Leopold Jessner

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Leopold Jessner , also Jeßner (born March 3, 1878 in Königsberg , † December 13, 1945 in Hollywood ) was a German theater and film director. He is considered an important representative of stage expressionism and political theater of the 1920s. He was also known as the creator of the "Jessner staircase".


Leopold Jessner started as an actor in Graudenz in 1895 . In 1897/98 he played at the Stadttheater Cottbus , 1898/99 as a guest at the Berlin theaters, from 1899 to 1901 at the Deutsches Theater Breslau, 1901/02 at the Ibsen Theater (touring theater), 1902/03 at the Deutsches Theater Hannover and 1904/05 at the Residenz Theater Dresden . He gained his first experiences as a director in 1901/02 at the Ibsen Theater, from 1904 to 1915 he was director at the Thalia Theater Hamburg , from 1908 head director.

Here Jessner mainly staged works of socially critical modernism by Gerhart Hauptmann , Henrik Ibsen , Maxim Gorki and Frank Wedekind . In addition, from 1911 to 1914 he was the artistic director of the popular drama organized by the Central Commission for Workers' Education. From 1915 to 1919 he was director of the New Playhouse in Königsberg . Here, too, he staged modern dramas in addition to classics, most recently Georg Kaiser's Gas in 1919 .

From 1919 to 1928, accompanied by anti-Semitic and reactionary nationalist protests, he served as director of the Staatliches Schauspielhaus in Berlin, then from 1928 to 1930 as director general of the theaters of the Staatstheater Berlin , the leading theaters of the Weimar Republic. From 1925 he was also director of the new state drama school. The spectrum of his productions ranged from antiquity ( Sophocles ) to the classics ( Shakespeare , Schiller , Goethe ) and forgotten dramatists such as Grabbe to modern authors such as Ernst Barlach , Arnolt Bronnen and Georg Kaiser. As a director, Jessner made a radical departure from the court theater tradition and developed a new stage aesthetic. He was considered a representative of expressionist stage direction and a protagonist of contemporary political theater . However, over the years it became clear that he felt compelled to make political considerations and compromises. Jessner was a board member of the Central Association of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith .

His work for the film is a side effect and by-product of his theater work, including the productions Hintertreppe (1921 with Paul Leni as co-director) and Erdgeist (1923 after Frank Wedekind ).

Jessner's contract as general manager was converted into a directorial contract in 1930, which was dissolved by the National Socialists in 1933 . In March 1933 he founded a touring ensemble that performed in Belgium, the Netherlands and Great Britain. In 1934 Jessner emigrated to Great Britain , where he tried unsuccessfully to found a film company. There he shot his only sound film Children of the Fog (1935), which had been preceded by some silent films. In 1935 he went to Palestine , where he worked with little success at the Habimah in Tel Aviv .

In 1937 he went to the USA . There he worked for a year as a lecturer at MGM . Since 1939 he was involved in the management of the exile theater group The Continental Players . He last staged the play The Marseillaise in Beverly Hills in 1943 .

After the end of the war, the Americans intended him to be involved in the rebuilding and reorganization of the German theater system, but this was prevented by his death. In 1951 a street in the Berlin district of Friedrichshain was named after Jessner.

Theatrical significance

The director became famous for the "Jessner Staircase", which he developed in collaboration with Emil Pirchan . This is an independent stage stage that has been used since Jessner's debut production of Wilhelm Tell (1919) in Berlin , which led to a theatrical scandal (vividly described by Fritz Kortner, who gave the Gessler, in his memoirs Aller Tage Abend, 1959, XX . Chapter), the center of Jessner's strictly structured, timeless and timeless stage spaces and through which the director wanted to bring the core of his texts to bear. Jessner's staging style was characterized by exact choreography, symbolic gestures and arrangements, extreme shortening of the scenes and a concentrated, rhythmic language.

Jessner played an important role in promoting young authors like Bertolt Brecht , young directors like Jürgen Fehling and actors like Fritz Kortner .


  • Fonts. Theater of the twenties . Ed .: Hugo Fetting. Henschel, Berlin 1979.


  • Rolf BadenhausenJeßner, Leopold. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 10, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1974, ISBN 3-428-00191-5 , p. 427 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Karl Theodor Bluth: Leopold Jessner . Oesterheld, Berlin 1928.
  • Matthias Heilmann: Leopold Jessner - Director of the Republic. The path of a German-Jewish director from East Prussia . Max Niemeyer, Munich 2005.
  • Ludwig Marense: Leopold Jeßner from Tell I to Tell II to Tell III . In: The time . 1958 ( online ).
  • Jessner, Leopold. In: Lexicon of German-Jewish Authors . Volume 13: Jaco-Kerr. Edited by the Bibliographia Judaica archive. Saur, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-598-22693-4 , pp. 93-98.
  • Kay Less : 'In life, more is taken from you than given ...'. Lexicon of filmmakers who emigrated from Germany and Austria between 1933 and 1945. A general overview. P. 266 f., ACABUS-Verlag, Hamburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-86282-049-8
  • Wolfgang Beck: Jeßner (also Jessner), Leopold . In: Manfred Brauneck, Wolfgang Beck (ed.): Theater Lexikon 2. Actors and directors, stage managers, dramaturges and stage designers . Rowohlt's encyclopedia published by Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag. Reinbek near Hamburg, August 2007, ISBN 978 3 499 55650 0 , p. 350 f.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Jessnerstrasse. In: Street name lexicon of the Luisenstädtischer Bildungsverein (near  Kaupert )