German character actor Gunter Meisner, best known in the U.S. as the evil Mr. Slugworth in “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” died of heart failure Dec. 5 in Berlin. He was 66.
Fluent in four languages and known for his versatility in style and medium, Meisner appeared in more than 100 feature films and television shows, played Off Broadway and founded many arts organizations.
Meisner started as a sculptor and painter, but went on to study drama at the State Conservatory in Dusseldorf under Gustaf Grundgens, the actor who inspired Klaus Mann’s book and, in turn, the 1981 film “Mephisto.”
His many film credits include “Is Paris Burning?,” “Night Crossing,” “Avalanche Express,” “The Boys From Brazil,” “Voyage of the Damned,” “The Odessa File” and “Bridge at Remagen.”
He also appeared in “Under the Volcano”; “Babette Goes to War” with Brigitte Bardot; “Tito at Sutjeska,” playing the German commander to Richard Burton’s Tito; and the 1982 French comedy “L’as des As” (Ace of the Aces), playing both Adolf Hitler and his sister Angela.
On TV, he appeared in ABC’s “The Winds of War,” “Blood and Honor” for CBS, “The Wilderness Years” for BBC, as well as daytime dramas “One Life to Live” and “The Edge of Night.”
In the theater he acted and directed, specializing in comedies, “theater of the absurd” and classical drama. He had the lead in the 1984 U.S. tour of Franz Kafka’s “Report to the Academy” and appeared Off Broadway in “Fairwell” at La Mama that same year.
In 1970, he directed “Don’t Look for Me at Places Where I Can’t Be Found,” a film on racial problems in Africa, and “Bega Dwa Bega” (One for All) in Swahili for the Tanzanian Film Unit.
In 1959, Meisner founded the Gallery Diogenes in Berlin and the Intl. Assn. for Arts & Sciences two years later. In 1962, he established the Diogenes Studio Theater, which specialized in “French theater of the absurd.”
He is survived by his wife Gisela Albrecht Meisner, a freelance journalist living in Berlin.