Maximilian Schreck was born on June 11, 1879 in Berlin. Like many of his film contemporaries he was primarily a stage actor and of very solid reputation, if not a star of any reknown. He made his stage debut in Messeritz and Speyer before touring the country for two years appearing at theatres in Zittau, Erfurt, Bremen, Lucerne, Gera, Frankfurt and finally joining Max Reinhart's celebrated troupe of performers back in Berlin. Many of Reinhart's members were to cut their acting teeth in his company before making a huge contribution to the cinema. Primarily a character actor due to his guant appearance, he appeared in only a few of films before his memorable role in Nosferatu (1922).
It was Max Reinhardt who had indroducted Schreck to Friedrich W. Murnau, and the director hired him in 1922 to play Graf (Count) Orlok for the first and only production by Prana Films: Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu; A Symphony Of Horror)--a thinly disguised version of Bram Stoker's Dracula. The company was forced to declare bankruptcy after the film's release to avoid paying copyright infringement costs to Stoker's widow, Florence. Despite numerous portrayals of the vampire Dracula, including Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, the image of Schreck as Count Graf Orlock is easily the most haunting, and his performance as the bald, bat-eared, close fanged Orlock remains one of the most frightening images in film history.
Because the actor did no films outside of Germany, several myths grew up around him. After Nosferatu he appeared in well over twenty films as well as numerous stage roles, and is therefore not the mysterious figure he is sometimes made out to be, and he is certainly not the vampire character portrayed so brilliantly by Willem DaFoe in Shadow of the Vampire. Schreck is apparently the actor's real name. Though the surname means "fear" or "terror" in German--and certainly was an appropriate pseudonym for portraying Orlock--his film output actually crosses several different genres, comedy and drama, and he was never really a "horror" star in the way Hollywood actors were labeled in the 30s and 40s.
In 1923, Max Schreck appeared as a blind man in the acclaimed film Die Strasse (The Street) directed by Karl Grune for Stern Film. Schreck appears in a significant role as a bewhiskered blind man who uses the eyes of a child to navigate. Die Strasse is sadly one of the few Schreck appearances that still exist, but one production that was recently screened at an annual film festival in Northern Italy is Die Finanzen Des Grossherzogs (The Finances of the Grand Duke, 1924), a poorly made comedy filmed in the former Yugoslavia to which even the director, Murnau, expressed his repugnance. Max appears as an evil conspirator in a story concerning a disreputable financier who wants to transform an idyllic paradise into a profitable sulpher mine.
In 1926 Schreck left Berlin for Munich but continued to act in films right through the advent of sound. He performed in many films including Roman einer Nacht (Story of a Night, 1933) and Der Tunnel (The Tunnel, 1933) before his death of a heart attack in Munich on November 26, 1936. He was married to an actress named Fanny Normann. The information that exists about the film career of Max Schreck suggests that he only made a brief foray into the horror genre, but it is for the role of Cout Orlock that he has become a permanent part of film history.
--A HISTORY OF HORROR
A selection of Max Schreck related films.
Find Max Schreck on eBay.com
A selection of Max Schreck in books.
A History of Horror
THE SILENT ERA
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