Erich Pommer

Informação Pessoal

  • Altura: 5' 7½" (1,71 m)


On November 1, 1895, the first public motion picture film presentation was projected at Berlin’s Wintergarten with the “Bioscop” apparatus invented by Max Skladanowsky and Emil Skladanowsky. In December 1895, Auguste Lumière and Louis Lumière began exhibiting projected films to the paying public in Paris with their “Cinematographe,” a portable camera, printer and projector. Thomas A. Edison’s company meanwhile had developed the “Vitascope” for motion picture projection. In 1896, the Gaumont Film Company became the first film company in the world, founded before any other studios. Within a few years, the 35-mm wide Edison film and the 16-frames-per-second projection speed of the Lumière Cinématographe had become the industry standard. On July 20, 1889, Erich Pommer was born at Altpetristrasse 496, Hildesheim, Germany. As a boy going to school in Göttingen, he neglected some classes in preference to reading stories and books by famous writers of all ages, in English and French as well as German. After he and his brothers had finished sufficient schooling to require only one year of military service, the family moved to Berlin. In 1906, Pommer went to work at Machol & Lewin’s Men’s Furnishings shop. There he met his future wife, Gertrud (Gerdy) Levy, who was the company’s accountant and whom he married in 1913 in a civil ceremony. In 1907, Pommer’s younger sister Grete, who was working at the Berlin office of the Gaumont Film Company, told him that they needed another salesman. Pommer applied and got the job to make bookings for Gaumont films at movie theaters. There he met a young projectionist who aspired to become a film cameraman; Karl Freund and Pommer become lifelong friends. By 1909, Pommer was so successful that he wrote in his letters about “chasing all over Germany and beyond, almost to the border of Turkey”. Soon thereafter, Gaumont placed him in charge of film distribution for the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Through his job, he met many film executives, including Marcel Vandal, the director-general of the Éclair Company, with whom he became close friends. In 1911, Pommer served his mandatory year in the German Army. During his first leave that year, Vandal invited him to Paris, where Pommer was well impressed by the equipment at the Éclair studios (they started manufacturing cameras in 1912). Pommer did not return to Gaumont because their Berlin office wanted to keep control over Pommer’s Vienna branch, while he wanted to report to the Paris corporate headquarters. Instead, he joined Éclair where he would report directly to its Paris headquarters. Pommer started Éclair’s newsreel division. Éclair News photographed a balloon flight in Vienna, with Pommer scheduled to shoot the aerial shots while his cameraman photographed from the ground. Just as Pommer was about to enter the gondola, a gust of wind blew the balloon into the air with him hanging on the outside. He was pulled into the gondola and covered the flight as he had intended. After landing, Pommer found out that his cameraman on the ground was so worried about Pommer that he forgot to crank the camera and got no shots of Pommer hanging outside the balloon and being pulled in. Pommer fired the cameraman for not photographing his assignment regardless of circumstances. After film, flying and the development of aviation was perhaps Pommer’s greatest fascination. The Wright brothers’ first flight in 1903 may not have had any impact on him, but in August 1908 a demonstration in LeMans, France, made the Wright brothers world-famous. By 1912, Pommer had made the acquaintance of and flew with Louis Blériot, the first man to fly across the English Channel. Pommer had started to produce feature films, and one of his first two productions Das Geheimnis der Lüfte (1913) (Mystery of the Air) had an aviation theme. In 1933, his last pre-Hitler German production was F.P.1 (1933), a science-fiction film with an aviation background. At that time and throughout the first half of the 20th century, a creative producer could initiate, coordinate, supervise and control all aspects of a motion picture from inception through completion, including release. Pommer became an exemplar of the “creative producer” and remained so throughout his career. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Pommer was immediately called into service by the German army. He arranged to place the assets of his French employer, Éclair, into a German company called Decla (Deutsche Éclair), while he served on both the Western and the Eastern fronts. He was seriously wounded twice and was awarded the Iron Cross. In 1916, the Pommer’s son Hans (later changed to John) was born. That same year the German Government founded the Bild-und-Filmamt (Bufa). Still a non-commissioned officer, Pommer was placed in charge of its Bucharest, Romania office where he supervised all stage and film showings until the end of the war. During one of his trips for Bufa, going between Berlin and Bucharest, Pommer stopped over in Vienna where he was introduced to a young actor with training in art and architecture, who was interested in films. Pommer initially engaged in conversation only to be polite. However, he ended up