Diminutive German character actor Heinz Rühmann performed in over 100 films and, during his seven-decade career, was designated his country's most popular actor 12 times. A versatile performer, Rühmann was particularly adept at comedy and specialized in playing an idealized sort of average man, the so-called Good German, a man who inwardly thumbs his nose at the authority he outwardly tries to respect and who gets through even the stickiest situations on the strength of his cleverness.
Rühmann originally played leading men with the Munich Kammerspiele theater company in 1925 (he would continue to work occasionally on stage throughout his career). He made his feature film debut in The German Mother Heart (1926), but he didn't become a star until he appeared in his first talkie, Three from the Gas Station (1930). He made his directorial debut in 1938 with Lauter Lügen and, over the next two decades, directed five more features.
When the Nazis took over the German government in 1933, they pressured Rühmann to divorce his wife, Maria Bernheim, because she was Jewish. In a fashion typical of his film persona, rather than acquiesce fully, Rühmann helped her escape to Sweden. With the heat off, he continued his career. After the war, Rühmann and his wife reunited, publicly proclaiming on television that their breakup was solely due to political oppression.
The years after the war were difficult for Rühmann. Tired of being typecast, he founded Comedie, his own film company, in hopes of changing his image. But the public didn't want a change, the company failed, and the actor went back to what he did best. As a result, his popularity skyrocketed. Many still consider his best role to be the title one in The Captain from Koepenick (1956). Over the years, he received many German awards for excellence. In addition to his film and stage work, he often appeared on television, especially after the 1960s. Rühmann made his final screen appearance in Far Away, So Close (1993). He passed away the following year, at the age of 92.