Rialto’s Wendlandt dies at 80

Teuton producer backed Fassbinder, Bergman

BERLIN — Horst Otto Gregor Wendlandt, producer of a large number of German box office hits with company Rialto, died Aug. 30 of cancer in Berlin aged 80.

Wendlandt’s name is primarily linked with two long-running big screen series of the 60s that have become local examples of often-copied modern folklore.

When Wendlandt became chief of production of the German offspring of Kopenhagen-based Rialto Film Preben Philipsen in 1961, the company had just acquired the rights to all vintage detective thrillers by Edgar Wallace.

Under Wendlandt’s management, the 30-odd films that followed, most in black and white, became successful showcases for Germany’s actors of the time.

A few years on, Wendlandt’s teenage son came up with the idea for another line of populist B-movies, pitching his father on the Wild West novels of German 19th century youth book writer Karl May, which to that day surprisingly had not been discovered for the screen.

Augmented by U.S. actors Lex Barker and Stewart Granger, Wendlandt produced nine Euro-westerns, on location in Yugoslavia, most of them in international co-production. The Karl May films recently were to become the blue print of the largest single local B.O. hit ever, parody pic “Manitu’s Shoe” in 2001.

Both series have been safe bets for reruns on TV. Indeed, ProSiebenSat.1 is scheduling another run on retro channel Kabel 1 this fall.

Born as Horst Gubanow to parents of Russian origin in 1922, Wendlandt entered the film biz in 1937 as an apprentice at Tobis Filmkunst. Following a subterranean intermission working as a POW in French coal mines, Wendlandt joined Artur Brauner’s CCC after the war before moving to Rialto in 1961. By 1972, he was the single owner of the company.

His films in the 70s and 80s included R.W. Fassbinder’s “Lola” and Berlinale Bear winner “Veronika Voss” as well as Ingmar Bergman’s “The Serpent’s Egg,” and “Fanny and Alexander.” His biggest coup was the first feature film of oddball comedian “Otto” in 1985, which held the local number one B.O. spot until it was dethroned by “Manitu’s Shoe” last year.

In February, Wendlandt received the Berlinale Camera for lifetime achievement. His wife, Ilsegard, and his children Matthias and Susan, both co-owners of Rialto, survive him.

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