talking with Fritz Lang the entire night, finally inviting Lang to come work for Decla after the war. Since the early 1900s, Max Reinhardt had been giving the German theater a new dimension to old plays through powerful performances and a targeted combination of stage design, language, music and dance. Film was the new medium that could bring those dimensions to the entire public. A number of Reinhardt-trained directors and actors transitioned to film, including to Decla. After the war, Pommer assumed hands-on management of Decla. Before the war, France dominated the European film market. Soon after the war concluded, Germany’s film companies faced a new competitor – Hollywood. Pommer, however, was by then an experienced film businessman with insight into the international implications of the film industry. Post-war competition between international film companies was sometimes hostile. The Berlin trade press saw Decla as the emerging leader in the industry, crediting Pommer’s “very skillful and goal-oriented leadership.” Decla acquired large movie theaters through the Decla-Lichtspiel-GmbH as well as more theaters, studios and distribution channels through mergers with other companies. In 1919, Decla merged with Meinert Film and Oliver-Film. In February 1920, Decla released the first of several international hits, including Fritz Lang’s spy thriller Die Spinnen (Spiders) and Robert Wiene’s O Gabinete do Dr. Caligari (1920). In 1921, Decla merged with Deutsche Bioscop, which owned the large Babelsberg Studios. In 1922, Universum Film (Ufa) bought Decla-Bioscop and placed Pommer in direct charge of most of its product. Pommer was also able to improve Babelsberg and made it into the largest film studio in Europe. Ufa had grown out of the wartime Bufa through a series of forced mergers. As Prof. Thomas Elsaesser has pointed out, with the acquisition of Decla-Bioscop, Ufa had became a modern multi-national company and media conglomerate. Very aware of Hollywood, Ufa tried to emulate it, rival with it, or differentiate itself from it. Focused on principles of product differentiation and niche marketing, Ufa deliberately created an art cinema and super-productions for export (the latter specifically designed and budgeted to break into the American market), while it looked to domestic cinema based on popular genres and stars for its economic foundation. Pommer’s and Ufa’s international successes during this time included Fritz Lang’s two-part Nibelungen (Os Nibelungos – A Morte de Siegfried (1924) and A Vingança de Kriemhilde (1924)) and F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh (1922) where the camera was “unchained” for the first moving shots taking place by strapping the camera to Karl Freund’s chest and allowing him to walk forward and backward. When Pommer and Lang attended the U.S. Premiere of Nibelungen, they saw the skyline of New York as their ship came into harbor. The view inspired the look for Metrópolis (1927), probably Ufa’s most ambitious project thus far. Typical for Pommer productions, Metropolis implemented new film techniques, including the first zoom shot where Karl Freund sat on a swing with the camera on his lap, pulling focus as he was swung forward and back. By 1926, disagreements arose between Pommer and Ufa’s new CEO and its Board of Directors appointed by Deutsche Bank, including whether the studio should invest in developing sound technology and over the terms of the Parufamet agreement (which later proved disastrous for Ufa, as Pommer had predicted). Pommer therefore left Ufa, even before Metropolis was finished shooting. Under financial pressure, Ufa management also did not allow Fritz Lang to participate in post-production, so the film was never shown as intended. Nonetheless, images of Metropolis have influenced many science-fiction films. The most complete version of the film since its Berlin premiere in 1927 was released in 2010, after discovery of 16mm footage in South America and restoration by the Murnau Foundation and the Deutsche Kinemathek. Having left Ufa, Pommer brought his family to Hollywood. After producing Mauritz Stiller’s Hotel Imperial (1927) and Amai-vos uns aos Outros (1927), both with Pola Negri, for Paramount and several uncredited films for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, including Semi-Noiva (1927) with Norma Shearer and Nobreza (1927) with Lon Chaney, Pommer returned to Berlin in 1928 at the request of a new Ufa ownership. He did not resume his old position but produced films as an independent within Ufa. When sound came, Pommer often made simultaneous multiple language versions of his films with the same international crew, including O Anjo Azul (1930) introducing Marlene Dietrich and directed by Josef von Sternberg and Loucuras de Monte Carlo (1931) starring Hans Albers. In addition, Pommer continued to experiment with innovative musicals, such as Wilhelm Thiele’s Os Três do Posto de Gasolina (1930) (The Three Good Friends) with Willy Fritsch and Lilian Harvey. In February 1933, Pommer, accompanied by his wife Gerdy, traveled to New York for business meetings. They left New York a week or so later to return to Germany. On the last night before reaching Europe, they were guests at the captain’s table. In those days, intercontinental