohm Krüger and also in Friedemann Bach, a film he also produced. After Goebbels's total war speech on 18 February 1943, Gründgens volunteered for the Wehrmacht but was again recalled by Göring, who had his name added to the Gottbegnadeten list (Important Artist Exempt List).
Imprisoned by the Soviet NKVD in 1945, Gründgens was released thanks to the intercession of the Communist actor Ernst Busch, whom Gründgens himself had saved from execution by the Nazis in 1943. During the denazification process his statements helped to exonerate acting colleagues, including Göring's widow Emmy and Veit Harlan, director of the film Jud Süß. Gründgens returned to the Deutsches Theater, later became Intendant of the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus, and from 1955 directed the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg. He again performed as Mephistopheles; the 1960 film Faust by Peter Gorski was made with the Deutsches Schauspielhaus ensemble.
Gründgens married Erika Mann in 1926; the marriage ended after three years. From 1936 to 1946, Gründgens was married to the famous German actress Marianne Hoppe in what was widely seen as a lavender marriage.
On 7 October 1963, while traveling around the world, Gründgens died in Manila of an internal hemorrhage. It has never been ascertained whether or not he committed suicide by an overdose of sleeping pills. His last words, written on an envelope, were, "I believe I have taken too many sleeping pills; I feel a bit weird, let me sleep ." He is buried at the Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg.