Gustav Fröhlich is best remembered to international audiences for his performance as Freder, the young hero of Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927). The role was an unexpected turn in a career that was already highly varied before he began acting. Born in Hanover, Lower Saxony, Fröhlich (also often credited as Gustav Froehlich) began his dramatic career when he arrived Berlin in 1921, at the age of 19. He had already worked as a journalist and dime novelist, and as a variety-show emcee. What success he enjoyed as an actor was limited entirely to the stage, where he worked with producers such as Max Reinhardt and Erwin Piscator. Onscreen, Fröhlich's one major success of the early '20s was his portrayal of Franz Liszt in Paganini (1922).
Fate took a hand in 1926, however, when Fröhlich was cast in a relatively anonymous role in Fritz Lang's Metropolis -- the original leading man, André Mattoni, portraying the young hero, walked off the set during shooting, infuriated over the hardships imposed by Lang, and Fröhlich was pulled out of the ranks of the extras in the cast and thrust into the lead. Though his range was limited in the role, his often overwrought portrayal -- whether expressing horror or joy -- fit well in a film that was filled with symbolic characters, and though the movie was not a success at the time, it established Fröhlich as a leading man.
After that, Fröhlich was typecast as the fresh-faced, naïve "boy next door." His subsequent movies included Heimkehr (1928) and Asphalt (1929), by Joe May; Voruntersuchung (1931), by Robert Siodmak; and Die Verliebte Firma (1932), by Max Ophüls. Many of Fröhlich's films of the early '30s were lighthearted musicals and romances, and Metropolis was far and away the most important movie in which Fröhlich ever appeared. He later had a brush with notoriety when he left his first wife, actress/singer Gitta Alpar, to take up with Lida Baarova, the actress and also the future lover of Dr. Josef Goebbels (the head of the Nazi government propaganda machine and one of the most powerful and feared men in Germany during the Hitler era).
Fröhlich remained in Germany during the Hitler regime and became a movie director after World War II, helming and also writing a handful of feature films in the postwar era. Fröhlich also continued to act on-stage, and in film and television, into the 1960s. He spent the last 30 years of his life living in Switzerland, and died of complications from surgery in 1987, at age 85.