communications were strictly by transatlantic cable. Radio had only a limited range. During dinner, the radio officer reported to the captain that European stations had just come into range. After the meal, the captain invited his guests to the radio room. In honor of the Pommers, the captain asked the operator to find a German station. Soon over the loudspeaker came one of Hermann Göring’s early, vitriolic anti-Semitic speeches! The Pommers stopped over in Paris before traveling on to Berlin. Their French and American friends counseled them not to return to Germany as it could be dangerous. With their son still in Berlin, staying in Paris was not a option. They returned to Berlin near the end of March 1933. Ludwig Klitzsch, chairman of the board of Ufa, personally assured Pommer the following day that Ufa would make no distinction between Aryan and non-Aryan employees. However on 28 March 1933, Josef Goebbels assembled the leaders of the motion picture industry at the Hotel Kaiserhof to explain the Nazi concepts of film policy and production. Pommer did not attend this meeting. The following day, at its Meeting No. 905, the Ufa Board complied fully with the Nazi directions. Regarding the “national question” about continuing the employment of Jewish employees, the Executive Board decided that the contracts with Jewish executives and employees should be terminated. Item (4) of the meeting reads in part: “It was also decided to terminate the contract with Pommer, in view of the impossibility under the present circumstances of exhibiting his films.” Pommer sent his wife and son to the safety of Paris. Josef Goebbels tried to have Pommer run the German motion picture industry for him. During his years as Ufa production chief and president of the Spitzenorganisation of the German film industry, Pommer had been very active in the export of German films. He was in close contact with aides of German Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann, and Pommer had maintained his connections to the Aussenamt (Foreign Office) through the years. He was approached by some of his contacts in the Foreign Office on behalf of Goebbels in April 1933. Pommer never had the slightest intention of coming to terms with the Nazis. Nevertheless, he entered a series of talks with Stresemann’s aides, held at his home. These discussions gave him enough time to arrange for his business affairs and pending commitments. By early May 1933, Pommer felt that he could not stall Goebbels any longer. In his last meeting with the Foreign Office officials, he showed them a recent notification from John’s high school of a meeting to discuss the school’s participation in a May Day parade. Pommer also showed them a newspaper article, advising that Jewish pupils would not be allowed to participate with their fellow students in the parade. He asked the Aussenamt officials: “Gentlemen, how can you expect me to work in a country that summons my son to school to tell him in front of his peers that he is not good enough to participate with them in the parade?” The next morning Pommer received his exit visa. That evening, Pommer boarded the express train to Paris. He knew that the Nazis were arresting passengers at the border. When the train stopped in Hannover, he got off. He had his car and driver waiting. They crossed the border into Belgium, without incident, at a local crossing normally not used for Berlin-Paris traffic. Perhaps the diplomats had been kind enough to delay their report to the Nazis. Pommer was also permitted to export his household belongings to France, although they were later confiscated in Paris by the German Army. In France, Pommer produced two films for Fox, Fritz Lang’s Coração Vadio (1934) (the storyline was later used for the musical Carousel), with Charles Boyer and Madeleine Ozeray, and Max Ophüls’ Prisioneiro de uma Mulher (1934), with Lili Damita and Charles Fallot On June 5, 1933, the United States went off the gold standard. Later in the year, Fox management came to the conclusion that – due to the new exchange rate of the U.S. dollar against French franc – production activities on the European continent were no longer financially advisable. They directed Pommer to complete the two films that were in production and then move with his family to Hollywood. This was one of several decisions that possibly saved Pommer’s immediate family from becoming victims of the Holocaust. After Pommer produced one more film, Joe May’s Música no Ar (1934) with Gloria Swanson, Fox was acquired by 20th Century. Louis B. Mayer tried to bring him to MGM, but Pommer had already made a handshake deal with Alexander Korda to go to London. There he produced two films for Korda’s London Film Productions: Fogo Por Sobre a Inglaterra (1937) with Laurence Olivier and Tim Whelan’s Adeus ao Passado (1937). During the filming of Fire Over England, Pommer met Charles Laughton who was starring in Korda’s Rembrandt (1936). When Laughton’s next project,I, Claudius (1937), was canceled, Laughton and Pommer founded Mayflower Pictures. Pommer had previously worked well with reputedly difficult actors, and he worked very well with Laughton. He produced three films with Laughton, including Náufrago da Vida (1938), where Pommer took over as director, As