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Rose Stradner (1913-1958)

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Rose Stradner (1913-1958)

Postby moira finnie » December 12th, 2014, 6:37 pm

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The Last Gangster (1937), which airs today on TCM, is one of only three films made in America by Rose Stradner. The Austrian actress, born Rosa Stradner, had a high strung, naive presence and refined beauty in her role as hoodlum Edward G. Robinson's wife. She caught my eye as quite a distinctive actress when I first saw her in this MGM film and I was puzzled that the studio did not use her in more movies. A bit of research revealed that this beautiful, statuesque blonde had been among the more gifted stars of Max Reinhardt's theater in Vienna in the '30s. Among those who were influenced by her there were Peter Lorre, whom she encouraged to play Hamlet if he longed to, despite his physical limitations. In the audience, a boyish Oskar Werner also knew her work and formed an adolescent crush on her that he later reported (in bluntest terms) to her younger son. Leaving her successful life behind, Rosa Stradner lost her father, who was killed by the Nazis and her brother, who became an SS officer who was executed by the Allies at the end of the war. The contrast between the tragedies of both a personal and continental scale must have seemed even more painful in contrast to the sumptuous, high-wire life she embarked on in America.

Stradner's other, better known American film was "The Keys of the Kingdom," (1944) in which she played an aristocratic nun languishing in China and taking a long time to learn a lesson in humility from noble priest, Gregory Peck. Frankly, I always found her portrayal of an educated, rather neurotic nun, quite realistic when compared to most Hollywood sisters, based on my own experiences with nuns who were trying to educate me and drub some piety into my pagan soul over the course of a 12 year stint in Catholic schools.

Escaping from Europe just before the Anschluss might have made leaving impossible, the star of the Viennese stage and several German language movies signed a contract with MGM. She also caught the eye of producer-writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who married the lady in 1939, with the couple becoming parents of Christopher and Thomas eventually.

Sadly, as eloquently described in the late Tom Mankiewicz's memoir, "My Life as a Mankiewicz: An Insider's Journey Through Hollywood" (University Press of Kentucky), her life as the spouse of one of the most talented individuals who ever made a movie was long on artistic frustration, guilt over her children, pain, illness and tragedy in the end. Rose Stradner, suffering from what now appears to have been a form of schizophrenia, killed herself in 1958.

According to Tom Mankiewicz, despite her love for her sons, "Mother was an extremely intelligent woman and capable of great warmth. She had a unique ear for languages and spoke English and later Italian fluently, without a trace of accent. She was a tremendous help to Dad as an in-house critic of his screenplays. He routinely solicityed her opinion and acted on it." Given his father's drive to succeed and to conquer every aspect of Hollywood, her increasing illness in the '40s & '50s must have made life difficult for the family, despite occasional periods of relative peace and stability.

Finally, Tom Mankiewicz concluded, the "most lasting and life-altering effect [his mother] had on me, however, was putting me in an endless quest to find her again somewhere and cure her. I developed a strange form of radar that could immediately recognize a troubled woman (almost always an actress) and elicit an instant, receptive, silent reaction from her signifying that she recognized me too."

Another Hollywood tragedy or a victim of history and the slowness of medicine to help the mentally ill? Perhaps, but I can't help wishing things had been different for her.

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Re: Rose Stradner (1913-1958)

Postby Western Guy » December 12th, 2014, 8:17 pm

Moira, watching today's TCM showing of THE LAST GANGSTER for the umpteenth time ('cause I'm simply an Eddie G. fiend) I was concentrating on Rose Stradner's performance as Joe Krozak's somewhat befuddled wife and while she played the part admirably, there was something about her screen personality that made it obvious to me why she never became a bigger Hollywood star. There seemed to be (at least to me) a distance between her screen persona and the audience. And back in the day I think it was vital for the viewer to feel at least some connection with the person playing their onscreen role. Gable, of course, projecting that manliness that most men could - or at least tried - to identify with. The characterizations of Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford (among others) were reachable to their female audience. Yet Miss Strander projects a remoteness that transcends even that of Garbo. Because Garbo at least had that ongoing air of mystery to intrigue her audience. A quality certainly lacking in Rose Stradner.

Sadly, that part of her personality likely led to her tragic demise - at 45!

Still, in retrospect, a lesser if still fascinating screen presence.

Just my two cents.

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Re: Rose Stradner (1913-1958)

Postby moira finnie » December 13th, 2014, 4:49 pm

Stone, I think that the distance between actor and audience that you described may have been part of Ms. Stradner's basic personality or perhaps the rough transition that life and history handed her shook her to the core, and she was never fully able to recover as a performer or a person. I also think that especially in Europe, a more stylized approach to film acting was normal then--though it made it even odder that the grounded, relentless and ruthless character played by Eddie would find a way to marry such a just-of-the-boat gal. I would imagine that it was helpful to Rose Stradner to have a director (Edward Ludwig) and a star (Edward G. Robinson) with European roots during her first film--and the film was interesting when it explored the Stradner character's realization of her husband's true nature and the very different world that Robinson returned to after prison--even if I shared his puzzlement over the idea that his son (Douglas Scott) could have preferred a (hilariously mustachioed) Jimmy Stewart for a straight arrow Pop.

Interestingly, author Andre Soares (who has written a fine bio, Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro) pointed out to me on Facebook that he believes that Stradner may have been cast as Robinson's wife as a replacement for the recalcitrant Luise Rainer, who had tired of MGM by this time. In any case, I believe that Rose S. brought a more realistic vulnerability to her character than Ms. Rainer typically displayed in her most popular fare. Sorry if I offend fans of her award winning portrayals of Ann Held and O-Lan, but I am only fond of Luise R. in one, rather obscure movie in which she played (for once) a non-hysterical, artistically inclined indivdual: Dramatic School (1938).
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Re: Rose Stradner (1913-1958)

Postby Western Guy » December 13th, 2014, 5:33 pm

Luise Rainer would have been an interesting casting choice, Moira. I could accept Miss Stradner in the role but I don't think I could have followed her career with much enthusiasm or interest.

But the kid (no offense to Douglas Scott, he was just following directions, a la Donnie Dunagan in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN) --- yow! I kept hoping that Lionel Stander would finish that annoying little brat off. That beanie and constant references to "Dads". At the least, why didn't Eddie just leave the kid in the woods to fend for himself?

Seriously, I do find those final moments of Eddie with James and Rose and the li'l tyke touching.

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Re: Rose Stradner (1913-1958)

Postby mongoII » December 18th, 2014, 11:47 am

Very interesting banter between Moira and Stone regarding Rose Stradner. I learn something new most every day. Thanks a heap.
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