Paula Wessely

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Paula Wessely, 1930s

Paula Wessely (born January 20, 1907 in Vienna ; born Paula Anna Maria Wessely ; † May 11, 2000 there ) was an Austrian film and theater actress . She was the wife of Attila Hörbiger and the mother of the actresses Christiane Hörbiger , Elisabeth Orth and Maresa Hörbiger .


Childhood and youth

Paula Wessely was the second eldest daughter of the Viennese butcher Carl Wessely and his wife Anna nee. Orth. Carl Wessely's older sister Josephine Wessely (1860–1887) celebrated successes at the Vienna Burgtheater until she suddenly died at the age of 27. She was Paula's aunt, not her sister, as is often wrongly assumed. Later, there was always a portrait of her aunt at Paula's dressing table. Her mother was very talented in dancing, but at the request of her brother, a teacher, had decided not to join the corps de ballet .

Wessely was baptized in the Salvator Chapel according to the Old Catholic rite. She attended elementary and middle school and was always top of the class. Her recitations made a special impression . Her German and history teacher Madeleine Gutwenger advised her parents, who were already enthusiastic about the theater, to let their daughter embark on an artistic career.

Her first public appearance took place on May 18, 1922, when she played Agnes in Hermann Sudermann's one-act act Fritzchen at a school charity event . When the newspaper Reichspost then mentioned her "because of her natural game", the 15-year-old wrote in a homework with the title Review and Outlook on June 12, 1922: "It is the theater that will be my sphere of activity in later years ..."

Early theater career

So she auditioned at the State Academy for Music and Performing Arts , accompanied by her teacher Madeleine Gutwenger . She read a poem by Ferdinand von Saar , a scene from Woe to him who lies, and a monologue from Iphigenia on Tauris . Wessely was accepted and received her first lessons in the winter semester of 1922/1923. On October 20, 1923 she gave a guest performance with Karl Gutzkows Uriel Acosta at the Akademietheater . After her final exam, she attended the Max Reinhardt Seminar in Vienna from 1924 to 1926 .

As early as 1924 she appeared for the first time in the Vienna Volkstheater , where she was engaged until 1926. She made her debut as a maid in the play Cyprienne by Victorien Sardou at the side of Leopoldine Konstantin . There and at the Raimundtheater she could be seen in her first years, especially in tabloids as a parlor maid and in similar roles.

In the autumn of 1926 she brought theater director Leopold Kramer to the German Theater in Prague . During her debut there in the salon comedy Die neue Herren von Flers- Croisset, she was a partner of her future husband Attila Hörbiger. In what was probably her first interview in a newspaper, which she gave to the Wiener Tagblatt on September 2, 1926 , with a view to her stay in Prague, she said: "After all, careers are only made outside."

After the end of the one-year vacation granted to her, she returned to Rudolf Beer at the Vienna Volkstheater in 1927 . Its market value had risen so much after a year that Kramer, in a letter to Beer dated September 1, 1927, agreed to pay a penalty of 60,000 kroner for Wessely's stay, but Beer refused. Until 1929 she played again at the Volkstheater. Except in The Woman from the Sea and Spring Awakening , she again played mainly in tabloids. When she was denied the promised role of Jenny in The Threepenny Opera , she resigned.

At the theater in der Josefstadt

From 1929 she played together with Attila Hörbiger in the Vienna Theater in der Josefstadt under Max Reinhardt . The Reichspost already described her inaugural role as Kiki in the play of the same name by André Picard as "the sensation of the evening". At that time, Wessely was temporarily in a relationship with her colleague Hans Jaray , whom she had met at the Volkstheater.

When Reinhardt's deputy Emil Geyer reassigned her to the role of parlor maid, she had her lawyer call her sick. Her lawyer tried to find an amicable solution and got a colleague to stand in for her. Soon afterwards she was back in a leading role on stage in Felix Salten's play Der Gemeine alongside Hans Moser , Adrienne Gessner and Attila Hörbiger.

In 1930 she was able to appear for the first time at the Salzburg Festival in a prestigious Reinhardt production. As the successor to Helene Thimig, she played Luise in Kabale und Liebe . From 1932, she also played on also to the Reinhardt theaters belonging to the Deutsches Theater Berlin .

On September 17, 1932, she celebrated her final breakthrough there under the direction of Karl Heinz Martin as Rose Bernd von Gerhart Hauptmann . The audience and critics were unanimous in their enthusiasm. Alfred Kerr wrote about her in the Berliner Tagblatt : “Only the word wonderful is possible” and Werner Krauss spoke of the “greatest acting impression I have ever received”. When the audience applauded during the break after the third act, she accepted the ovations from the audience, first alone and then at the side of Gerhart Hauptmann, on the occasion of whose 70th birthday the play had been performed.