Calçadas De Londres (1938), where Laughton starred with Vivien Leigh, and Alfred Hitchcock’s A Estalagem Maldita (1939) that introduced Maureen O’Hara. In 1939, Pommer was in New York negotiating with RKO to distribute Mayflower’s future productions when World War II broke out in Europe. Pommer still had a German passport and could not risk return to England. He went to RKO where he produced Dorothy Arzner’s A Vida é uma Dança (1940) with Maureen O’Hara and Lucille Ball, and also Garson Kanin’s Não Cobiçarás a Mulher Alheia (1940) with Charles Laughton and Carole Lombard. In 1941, Pommer had five more films in preparation, with scripts completed for three, when his heart attack forced a hiatus. In 1946, he was hired by the U.S. State Department and later transferred to the War Department – with assimilated rank of Colonel – to reorganize the German motion picture industry in the American Zone as Chief Film Officer, Office of Military Government, United States (OMGUS). Working under strict policies to prevent Nazis and Communists from entering the film industry, he was to reorganize and later to rebuild the German film industry and its private assets as part of the Marshall Plan, the overall plan of reconstruction of the German industrial base destroyed in WWII. He headquartered in war-devastated Berlin and quickly re-instituted his practice of frequent dinner parties, not only to transact business but also to feed film industry colleagues who were starving in the post-war chaos. He would often “rest his eyes” during meetings, surprising colleagues who thought he was sleeping when he would suddenly add insightful comments and offer solutions to the discussion. Pommer was in charge of new film production in the U.S. Zone, which meant that he was responsible to guide studios and film producers, approve all scripts and major contracts, supervise new productions and studio operations, and supervise the financial arrangements of producers, studios and distributors concerning new films. Production of “Rubble Films” began in West Germany, a neorealist genre characterized by location exteriors in the rubble of bombed-out cities, began, including Harald Braun’s Zwischen gestern und morgen (1947) and Josef von Báky’s … und über uns der Himmel (1947). In June 1948, in an attempt to wrest control of Berlin from the West, the Soviet Union began a blockade. American and British planners devised an airlift. The pilots and crews of 342 planes made 277,000 flights to deliver millions of tons of food and clothing to Berlin until the blockade was lifted. Denied use of the Babelsberg Studios, which were in the Russian Zone, Pommer had been rebuilding Berlin’s Tempelhof Studios. Although the Tempelhof Studios were eventually rebuilt, they were then not yet ready, and the blockade forced the focus of production away from Berlin and Pommer to move his headquarters to Munich and its Geiselgasteig Studios, which had survived the war intact. During his tour of duty with OMGUS, Pommer was able to abolish government censorship of films in Germany through establishment of a national Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle (Voluntary Self-Control) system, envisioned as an improvement on the U.S. Motion Picture Production Code system. Pommer also built greater flexibility into the process through periodic critical self-review. Initially opposed by the Soviets, the British and the French, all protecting their own economic and political interests, the FSK system was eventually adopted throughout Europe and continues to this day. After three years, having re-established the film industry throughout West Germany and considering his job complete, Pommer returned to California in 1949. He and Dorothy Arzner together planned a new production company, Signature Pictures, but promised financing fell through. In 1950, Pommer again returned to Munich, as the best location for his next films despite the fact that his work for OMGUS in abolishing state censorship of films had been over the vehement opposition of politicians in the State Government of Bavaria. After Pommer resumed producing films in Munich, Bavarian politicians continued to complicate his professional life. Pommer’s first post-war film, Nights on the Road (1952) with Hans Albers won the Best Picture Award at the 1951 Berlin Film Festival. His last film, Kinder, Mütter und ein General (1955) was awarded the Grand Prize of the Belgian Critics as Best Picture of 1955, beating out such remarkable films as Conspiração do Silêncio (1955) and Sementes de Violência (1955). Pommer’s last film was also awarded the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film in the U.S. under the title Sons, Mothers, and a General. In 1956, Pommer took what was to be a two months’ trip to the United States to negotiate for an English-dubbed version of Sons, Mothers, and a General. While he was in California, a foot infection aggravated by diabetes worsened to such a degree as to require amputation of his right leg and a long-term recovery. He could not return to Germany. He canceled all projects and retired. He lived in a modest house in Southern California with Gerdy until she died in 1960. Then he lived with his son’s family, including his two grandchildren, until his death in 1966.