Table of contents:
- He wrote scripts for Marlene Dietrich, drank with Remarque and Chaliapin and received millions for his plays. The Nazis forced playwright Karl Zuckmeier to flee to the United States, where he plowed a farm and secretly worked for the future of the CIA
Video: How a poet and playwright became a CIA spy
2023 Author: Seth Attwood | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-11-26 22:42
He wrote scripts for Marlene Dietrich, drank with Remarque and Chaliapin and received millions for his plays. The Nazis forced playwright Karl Zuckmeier to flee to the United States, where he plowed a farm and secretly worked for the future of the CIA
German playwright Karl Zuckmeier was born in the wine-growing city of Nakenheim on December 27, 1896. He was the second child in the family of the owner of a cardboard factory - his older brother Eduard later became a renowned pianist and conductor. Karl, on the other hand, studied at the Humanist High School in Mainz since 1903. Soon there were no bigger idols for him than Ibsen, Nietzsche and Rilke.
A thin, well-read young man was quickly turned into a mature man by the First World War. In 1914, Karl volunteered for the front and was soon promoted to lieutenant for his courage. He took part in the battles on the Somme and in Flanders, day after day more and more imbued with hatred of any war. This feeling of outrage was reflected in his early poems. In December 1917, Karl dispatched from the front the first poetic works published in the expressionist journal of Franz Pfemfert, Akzion.
Zuckmeier ended the war with the Iron Cross of I and II degrees, the Order of the Zeringen Lion and the Hessian medal for bravery. Then until 1920 he studied law, sociology and art history at the universities of Frankfurt am Main and Heidelberg. In his last year, Karl successfully collaborated with the expressionist magazine "Tribunal" and, together with the poet Joachim Ringelnatz, performed at the Munich cabaret "Simpl", performing songs of his own composition with the guitar.
In the early 1920s, Zuckmeier took up drama, setting himself the task of "writing a New World Theater, a cycle of tragedies and comedies that begins with Prometheus and ends with Lenin." True, the first plays of the author were not understood by the public. The Berlin premiere of The Way of the Cross failed. Negative reviews from most critics and a half-empty auditorium already during the second screening forced the director to remove the play from the repertoire. Nothing has changed for the playwright in terms of success even after five years. An even greater fiasco awaited the premiere of the play "Pankrats Awakens".
Family happiness also did not develop immediately. In January 1920, Karl married a girl named Annemarie Gantz, whom he had known only a few summer months before. Already in 1921, he divorced her and fell in love with the Berlin theater actress Mirl Seidel. The novel began, which ended as quickly as the previous one. Only on the third attempt did Zuckmeier find the one with which he lived until the end of his life. It was a Viennese actress, and in the future the famous writer Alice Frank. Zuckmeier hired her to retype the manuscripts - and the business partnership soon grew into a happy marriage. In 1926, the couple had a girl named Winneta Maria.
The first success came to the playwright in 1925 with a comedy play from the life of Rhine winemakers "The Merry Vineyard". The performances in Berlin and Frankfurt were such a triumph that the author became rich and famous in a matter of days. After the capital premieres, more than 100 theaters acquired the rights to stage The Merry Vineyard. In the Berlin theater alone on Schiffbauerdam, the play has undergone a thousand performances.
Soon, tangible fees allowed the writer, in addition to his apartment in Berlin, to buy another one in Vienna, as well as acquire a country house near Salzburg. It was outside the city that over the next few years he created new plays and novels, and also arranged gatherings with his famous friends - Erich Maria Remarque, Bertold Brecht, Fyodor Chaliapin and Stefan Zweig.
He had a special cordial relationship with Zweig. Once they sketched together a farce about the peculiarities of Salzburg: how, during music festivals, a boring provincial town turns into a center for fashion festivities. Local shopkeepers were at the center of the comedy: during the festival, they cordially and lovingly greet rich Jews from the United States, but a few days later, when the musical hype dies down, they quickly return to their usual anti-Semitic views.
