Elisabeth Bergner

Playfully titling her 1978 memoir Greatly Admired and Often Cursed, Elisabeth Bergner was famed both as the actress whom writers felt best captured their characters and as a former spy who helped other actors escape Nazi Germany. Bergner studied at the Academy for Music and the Performing Arts in Vienna from 1912–1915 and performed one of her first professional roles as Nora in A Doll’s House in 1915. She joined the Communist Party in 1918, serving as a courier during the 1919 Hungarian Revolution between the leader Béla Kun and communist leaders in Austria. In 1920 she moved to Berlin, earning praise for roles ranging from Rosalind in As You Like It to Tschang Haitang in Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle. In 1924 George Bernard Shaw insisted Max Reinhardt cast her as the lead in St. Joan. Bergner was working on a film shoot in London when the Nazis came to power and remained in Britain, using her finances to help other actors escape as well. In 1936 she so delighted James Barrie with her performance in his Boy David that he left her a legacy in his will. She continued delighting audiences on Broadway and the London stage until 1973 and in films until the 1980s.


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Actress, activist, and writer, Elisabeth Bergner (1897-1986) in 1935.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Actress, Activist, Writer

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Elisabeth Bergner." (Viewed on March 6, 2021) <https://jwa.org/people/bergner-elisabeth>.


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