Other roles followed. She also had great success in 1932 in the title role of the operetta Sissy by Fritz Kreisler as Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary at the side of Hans Jaray as Emperor Franz Joseph . While she had practiced the Silesian dialect intensively for her role in Rose Bernd , she undertook her own singing studies in preparation for the completely different operetta.

On February 20, 1933 she was the leading actress as Christine under the direction of Paul Kalbeck in the premiere of the play Liebelei at the Theater in der Josefstadt. She was invited to test shoots for the film, but Magda Schneider was preferred to her. On August 17, 1933, she stood in front of the audience for the first time at the Salzburg Festival as Gretchen in Faust at the side of Ewald Balser and played this role for five summers. In 1936 she made her debut at the Burgtheater in the title role of George Bernard Shaw's Die heilige Johanna .

Success as a film actress

After Wessely's success as "Rose Bernd", several film companies made test shots with her without result, because she did not correspond to the ideal of a film beauty. But Willi Forst and Walter Reisch finally came up with a plot tailored to their needs. In 1934 Paula Wessely played the leading female role in the film Masquerade at the side of Adolf Wohlbrück . In the film she had the telling words to say: "Why should I please him?" The film was an extraordinary success and Paula Wessely was the first major stage actress to become a star on the screen. Her hairstyle with a peculiar sloping parting on the left side made fashion.

As early as September 22, 1934, she was invited to Adolf Hitler for the first time as part of an official society. Further films such as Episode (1935), for which she was awarded the Coppa Volpi as best actress in Venice , Harvest (1936) and Spiegel des Lebens (1938) made her a film star of the whole before the dawn of National Socialism in Austria German-speaking area. In 1935 she founded her own production company Vienna-Film Ges. Mb H. Because of its “non-Aryan” partners, the company had to stop production after the “ Anschluss ”.

On November 23, 1935, she married her fellow actor Attila Hörbiger, eleven years her senior, in the Vienna City Hall . The witnesses were actor Hans Jaray and Attila's brother Alfred. With Hörbiger, with whom she also worked artistically, she bought a house in Grinzing , Himmelstrasse 24. The following year, the first child Elisabeth Orth (Orth is a stage name, taken from the maternal grandmother) was born, Christiane Hörbiger in 1938 and Maresa in 1945 Hörbiger. She was able to continue her job without restrictions, because the household had plenty of staff when her first daughter was born.

In 1938 she took over the speaking role of Snow White in the first German version of the Walt Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs . The vocal part, on the other hand, was taken over by Herta Mayen , possibly also by Lucienne Dugard . This version was premiered in Vienna in 1938, immediately banned after the "Anschluss of Austria" to the "Third Reich", but performed again in 1948. The German premiere took place in Cologne in 1950. This version was last shown in Germany and Austria in 1957, and in the GDR in 1985. In 1966, the Disney group decided to re-synchronize. The Wessely version is stored in London but has never been released again.

National Socialism

At a reception in the Vienna Hofburg on March 30, 1938, v. l. No. Joseph Goebbels , Gertrud Seyß-Inquart, Kajetan Mühlmann , Paula Wessely

Wessely's increased work in Germany from 1934 onwards also brought her into contact with the National Socialist regime. However, she was careful not to be too politically co-opted by the National Socialists, as she was also involved in Austria, the Austro-Fascist corporate state . In October 1934 she became a member of the Reichsfachschaft film after she had provided the “ Aryan certificate ” for her “Aryan Old Catholic descent”.

After the birth of their daughter Elisabeth in 1936, Alfred Frauenfeld , at that time managing director of the Reichstheaterkammer, was furious about the fact that Wessely had given birth to a Jewish doctor, especially since Joseph Goebbels had her presented with a flower arrangement. While Goebbels and Hitler were trying to get close to film greats like Wessely, they hesitated, for example, when asked to help the German People's Winter Relief Organization . The increasing racist discrimination against friends of the Hörbiger couple in Germany also prompted Wessely and her husband to look for jobs for these very friends. The attempts failed, but had no consequences for them, as the leadership of the Nazi regime did not resent their commitment. Accusations by the relevant “racial ideologues” such as Hans Hinkel therefore had to be tacitly archived. Attempts by Goebbels to bring Wessely and her family to Berlin at the end of 1937 at great financial expense failed.

After the "Anschluss" of Austria, she also made herself available to Nazi propaganda for the " referendum ": "I am happy to be able to declare my commitment to the great ethnic German Reich with 'Yes' on April 10, 1938 ..."

Goebbels was aware with Wessely as with other film stars that they were not National Socialists, which is why their open religiosity, which led them to the Anna Church "almost every Sunday" , was accepted, as was their earlier activities for the Austrian regime, where they were "made themselves available in various actions by Ms. Dollfuss and Ms. Schuschnigg ".

