Emil Jannings was born Theodor Friedrich Emil Janenz on July 23, 1884 in Rorschach, Switzerland. The son of a German mother and an American father. He grew up in Switzerland and in Germany, mainly in Leipzig and Dresden.
Jannings started his acting career in theater actor and later went into films. He starred in the 1922 film version of “Othello” and in F. W. Murnau's “Der Letzte Mann” (1924), as a proud but aged hotel doorman who is demoted to a restroom attendant. Jannings worked with Murnau on two other films, playing the title character in “Herr Tartüff” (1925) and Mephistopheles in “Faust” (1926). He eventually started a career in Hollywood. In 1929 he won the Oscar for two films, “The Way of All Flesh” (1927), and “The Last Command” (1928). He appeared in only one Euro-western “Colombine” in 1919.
His Hollywood career came to an end with the advent of talkies; his thick German accent was difficult to understand, and his dialogue was dubbed by another actor in the part-talkie “The Patriot” (1928), although after Jannings objected, his voice was restored. He returned to Europe, where he starred opposite Marlene Dietrich in the 1930 film “The Blue Angel”, filmed in English simultaneously with its German version “Der blaue Engel”.
During the Third Reich, he starred in several films which were intended to promote Nazism, particularly the “Führerprinzip: The Youth of Frederick the Great” (1935), “Der Herrscher” (1937), “Ohm Kruger” (1941) and “The Dismissal of Bismarck” (1942). Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels named him "Artist of the State" in 1941.
When troops of the Allied Powers entered Germany in 1945, Jannings reportedly carried his Oscar statuette with him as proof of his former association with Hollywood. His active role in Nazi propaganda meant that he was subject to denazification, and no comeback attempt was possible. He retired near Salzburg, Austria, and became an Austrian citizen in 1947.
Jannings died in Strobl, Austria on January 2, 1950.
Today we remember Emil Jannings on what would have been his 130th birthday.