Rudolph Klein-Rogge

Active - 1920 - 1984  |   Born - Nov 24, 1888   |   Died - Jan 1, 1955   |   Genres - Drama, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Thriller, Crime

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Biography by Bruce Eder

Rudolf Klein-Rogge was one of Germany's more gifted character actors, in both theater and film, and was a mainstay of Fritz Lang's movies from 1920-1932. Born in Cologne in 1888 (though some sources say 1885), he studied art history in Berlin and Bonn, but his real interest was in the theater. He made his professional acting debut at the age of 20, playing Cassius in Julius Caesar at the Stadttheaer Halberstadt. Soon after, while working in Aachen, he met Thea von Harbou, a young actress and writer with ambition and beauty to whom he became a friend, mentor, and lover. The two married in 1914 and were one of the "power couples" of the era in the arts -- he a gifted and increasingly prominent stage actor in Nuremberg, equally skilled in lead or character roles and, with his thick blond hair, intense eyes, and severe features, appropriate to either, and she a best-selling author with a wide audience. His career suffered a setback, however, when he moved to Berlin and the Lessing Theater, where he was not nearly as well received. Finally, in 1919 (about the same time that his wife began working as a screenwriter and adapting her own work), after some frustrating years of trying to regain his career momentum, Klein-Rogge began acting in movies. He started in smaller, featured roles in such films as Bruno Zeitner's Das Licht Am Fenster (1919), and the following year worked for Fritz Lang for the first time in a supporting role in Das Wandernde Bild. During this period, his wife met and became enamored of Lang, and the two began a romantic affair despite their marriages to others. Klein-Rogge and von Harbou were separated in 1920 and later divorced, while Lang's first wife committed suicide, freeing him and von Harbou to marry in 1922.

From 1920-1932, von Harbou wrote or co-wrote the screenplays to all of Lang's movies, which are generally regarded as the finest body of films in his four-decade output. Ironically, the former couple's separate contacts with Lang proved the salvation of Klein-Rogge's career even as it doomed his marriage. By 1921, the actor was playing leads in Lang's movies and, as the director's films became known and his audience grew, Klein-Rogge found himself elevated to major star status both in Germany and around the world. His best early performance in a Lang movie was that of a criminal mastermind -- and the title role -- in Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922). He had a succession of other prominent parts in Lang's films, culminating with the caped, beak-nosed inventor Rotwang in Metropolis in 1927. He later had major roles in Spies (1929) and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933), and remained a star until that time. With the Hitler government's rise to power in 1933 and Lang's resulting departure from Germany, however, Klein-Rogge's status as a screen actor was quickly reduced. He was relegated to ever-smaller roles over the next eight years, including work in Elisabeth und der Narr (1934), written and directed by von Harbou. As the Nazi era progressed, Klein-Rogge fell out of favor with Josef Goebbels, the propaganda minister and culture czar for the government, and, after working in 80 movies, his career had come to a standstill by 1942. Klein-Rogge remarried twice after his divorce from von Harbou: to Margarete Neff and the Swedish-born actress Mary Johnson. He made one last, uncredited screen appearance in 1949's Hexen, and died in relative obscurity in 1955, a year after von Harbou's death.

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