Erich von Stroheim (1885-1957) was one of the giants in American film history. Stubborn, arrogant, and colorful, he saw himself as a cinema artist, which led to conflicts with producers and studio executives who complained about the inflated budgets and extraordinary length of his films. Stroheim achieved great notoriety and success, but he was so uncompromising that he turned his triumph into failure. He was banned from ever directing again and spent his remaining years as an actor.
Stroheim's life has been wreathed in myths, many of his own devising. Arthur Lennig scoured European and American archives for details concerning the life of the actor and director, and he counters several long-accepted claims. Stroheim's tales of military experience are almost completely fictitious; the "von" in his name was an affectation adopted at Ellis Island in 1909; and, counter to his own claim, he did not participate in the production of The Birth of a Nation in 1914. Wherever Stroheim lived, he was an outsider: a Jew in Vienna, an Austrian in southern California, an American in France. This contributed to an almost pathological need to embellish and obscure his past; yet, it also may have been the key to his genius both behind and in front of the camera. As an actor,
Stroheim threw himself into his portrayals of evil men, relishing his epithet, ""The Man You Love to Hate."" As a director, he immersed himself in every facet of production, including script writing and costume design. In 1923 he created his masterpiece Greed, infamous for its eight-hour running time. Stroheim returned to acting, saving some of his finest performances for La Grande Illusion (1937) and Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950), a role he hated, probably because it was too similar to the story of his own life.
Arthur Lennig, emeritus professor of cinema at the University of Albany, is the author of The Immortal Count and several other books on silent film.
A definitive biography.
Lennig took on the task of unpacking the legend, finding the truth. No one could have accomplished this task better.
The real story of Erich Oswald Hans Carl Maria von Stroheim is far more interesting and psychologically compelling than the legend ever could be.
I doubt we'll see a better-done examination of Stroheim.
A magisterial, crazily comprehensive biographical study of the original renegade director. Provides a definitive portrait of the notorious director and, in his accounting of the follies of art met by commerce, an affecting cultural history.
An extremely readable book, this biography manages to convey Lennig's appreciation of Stroheim's genius.... Highly recommended.
Calls to mind the film societies of another era, the noise of a 16mm projector at the back of the room, the smell of mimeograph programme notes.
~London Review of Books
To keep track of everything that happened to von Stroheim's films requires a dogged determination, and Lennig is up to that task.... Definitely a labor of love.
~New York Times Book Review
In a thrilling biography of one of Hollywood's great originals, Lennig strips away the legends surrounding director/actor Erich von Stroheim.... Lennig's masterful knowledge of film history and technique informs this penetrating biography.
One of the most important books ever written on cinema history. This is a triumph.
~Rick Schmidlin, re-edit producer, Greed and Touch of Evil
Sets most of the record straight and has a shrewd sense of Stroheim's art, which was really an extravagant expression of his own personality.
~San Diego Union-Tribune
Definitive is certainly the word for it.
~Sight and Sound
A monument to the awful Good Old Days of an infant Hollywood.
~Times Literary Supplement
Lennig has unearthed the Austrian documents that establish Stroheim's true background.
~Wall Street Journal
To judge from Lennig's admiring new biography, the director's worst enemy was indisputably himself.
~Washington Post Book World
Lennig's expertise makes this the best Stroheim book by far.
Lennig is a serious researcher and he offers new film criticism and a thorough understanding of Lugosi's Hungarian background, his Hollywood years, five marriages and drug addiction.