More than ever she commuted between the Deutsches Theater in Berlin and the Theater in der Josefstadt. On February 14, 1939, she premiered in Berlin in the title role of the drama Dorothea Angermann by Gerhart Hauptmann. On December 23, 1939, she stood next to her husband in The Taming of the Shrew for the first time in a Shakespeare play in Vienna .

With a woman waiting for the return of her lover and father of her child in A Lifetime , Wessely took on a film role in 1940 that corresponded to the propaganda ideal of women against the background of World War II . During the war, with fees of up to 150,000 Reichsmarks per film, she was one of the best-paid film stars in “Greater German” film production.

1941 Paula Wessely embodied in the Nazi propaganda film homecoming of Gustav Ucicky one pursued by Poland German. In the Neue Wiener Tagblatt she said before the premiere: "It is a high and responsible task that has been given to me here and which I have taken on with pleasure."

After the end of the Second World War, she commented on various positions about her participation in this propaganda film. In March 1946, in an interview for the newspaper Die Jugend , she stated that she had not dared to turn down the role because she had been burdened by her Catholic sentiments and a large group of Jewish friends. In 1971 she told film historian Walter Fritz that she wished she had not been involved in this film. Unfortunately, she was only able to recognize its consequences when she saw him finished in front of her. In 1985 she said about her participation in this film that she regretted not having the courage to oppose at the time, but at the same time emphasized that she had campaigned for Jewish artists.

In the final phase of the Second World War, Adolf Hitler added her to the God-gifted list of the most important artists in August 1944 , which saved her from being deployed in the war, including on the home front . Friends of Wessely's emigrated to the United States , such as Hans Jaray, vouched for her after the war.

After the end of World War II, she is said to have helped Jewish actors to find engagements. Ucicky, on the other hand, gave her first post-war commission as a director in the self-produced film Cordula in 1950 .

post war period

After the Hörbiger couple "settled" in western Austria in April 1945, they returned to Vienna at the beginning of October 1945. Because of her participation in homecoming she was banned from performing in Vienna by the Americans, but was able to perform at the regional theater in Innsbruck , which was in the French zone, without any problems as a “ minor burden ”. From August 30, 1945 she was seen there as Christine in Liebelei . At the end of March 1946, Hörbiger was allowed to act as Shen Te / Shui Ta in The Good Man of Sezuan again in Josefstadt. The then communist Viennese City Councilor for Culture Viktor Matejka tried unsuccessfully to sell Wessely's tacit re-appearance in Vienna as denazification , and thus persuaded Helene Weigel to speak out against the performance with Wessely on behalf of Bertolt Brecht .

Tomb of Paula Wessely and Attila Hörbiger in the Grinzing cemetery

In autumn 1946 she suffered a severe nervous crisis under the pressure of frequent interrogations, in the course of which she threatened her children and herself. Her daughter Maresa Hörbiger said: "At that time my mother suffered from terrible existential fear and lived under the idea that she could no longer provide for our food." She was treated in the general hospital and could not appear for seven months. The events did not remain hidden from the public and Elfriede Jelinek used the material for her play Burgtheater . One of the treating doctors, who had also released her from inpatient treatment, was Dr. Placheta, who later became known to the general public under the name of Gunther Philipp .

On May 19, 1947, she was back on stage in Juliane Kays Vagabunden as the doctor Elisabeth Kamma next to her husband in Josefstadt. She also had great success at his side in her first post-war film The Angel with the Trumpet as a tragic half-Jew . The American cultural officer Otto de Pasetti had advocated such a role for Wessely with the declared aim of having her role in Homecoming be forgotten.

In 1950 she founded the Paula-Wessely-Filmproduktion and regularly took on the leading female role in their works, including in Maria Theresia (in-house production in 1951). 1957 seemed Paula Wessely in the later censorship homophobic become film different from you and me by Veit Harlan with. Above all, the changes called into question the criminality of pimp , of which Wessely was accused as mother. A light plea against § 175 turned into the opposite. Its performance was initially banned in West Germany, but allowed in the amended version.

Otherwise she continued to concentrate on theater work. In 1953 she became a member of the Vienna Burgtheater ensemble . There appeared "the Wessely" as it was commonly called, among other things, in The King of the Alps and the Misanthrope of Ferdinand Raimund , as Gretchen in Goethe's Faust , 1958 at the Academy Theater in Eugene O'Neill's almost a Poet , 1959 as Genia Hofreiter in Arthur Schnitzler's Das weite Land , in My Fair Lady , 1984 with Josef Meinrad in Der Unbrechliche. In 1964 she celebrated an extraordinary success as Ella Rentheim in John Gabriel Borkmann .

