Ludwig Stössel

Despite his fame as a Hollywood actor and his great success on American television as "That Little Old Winemaker, me", his relationship with his birthplace Lockenhaus is an unwritten story. He lived in Lockenhaus for a few years, spent his youth in Graz and worked as a theatre actor in Vienna and Berlin. In 1938 he had to flee from Austria.

Von Lockenhaus nach Hollywood – Der Schauspieler Ludwig Stössel [1]

by Mag. Thomas Ziegler

Billy Wilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Christoph Waltz - these are names that inevitably come to mind when you think of "filmmakers from Austria in Hollywood". Mostly unknown today, however, are actors and directors of the "second row" who tried to settle in Hollywoods film buisness after emigrating. Most of them did not come voluntarily to this change in their career: they were forced to do so by the National Socialist takeover in Germany and Austria if they wanted to continue to pursue their professions. But only very few of them succeeded continuing the careers they had started in their home countries in the countries of exile. One of these illustrious individuals was Ludwig Stössel, an actor with roots in Burgenland, but who is now almost completely forgotten in his homeland.

Der Theaterschauspieler

Ludwig Stössel was born on February 12th 1883 in the small village of Léka, today's Lockenhaus, in the Hungarian half of the Danube Monarchy. Stössel's parents were Jewish merchants who also owned a small farm. Ludwig had a brother, the later famous painter Oskar Stössel, who moved with his father to Graz in 1892. Ludwig Stössel and his mother probably also moved to the Styrian capital at this time, where Ludwig finished the "Bürgerschule" and attended the theatre for the first time.

After his acting debut in Baden-Württemberg in 1901 Stössel mainly appeared on stages of the German-speaking countries in comedic plays until he came to Berlin in 1925 where he also gained more fame as a character actor in tragedies. During this time Stössel's first appearances in German (silent) film productions, in which he was mostly seen in supporting roles, fall into this period.
At the top of his career in Germany the National Socialist party came to power in 1933. Stössel saw himself forced to return to Austria because there was no chance for him as a Jew to get further engagements. In Vienna he had great successes at the Theater in der Josefstadt and the Raimundtheater with stars like Attila Hörbiger and Paula Wessely who are still well-known today. In the critics of the time, Stössel was praised above all for his humorous talent, but he also appeared at the Salzburg Festival as the Devil in Max Reinhardt's famous "Jedermann" productions.

The Emigration

With the "Anschluss" in March 1938 Ludwig Stössel's Austrian career ended abruptly. He was suspended from theatre and temporarily placed in "Schutzhaft". Finally, Stössel was able to flee in time with his wife Lore Birn via Switzerland to England. A year earlier, Stössel had wisely made his first contacts with artists in Great Britain and had started to learn English.

Film poster from the drawing project of the school (NMS) in Lockenhaus during the memory week 1938.2018 Shalom.Nachbar in November 2018

Hollywood and „Casablanca“

In autumn 1939 Ludwig Stössel finally emigrated to the USA, where he made a successful new start in Hollywood - despite his now advanced age of almost sixty years. In the movies of this time he mostly appeared in the role of nice and friendly father figures. With his distinctive voice and the cozy Austrian tone, which he was able to bring out even in the English foreign language, Stössel, like Hans Moser, achieved an enormous recognition value with his audience.
Today Stössel is mainly known for his role in Casablanca. Appropriately, he plays the refugee Mr.Leuchtag, who waits in the Moroccan town Casablanca for his onward journey to America. In the short scene a conversation with Mrs. Leuchtag and the head waiter Carl takes place, in which Stössel, as Mr. Leuchtag, shows off his "English skills": "Sweetheart, sweetnessheart, what watch?
In the USA Stössel worked with international celebrities such as Dean Martin. In his show he appeared in 1964 in one of his last roles as Little Old Winemaker. This character originated from a commercial film, through which Stössel achieved cult status in the USA as a winemaker in alpine costume with the sentence "That Little Old Winemaker, Me!

Heimat Burgenland

Ludwig Stössel died childless in Hollywood in January 1973. Even though he was born in Hungary as a child and soon moved to Germany in his youth, he still saw himself as a Burgenländer. In California, for example, he missed the more varied weather of his home country (quote)

In the course of a guest performance in Berlin and Vienna, Stössel returned to Europe for a short time in 1950. Whether he also visited his birthplace Lockenhaus in this time, is not known to date.

Mag. Thomas Ziegler

Translation: Ruth Patzelt

In August 2020 a "Stolperstein" for Ludwig Stössel was laid in Salzburg

[1] Dieser Artikel basiert auf der Diplomarbeit des Autors mit dem Titel Der Filmschauspieler Ludwig Stössel – Von Burgenland nach Hollywood (Wien, 2015), die unter dem Link eingesehen werden kann.