Mischa Auer

Active - 1928 - 1966  |   Born - Nov 17, 1905   |   Died - Mar 5, 1967   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Romance, Mystery, Musical

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The screen's foremost "Mad Russian" (though he was more dour than demented in most of his movie appearances), Mischa Auer was the son of a Russian navy officer who died in the Russo-Japanese war. Auer's family scattered during the Bolshevik revolution, forcing the 12-year-old Mischa to beg, borrow, and steal to survive. Orphaned during a typhus epidemic, Auer moved to New York where he lived with his maternal grandfather, violinist Leopold Auer. Inspired by the elder Auer to become a musician, Mischa entered the Ethical Culture School in New York, where he developed an interest in acting. Playing small parts on Broadway and with Eva LeGalleine's company, Auer persisted until his roles increased in size and importance. While appearing with the Bertha Kalich Company in Los Angeles, Auer was hired by Hollywood director Frank Tuttle for a minor role in the Esther Ralston comedy Something Always Happens (1927). During his first nine years in films, the tall, foreboding Auer was typecast as sinister foreigners, often playing villainous Hindu priests, Arab chieftains, and feverish anarchists. His comic gifts were finally tapped by improvisational director Gregory La Cava, who cast Auer as society matron Alice Brady's free-loading "protege" in My Man Godfrey (1936). Thereafter, the actor flourished in eccentric comedy roles in such films as 100 Men and a Girl (1937), You Can't Take It With You (1938) (in which he popularized the catchphrase "Confidentially, it stinks!"), Destry Rides Again (1939), and Hellzapoppin' (1941). During the 1940s, Auer starred in the radio series Mischa the Magnificent and headlined several Broadway flops. The following decade, he spent most of his time in Europe, playing aging oddballs in films like Orson Welles' Mister Arkadin (1955). Among Mischa Auer's last professional engagements was a 1964-1965 revival of The Merry Widow -- one of his few successful stage ventures.

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