She got the title of chamber actress . Even in old age she performed with Attila Hörbiger in the Burgtheater. Wessely preferred roles with tolerant, suffering, but also strong and steadfast women. She rejected the part of the morphine addicted mother in One Long Day's Journey into the Night , Mother Courage , Elisabeth in Maria Stuart and Claire in The Visit of the Old Lady . Only in two pieces by Edward Albee , as Agnes in Sensitive Balance (1967) and The Woman in Everything Gone (1972), she carried “the dark side of her soul onto the stage”.

The last few years

The last drama premiere of her life was The Diamond of the Ghost King by Ferdinand Raimund . A number of celebrated reading evenings followed. With a reading on the occasion of her 80th birthday in January 1987, Wessely said goodbye to her audience in the Vienna Akademietheater . Attila Hörbiger died in April. In the same year she received the title of Burgtheater- Doyenne , which is due to the longest-serving actress in the theater.

Her last appearance was on November 5, 1987, when she read texts by Goethe, Brecht , Nestroy , Hilde Spiel and Jeannie Ebner .

In 1988, on the occasion of the Waldheim affair , suggested by Hilde Spiel in the magazine profil , she signed a call for Federal President Kurt Waldheim to resign . She was the only one to add: "I am not asking, I am asking."

As a result, she increasingly suffered from old-age depression . In 1997 she celebrated her 90th birthday with the family and, by the way, lived secluded in her house in Vienna-Grinzing with her daughter Maresa and her son. In April 2000 she was admitted to the Hartmann Hospital in Vienna with severe bronchitis , where she died on May 11 at the age of 93. In her last will she had stated that she wished to refrain from saying goodbye to honorary members on the grand staircase of the Burgtheater. Only her family and a few friends and colleagues took part in the simple mass in the parish church of Grinzing . She was buried in the Grinzing cemetery (group 6, row 3, number 3) in the honorary grave of her husband.

Her written estate is in the archive of the Academy of the Arts in Berlin.



In 2002 the Paula-Wessely-Weg in Vienna- Döbling was named after her.


Radio plays

  • 1953: Carl Zuckmayer : Ulla Winblad or Music and Life of Carl Michael Bellmann (Ulla Winblad) - Director: Walter Ohm (radio play - BR / RB / SWF)

See also


  • Elisabeth Orth: fairy tales of her life. My parents Paula Wessely and Attila Hörbiger. Molden, Vienna 1975, ISBN 3-217-05032-0 .
  • André Müller: Exposures. Goldmann, Munich 1979, ISBN 3-442-03887-1 .
  • Edda Fuhrich u. Gisela Prossnitz (Ed.): Paula Wessely, Attila Hörbiger. Your life - your game. A documentation. Langen Müller, Munich 1985, ISBN 3-7844-2035-4 .
  • Maria Steiner: Paula Wessely. The displaced years. Publishing house for social criticism, Vienna 1996, ISBN 3-85115-224-7 .
  • Georg Markus : The Hörbigers. Family biography. Amalthea Verlag, Vienna 2006, ISBN 3-85002-565-9 .
  • Armin Loacker (Ed.): In the interplay. Paula Wessely and the film. Filmarchiv Austria, Vienna 2007.

Web links

Commons : Paula Wessely  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f Street names in Vienna since 1860 as "Political Places of Remembrance" . (PDF; 4.4 MB), p. 191 ff., Final research project report, Vienna, July 2013
  2. Everyone says yes! Viennese artist on April 10th. In:  Neues Wiener Journal , No. 15943/1938 (XLVI. Volume), April 7, 1938, p. 13, top left. (Online at ANNO ). Template: ANNO / Maintenance / nwj.
  3. Georg Markus: The Hörbigers , p. 156
  4. Georg Markus: The Hörbigers , p. 158.
  5. Georg Markus: The Hörbigers , p. 159.
  6. Oliver Rathkolb: Loyal to the Führer and God-Grace. Artist elite in the Third Reich. Österreichischer Bundesverlag, Vienna 1991, ISBN 3-215-07490-7 , p. 261.
  7. ^ A b Ernst Klee : The cultural lexicon for the Third Reich. Who was what before and after 1945. S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2007, ISBN 978-3-10-039326-5 , p. 660.
  8. The returnees of the "homecoming" . In: Arbeiter-Zeitung . Vienna October 6, 1945, p. 3 , top left ( - the open online archive - digitized).
  9. Georg Markus: The Hörbigers , p. 210.
  10. Georg Markus: Is it all just coincidence?
  11. ^ Elisabeth Orth in: Georg Markus: Die Hörbigers , p. 248.
  12. ^ Paula-Wessely-Archiv Inventory overview on the website of the Academy of the Arts in Berlin.