Emil Jannings was the first actor to win an Academy Award, taking the best actor Oscar in 1928 for his performance in “Way of the Flesh.”
Christened Theodor Friedrich Emil Janenz in Roschach, Switzerland, he was born to an American father and a German mother.
Though he made his name acting in Hollywood in “Othello” and “Faust” in the 1920s, the advent of talking films basically ended Jannings’ American career. His thick German accent was difficult to understand, so he returned to Europe. He starred with Marlene Dietrich in 1930’s “The Blue Angel.”
During Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in the 1930s, Jannings starred in several films promoting the Reich, including “The Youth of Frederick the Great” and “Der Herrscher” (The Ruler). Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels named him “Artist of the State” in 1941.
After Germany’s defeat in World War II, Jannings retired to a small farm in Austria. In 2009, long after his death, his acting prowess was referenced in Quentin Tarantino’s "Inglorious Basterds."
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