Actor Francis Lederer, who began his film career as a silent screen matinee idol in Europe and later starred in the 1929 psychological drama “Pandora’s Box” and the fatalistic “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” in 1944, died May 25 of natural causes at his home in Palm Springs, Calif. Lederer’s wife of 59 years, Marion, was at his side. He had turned 100 last November.
“He had a very magical life. Until just the last several weeks, he was in very good shape,” his wife says. A private funeral was planned.
The Czechoslovakian-born actor was one of the last major silent film stars and successfully made the transition to sound films and ultimately television.
One of his last major roles — one he once said he’d like to forget — was as the vampire in “Return of Dracula” in 1958.
Born in Prague in 1906, he graduated from that city’s Academy of Music and Academy of Dramatic Art and began his stage career in Prague while still a teenager. By his late 20s he was a well-known romantic film star in all the capitals of Europe.
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His success in the G.W. Pabst-helmed “Pandora’s Box” and Julien Duvivier’s “Mamam Colibri,” both in 1929, led to his arrival in the United States in 1932 where he appeared in the Broadway play “Autumn Crocus.”
A Hollywood contract followed and he subsequently appeared in a string of films, usually playing the suave international lover. Early American features included “Man of Two Worlds” (1934), “Romance in Manhattan” (1934), “My American Wife” (1936), “The Lone Wolf in Paris” (1938) and “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” (1939).
He worked with numerous directors of note including Alan Dwan, Duvivier, Anatole Litvak, Mitchell Leisen and William Wyler.
By the early 1940s, Lederer’s career began to slow down and he moved into character roles in a handful of films such as “The Diary of a Chambermaid” (1946), “Million Dollar Weekend” (1948), “Surrender” (1950) and “The Ambassador’s Daughter” (1956).
Beginning in the late 1940s, Lederer worked sporadically in television for the next 25 years, appearing on such shows as “Philco Television Playhouse” (1948) and also on episodic TV series including “The Untouchables,” “Mission: Impossible,” “It Takes a Thief” and “Night Gallery.”
Lederer founded the American National Academy of Performing Arts in 1957 in Los Angeles. He taught an acting style that was an extension of the Stanislavski method that he said gave more freedom to the actor.
He was a commissioner of cultural affairs for the city of Los Angeles and served on the L.A. Parks and Recreation, Greek Theater and International Visitors commissions.
The Los Angeles City Council honored him with a proclamation on his 100th birthday in November, and he received the Austrian Order of Merit, First Class, in January.