By the early 1930s, Zuckmeier had become one of the highest paid writers and playwrights in the Weimar Republic. Masterpieces followed one after another. In 1930, together with Robert Liebmann and Karl Vollmöller, Karl created the script for the first sound film "Blue Angel" with the participation of Marlene Dietrich, and in 1931 - the play "Captain from Koepenick", which Thomas Mann called "the best comedy in world literature after Gogol's Inspector General.””.
In 1933, the Nazis who came to power banned Zuckmeier - as a Jew - from publishing books. The plays based on his plays were removed from the theater repertoires. The playwright moved to Austria for five years, but after the Anschluss it became clear that he could not hide from the Hitler regime in Europe. In May 1939, the playwright was deprived of his citizenship and all his property was confiscated. Barely escaping arrest, he left for Switzerland, and from there he and his family emigrated to the United States.
“My passport was invalid. The Nazis deprived me of my citizenship, and I did not have any documents, - Zuckmeier described his first years of life in the United States. - I had to somehow live without a passport, without documents and without money. Of course, I was very lucky because we had friends in America."
Thanks to the fame of the "Blue Angel" he was invited to Hollywood. However, he did not succeed in becoming another supplier of the Dream Factory movie hits, and he fled to New York - completely without a livelihood. After that, Zuckmeier decided to leave the profession, rent a farm in the forests of Vermont and henceforth support his family with the hard work of a farmer and poultry farmer. During this period, Karl really did not go to his desk, completely occupied with raising chickens, ducks and goats. But a quiet and secluded refuge has become a spiritual center for emigrant writers, old friends of Zuckmeier.
In 1942, after Stefan Zweig committed suicide in his Brazilian exile in Petropolis, Zuckmeier broke the silence and wrote the essay "Did you know Stefan Zweig?" - about friendship with the great novelist. In one of the last conversations with Zweig, Zuckmeier convinced him that they need to live to be 100 years old to see better times. “They won't come again,” the writer answered sadly. “The world in which we lived is irreversible. And what will come, we will not be able to influence in any way. Our word will not be understood in any language, - said Zweig. "What's the point in living on?"
Zweig's suicide plunged all the emigrants into despondency. "If even he, for whom everything seemed possible, saw further life as meaningless, what was left for those who still had to fight for a piece of bread?" The playwright wondered.
Perhaps it was his search for work that led Zuckmeier to cooperate with the Office of Strategic Services - the first joint US intelligence service, on the basis of which the CIA emerged. As it became known from the archives of the service published in 2002, the playwright compiled detailed accounts of the characters and habits of 150 actors, directors, publishers and journalists who made their careers in Germany during the Nazi regime. It was necessary to describe the range of behavioral possibilities of creative figures under a dictatorship.
In January 1946, Zuckmeier received American citizenship and arrived in Berlin in the fall as a Cultural Officer for the US Department of Defense. The impressions of the destroyed homeland they saw were bleak. “Germany was in a state of terrible devastation. People were starving and freezing, - he recalled. - In the winter of 1946, I myself saw people in Berlin dying of hunger. However, the spiritual hunger was as strong as the physical one. People, especially young people, wanted to break out of the stupidity of the Hitlerite Reich."
Back in the US, Zuckmeier began working for Voice of America. In 1949 he became a Corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences and Literature in Mainz, Germany. In August 1952, Zuckmeier was nominated for the Goethe Prize in Frankfurt, and his hometown of Nakenheim was awarded the title of Honorary Citizen.
In July 1958, the writer renounced his American citizenship and left for the Swiss commune of Saas-Fee. Eight years later, he published his memoirs, the total circulation of which exceeded the one million mark. On the occasion of the 80th birthday of the playwright, the publishing house S. Fischer Verlage has released a ten-volume collection of works by Zuckmeier. Three weeks later, on January 18, 1977, Karl Zuckmeier passed away. In memory of the great writer, since 1979, the State of Rhineland-Palatinate has been awarded the Karl Zuckmeier Literary Medal.
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