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Rudolph and Joseph Schildkraut: Austrian-American Stars of Stage and Screen

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Rudolph and Joseph Schildkraut in Wilhelm Schmidtbonn’s The Prodigal Son produced by Max Reinhart, Berlin, 1913. Schildkraut Scrapbook II (1867-1921), Music Division.

The following is a guest post from music archivist Anita M. Weber.

At a recent production of Paula Vogel’s Indecent, the sight of renowned Austrian-American actor Rudolph Schildkraut depicted on stage reminded me of the four remarkable scrapbooks in the Music Division that document the careers of Rudolph (1862-1930) and his son, fellow actor Joseph (1895-1964) in Europe and the United States. The Rudolph and Joseph Schildkraut Scrapbooks contain photographs, clippings, programs, and iconography. Joseph’s last wife Leonora, created the volumes for her husband.

While few in number, the scrapbooks are a delight to peruse. The early volumes are full of cartes de visites and cabinet cards depicting the two actors in character: Rudolph as Lear, Shylock, Malvolio, and Mephisto; Joseph as a child actor in Der junge Fritz and The Fawn and in such Shakespearean roles as Oberon and the Fool. The images of Rudolph practically jump off the page with the intensity of his portrayals.

Rudolph acted in itinerant troupes and played in comedies and operettas on the Viennese stage before taking on dramatic roles in Germany and the United States. Rudolph frequently played character roles that made the most of his strong and expressive facial features.

Seated Rudolph Schildkraut as High priest Caiaphas and Joseph Schildkraut as Judas in Cecil B. deMille’s King of Kings, 1927. Schildkraut Scrapbook III (1921-1929), Music Division.

Both men acted in Cecil B. de Mille epics, including King of Kings, with Rudolph as Caiaphas and Joseph as Judas Iscariot—one of the few times the two men appeared on film together.

Joseph played the role of Liliom in the 1921 Broadway production of Ferenc Molnár’s play of the same name and became Otto Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank (1957) on Broadway and in the subsequent 1959 film.

Among his dozens of roles are Chevalier de Vaudrey in D. W. Griffith’s Orphans in the Storm with Lillian Gish, Gaylord Ravenal in the 1929 version of Show Boat, Alfred Dreyfus in The Life of Emile Zola (for which he received an Academy Award in 1937), and Ferencz Vadas in Ernst Lubitsch’s romantic comedy The Shop Around the Corner (1940).  

Researchers and enthusiasts interested in the Schildkrauts, theater of late 19th- and early 20th-century Germany and Eastern Europe, the Yiddish theater of New York City, and film in Europe and the U.S. will find much to interest them in these fascinating books. Contact a reference librarian in the Performing Arts Reading Room to learn more about researching these scrapbooks and related material.

Comments (2)

  1. Thank you so much for this article on yet another gem in the PA reading room! Not familiar with the Vogel play. But the name Schildkraut jumped out because I looked him up on IMDB once to learn more about who played the unctuous Vadas in one of my all time favorites, “The Shop Around the Corner”— so brilliantl! He stole so many scenes 🙂

    But I have always wondered if Vadas wasn’t originally a stock, sort of commedia character updated to Old World Central European theater/cinema, not only the obsequious social climber we love to hate and laugh at, but translated to and recognized by the audience of the period as a scheming Jew. Substitute African-American depictions in early and later US cinema.

    Though Vadas was a scoundrel, you have to wonder how he, or for that matter, any store clerk manages to survive (even today.) with only the store owner’s caprice to count on. That thread in tbe bkgd survives up to the Van Johnson-Judy Garland version.

    Never want to over-analyze a great, warm rom-com. And maybe it is my hindsight of frightening times to come for Viennese Jews.

    Also, your article sent me into a spin again, (like the Dada exhibit a few yrs ago at Nat Gal ) of the arts magnet Vienna was & how our amazing Mrs. Coolidge was also drawn to it to scout out composers and enjoy the riches of that place in that time.

    And how 20th century US arts so profited from refugees from WWI and then Nazi Europe…and the craziness of the artists going from esentially 19h century European world then suddenly dropped in LA, Schoenberg and Stravinsky and Korngold in backyard swimming pools and freeway traffic. Lime tume machine adventure. And how well they adapted!! Winder about personal costs, though…

    Are we recognizing contributions from our preent day refugees?

  2. As I ten-year-old fascinated with the cinema from the time of my grandparents’ youth, I was completely smitten by Joseph Schildkraut as the beautiful young hero of “Orphans of the Storm,” for me the most entertaining and least morally problematic of Griffith’s films.

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