Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Mischa Auer, 1905-1967

Mischa Auer (standing) with Alice Brady in a scene from My Man Godfrey (1936)

Today marks the birth anniversary of comic actor Mischa Auer. At least, it does according to most sources. Auer was born on this dy in 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russia, which was still using the Julian calendar at the time, and none of the sources mention whether it's November 17 according to the Julian calendar or the Gregorian calendar. But in any case, it's today that his birthday gets marked.

The IMDb biography claims that Auer had a pretty interesting childhood, at least in the sense of the old Chinese proverb of "May you live in interesting times". He had already lost his father by the time of the Communist revolution in 1917 just before his 12th birthday, which eventually led to his mother taking him and fleeing the country for Turkey. Eventually he wound up in New York, workign in the Yiddish theater there, which is how he got noticed by Hollywood.

With his looks and accent he was a natural for playing openly Russian or other nebulously Eastern European types. His most famous role, however, gave him the Italian name Carlo, as the protégé of family matriarch Alice Brady in My Man Godfrey. He does, however, get to sing the Russian folk song "Ochi Chernye" during the movie. This is the movie that made him a comic actor. He received an Oscar nomination, which led to producers wanting to use him for his comic value as a daffy Eastern European type. Well, it paid the bills. Perhaps Auer's other best-known role would be as the dance instructor in You Can't Take It With You.

Auer returned to Europe after World War II, so his film career obviously went south after that. But at least we have those wonderful 30s comedies to watch him in.

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