1882 – 1969
Little is known of Friederike Massarik’s childhood, save that she was born on March 21, 1882 to Jewish parents in the Vienna barracks quarter of the Grand Masters and that her father was a businessman. Her parents, and especially her mother, encouraged her talent via singing lessons, with the result that their daughter, now renamed Fritzi Massary, received her first engagement in a small part at the Landestheater in Linz in 1899/1900. In 1900 she appeared in another minor role at the Carl Schultze Theatre in Hamburg, returning to Vienna in the following year and being employed at a summer theater, Danzer’s Orpheum, until 1904. At around this time she was baptized as a Protestant and in 1903 she gave birth to a daughter, Lisl Frank (d. 1979). In 1914 she married the oculist Dr. Pollack.
At the Orpheum Fritzi Massary was discovered and engaged by the director of the Berlin Metropolitantheater, where she appeared primarily in revues. This was the decisive turning point in her career: at Berlin’s various revue theaters, the cheeky soubrette, “the Massary,” became a master of the performance arts, the idol of an entire generation. While she had her first sensational success in revue in 1904, the real breakthrough occurred in 1911, when she appeared as guest artist at Max Reinhardt’s Künstlertheater in Jacques Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène, alongside Maria Jeritza. From then on she reigned over the Berlin stage, which was at the time the center of cabaret, revue and operetta. Among the works created especially for her was the operetta Die Kaiserin (The Empress) by Leo Fall (1915). Under Bruno Walter she sang the title role in Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow and Adele in Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus. Until 1930 Massary first nights were the highlight of every season and Berlin was overcome by a regular Massary-fever. Attempting to define the secret of her success, Oscar Bie, the author of a work on Fritzi Massary, observed her during rehearsals and commented, “The moment she walks on a stage, she becomes another person. Suddenly a desire to act surges through her body. … No matter what part she’s playing, whether it’s a dialogue, song, conflict, it overwhelms her like an inner vision.”
Together with her phenomenal abilities, he perceived an “iron will to work” as the decisive factor in her success. According to her friend and adviser Alma Mahler-Werfel, she brought her intelligence to the stupidest operettas and thus “made the impossible credible.” Although we can no longer see her onstage, we can still hear her on recordings which testify to her masterly performance art. Famous recordings include “Why shouldn’t a woman have a relationship?” from Oscar Strauss’s A Woman Who Knows What She Wants, in which she starred in 1932, and “Joseph, oh, Joseph, why are you so chaste?” from Madame Pompadour by Leo Fall. In the latter, one can also hear the voice of one of the most distinguished actors of his time, the Viennese Max “Bully” Pallenberg (1877–1934), whom Massary married in 1917, who appeared together with her for over two decades, and who was tragically killed in an airplane crash.
As a Jew she was no longer in demand in Berlin after 1933. She returned to Vienna for one year, then moved to Switzerland. Later, after a brief guest appearance in London, she lived with her daughter Elisabeth (Lisl) and her son-in-law, the author Bruno Frank, in Beverly Hills, California, among other exiles such as Elisabeth Bergner, Fritz Korner and Max Reinhardt in what was known as the “New Weimar” on the Pacific. Once idolized, she lived a quiet, withdrawn life. “The Massary of the stage no longer exists,” she said. “Some people can remember her, if they wish, but I don’t want to anymore.” She died in Los Angeles on January 30, 1969.
Bie, Oscar. Fritzi Massary. Berlin: 1920.
Schneidereit, Otto. Fritzi Massary. Berlin: 1970.
Stern, Carola. The Thing Called Love: The Life of Fritzi Massary. Hamburg: 2000.
Lexikon Jüdische Frauen. Edited by Jutta Dick and Marina Sassenberg