Erich von Stroheim
Costumed in tailored military uniforms accessorized with gleaming medals, Austrian émigré Erich von Stroheim became known to American filmgoers during the silent era for his icy portrayals of pre-World War II German soldiers. Arriving in Hollywood in 1914 with a fabricated autobiography of nobility and military honor, von Stroheim gained entry into the film industry as a technical advisor and horseman. Later an assistant for D. W. Griffith, von Stroheim brokered a deal, agreeing to work for free for the chance to direct his first film. "Blind Husbands" (1919) was a hit despite von Stroheim's insistence on expensive location photography. His spendthrift habits would ultimately cost him control of his films, with his nine-hour "Greed" (1924) reduced to two and "The Wedding March" (1928) shut down after nine months. Fired by star Gloria Swanson during the shooting of "Queen Kelly" (1929), von Stroheim was considered unemployable as a director and returned to the life of a jobbing actor. Using his sinister mien to good effect in such quickies as "The Crime of Dr. Crespi" (1935) and "The Great Flamarion" (1945), von Stroheim contributed vivid supporting performances to Billy Wilder's "Five Graves to Cairo" (1943) and "Sunset Blvd." (1950), the latter reuniting him with Swanson for an acidic meditation of the dark side of the silver screen. Despite an Academy Award nomination, von Stroheim's greater glory was already behind him. Cancer took his life in May 1957, robbing moviegoers of one of its most unique visionaries and an unforgettable film presence.