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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,640


This is the grave of Bruno Frank.

Born in 1887 in Stuttgart, Germany, Frank grew up there in a prominent family. Both his father and grandfather were bankers, but this was not to be Frank’s interest. He went to prep school in Stuttgart, then went to a college in Thuringia before transferring for graduate work at the University of Tubingen, where he and studied the law and philosophy. But rather than those fields, he went into writing. He had published a book of poems in 1905, when he was only 18 years old. He moved to Munich and got involved in the fertile intellectual scene of that city. It was there that he and Thomas Mann first became friends. Frank fought in World War I for Germany and was severely wounded on the eastern front. He nearly died and had to move to his family’s home after the war for several years in order for proper medical care. He did eventually recover, or at least mostly.

He started writing plays and translating other playwrights into German to put on their plays. Then, as the movies developed, he moved into screenplays. In fact, one of his own plays, Sturm im Wasserglas, was adapted in 1937 into a British film Storm in a Teacup, which is most notable for being the first starring role for Rex Harrison. It also starred Vivian Leigh and opened to pretty positive reviews. The Hungarian director Josef von Báky would make another version of this in 1960, though I know nothing about it except for its existence and that it was filmed in Germany for a West German audience. He also was a novelist, with The Days of the King in 1924 as one of them. These were translated into English as well, so he was not unknown in the larger literary world.

Now, Frank was Jewish. That would define his life, thanks to the Nazis. He had married Liesl Pallenberg, daughter of the comic actor Max Pallenberg and Fritzi Massary, a famous Jewish opera singer. Frank was reasonably successful at home, but he also recognized the threats of the Nazis. Shortly after the Reichstag Fire, Frank got out of Germany with his family. They spent the next few years moving between Switzerland, France, and Austria. But then it became clear Hitler was going to invade Austria and Frank got his family out, first moving to England and then finally to the United States in 1937.

Frank became part of the large Jewish and anti-Nazi Germany artistic emigre community based in Los Angeles. This became known as the Exilliteratur, a classic German word that obviously means “exile literature.” Among the most famous members of this group were Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Erich Maria Remarque. These were great intellectuals and some of the twentieth century’s most brilliant individuals. Frank was friends with a bunch of these guys anyway, so he was happy to join them in Los Angeles, or at least as happy as anyone could be under the circumstances.

Frank continued his writing career from Los Angeles. His heirs would publish a short story collection in the U.S. titled The Magician and Other Stories, in 1947. He also worked in the film industry. He got contracts from the studios to write screenplays. He worked on a couple of films, including as an uncredited screenwriter on the 1940 film Marie Antoinette. There were a lot of writers on that film and I assume his role was fairly small.

This leads us to the one thing we might remember Frank for today–he wrote much of the screenplay for the William Dieterle adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1939, starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara. He wasn’t the only one working on that film either, with Sonya Levien also playing a huge role in writing it. But still, this is a huge success. He and Liesl both were deeply involved in the European Film Fund as well, which was an organization dedicated to finding work for other exiles from the European film industry in Hollywood. It was one thing for directors and writers to find work, but there were lots of people fleeing the Nazis whose with more obscure positions in the film industry and they needed to eat too.

Alas, Frank didn’t work too much after that. His later years were dominated by heart disease and he died of it in Los Angeles, in 1945. He was 58 years old.

It is a coincidence that this post is the day after Billy Wilder, a more known Jewish exile. But let this be a shoutout to that whole community, who had to deal with so much hate at home and to some extent in the U.S. too, but also brought so much to the American artistic world.

Bruno Frank is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.

If you would like this series to visit other people involved with The Hunchback of Notre Dame, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. William Dieterle went back to Germany after the war and is buried in Hohenbrunn, Bavaria. Charles Laughton is in Hollywood and Edmond O’Brien is in Culver City, California. That last one would be great, as I am a big O’Brien fan. Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.

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