Paul Wegener was an outstanding actor, theatre and film director. He was born on 11th December 1874, in the village of Jarantowice near Wąbrzeźno – back then, it was Altersdorf in Prussia, part of the German Empire. He was a unique artiste, considered as one of the initiators of the horror genre in international cinema, and the originator of the “iconic” cinema character of the Golem. Wegener was also one of the precursors of German expressionist cinema and a film experimentalist.
He studied in Freiburg im Breisgau and Leipzig, and started his acting career in the local Municipal Theatre in Rostock. A few years later, he started performing at Deutsche Theater in Berlin. In the first decade of the 20th Century, he performed for several seasons on stage of the Municipal Theatre in Bydgoszcz.
Shortly after moving to Germany, he became fascinated with the film industry emerging in Berlin, and with cinema, considered to be the new voice of art. The ticket to his career was the film The Student of Prague made in 1913.
Thanks to that film, Wegener opened the door to the “Berlin Dream Factory.” It took him two more years, though, to make the most-significant of his films, which would make him go down in the history of cinema as one of its luminaries. It was the series of three films dedicated to the legendary monster – the Golem. According to an old Jewish legend, the creature was brought to life by Rabbi Loew and roamed the streets of Prague in the 11th Century.
The first in the series was The Golem (the original title: “Der Golem”), filmed in 1915, based on the script written by and directed by the duo Paul Wegener and Henrik Galeen. The film was extremely successful, and Wegener instantly became one of the most-popular filmmakers in Germany. In the following years, he made two other parts of the series: The Golem and the Dancing Girl (In German: “Der Golem und die Tanzerin”), and The Golem: How He Came into the World (In German: “Golem, wie er die Welt kam”), the latter of which is considered to be the most mature of the three. In all three films, the title role of Golem was played by Paul Wegener himself.
Paul Wegener’s films about the Golem had a great influence on other filmmakers. Film critics claimed that it had inspired the legendary Frankenstein from 1931. Following his performance in The Golem, Wegener appeared in several-dozen other films. After WWII broke out, he continued his career, which also encompassed playing in propaganda films. Paul Wegener outlived the Third Reich by a mere 3 years. Immediately after the end of WWII, he committed himself to the rebuilding of the film community in Berlin and helped residents of the ruined city. The last of his films was Der Grosse Mandarin/The Great Mandarin (1949), directed by Karl-Heinz Stroux, in which Wegener played the main protagonist from China. Paul Wegener died in 1948, in West Berlin, and did make it to see the première of his very-last screen performance in Augen der Liebe by Alfred Braun, which was released in cinemas in 1951.