Corpulent German actor Gert Fröbe rose to worldwide fame as the megalomaniacal "Goldfinger" (1964), perhaps the best of the Sean Connery-era James Bond films. He had enjoyed a lengthy career in his na...
Appeared in large-cast "The Longest Day", his first "American" film
Film acting debut, "The Berliner"
Portrayed Inspector Bauer in "The Serpent's Egg"
Worked as violinist and stage designer
Cast in perhaps best known role, the title character in the James Bond film "Goldfinger"
Starred in "Is Paris Burning?"
Corpulent German actor Gert Fröbe rose to worldwide fame as the megalomaniacal "Goldfinger" (1964), perhaps the best of the Sean Connery-era James Bond films. He had enjoyed a lengthy career in his native country playing roles diametrically opposite to his dastardly Bond villain; from 1948 through the early 1960s, Fröbe drew comparisons to actor Danny Kaye in a series of popular comedies while also appearing in numerous dramas and suspense thrillers. Though his grasp of English was limited at best - his dialogue in "Goldfinger" was dubbed by another actor - Fröbe enjoyed a lengthy career in Hollywood and British productions, including comic turns in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (1969) and more serious roles in Richard Brooks' "$" (1971) and Ingmar Bergman's "The Serpent's Egg" (1976), among other films. At the time of his death in 1988, Gert Fröbe was perhaps among the best known German actors in the world, with a body of work to his name that both encompassed and exceeded his best known effort as one of James Bond's most challenging nemeses.
Born Karl Gerhart Fröbe on Feb. 25, 1913 in Oberplanitz (now Zwickau), Germany, he initially trained as a classical violinist and played his first recital on German radio while still a teenager. He was a member of the Nazi Party from 1929 until 1937, during which he aided in hiding two German Jews from capture. After the war, Fröbe established himself as a comic talent in "The Berliner" (1948), one of the first features made in the wake of World War II. He then worked steadily in comic roles, often as pushovers or milquetoast characters, as well as several dramas including Orson Welles' ill-fated "Mr. Arkadin" (1955). As the decade wore on, the tall, thin Fröbe gained a considerable amount of weight, which led to roles as police inspectors, most notably in "The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse" (1960) and several subsequent thrillers based on the fictional criminal mastermind created by author Norbert Jacques. Fröbe also contributed character turns in "The Green Archer" (1961), one of several dozen German crime pictures based on the mystery novels of Edgar Wallace, and a 1962 version of "The Threepenny Opera" with fellow future Bond villain Curd Jürgens.
However, it was his turn as a child murderer in "Es geschah am hellichten Tag" ("It Happened in Broad Daylight") (1958) that led to his career-defining role as Auric Goldfinger. After producers of the Bond picture saw Fröbe's performance in the thriller, they cast the actor as the titular villain, a wealthy smuggler whose obsession with gold led to Operation Grand Slam, a scheme to irradiate the gold reserves at Fort Knox, increasing the value of his own gold. However, Fröbe spoke no English, and initially recorded his lines phonetically. The results proved too slow, and he was subsequently dubbed by English actor Michael Collins. The worldwide success of "Goldfinger" helped to introduce Fröbe to a global audience, but also brought to light his service in the Nazi Party. The revelation resulted in negative publicity for the actor, as well as an Israeli ban on "Goldfinger" until the Jewish couple Fröbe had aided during the war came forward to back up his proclamation of innocence.
With the stigma of the past now dissipated, Fröbe began his long career as a character actor in English-language films. Though still dubbed in most roles, he brought joviality to comic turns in "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines" (1965) and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (1969) as the mean-spirited, child-loathing tyrant Baron Bomburst. There were also dramatic performances, most notably as Nazi General Dietrich von Choltitz, Hitler's commandant in Paris, in "Is Paris Burning?" (1966) and a German bank president targeted by rogue security consultant Warren Beatty in "$" (1971). The 1970s saw Fröbe continue his work in American and European productions, largely in arthouse films like Claude Chabrol's "Death Rite" (1976) as a psychic who envisioned a murder, and "The Serpent's Egg" (1977), Ingmar Bergman's sole American co-production. Following his appearance in the all-star flop "Bloodline" (1979), Fröbe worked exclusively in Germany, moving between features, television series and advertisements for Mercedes Benz, as well as recordings of lyrical poetry recitations. Fröbe curtailed his acting career in the early 1980s due to health issues following a cancer operation in 1986. After returning to the stage on Sept. 4, 1988, he suffered a heart attack the following day that claimed his life. His final screen appearance in an episode of the highly rated TV drama "Die Schwarzwaldklinik" (ZDF, 1985-89) was aired posthumously in 1989. Fröbe's career was commemorated on a German postage stamp in 2000.
By Paul Gaita
fifth wife; survived him
After the release of "Goldfinger," Frobe's international image increased. In 1965, the London Daily Mail published an article indicating that Frobe had been a member of the Nazi Party during World War II. His films were banned in Israel and his career appeared as if it would not survive the Nazi stigma until a Jew contacted the Israeli Embassy in Vienna and then went public to say that Frobe had hidden both he and his mother during World War II.