Emigration Adventures
Personal Encounters
Film and Theater Credits
More Information

Imprint Contact Home
Imprint Contact Home

Personal Encounters

Alma Mahler-Werfel  Jura Soyfer  Josef Meinrad  Leopold Lindtberg  Billy Wilder
Otto Preminger  Erwin Piscator  Louise Dumont  Max Reinhardt  Bertolt Brecht

Alma Mahler-Werfel

At the Theater an der Wien, Leon Askin performed under the direction of Paulus Manker in the very successful Vienna Festival production of “Der Vater” (“The Father”) written by Joshua Sobol. In Joshua Sobol’s polydrama “Alma – A Show Biz ans Ende,” which has achieved cult status, Leon Askin appeared every summer since 1996 as a contemporary “witness”, since he knew Alma Mahler-Werfel personally.

"We - Joshua Sobol, Paulus Manker, myself and a few others - were sitting in 'Schnattl', a bar in the Josefstadt neighborhood, and the topic of conversation turned to Alma Mahler-Werfel. I said: 'Yes, I knew Alma Mahler-Werfel. I met her and Franz Werfel through the Piscators in Paris, before the two of them escaped from France over the Pyrenees. Alma Mahler-Werfel was also a good friend of my future wife, Lies: they were neighbors in Beverly Hills, they went to the theater together, they went shopping together. So, of course, I got to know Alma.' Whereupon Paulus Manker immediately hired me."

"Alma was a fascinating woman, not only because she was friends with or married to some of our most important artists. After Gustav Mahler's death, she married Walter Gropius, then Franz Werfel, and had a stormy relationship with Oskar Kokoschka. The Viennese didn't ever completely forgive her for that. Many people even hated her for it. Nevertheless, no dress rehearsal of the Vienna State Opera could begin before Alma was in the house. 'Has Alma arrived?' They didn't want to start without her. Why? Because Alma was married to one of the greatest 20th century composers. It was Alma who had made Mahler's work famous. Who on earth knew Mahler's work? Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert - sure. But Mahler? The Viennese were not ready for a composer like Mahler. Alma made sure that Mahler was played - by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as by other famous orchestras. It is only through Alma's efforts that Mahler is today part of the repertoire of all major orchestras."


Jura Soyfer

In 1935, Leon Askin was the director of the popular Viennese political cabaret, the "ABC", when he met the dramatist Jura Soyfer.

"In August, 1935, Hans Weigel came to me in the 'ABC' to tell me he would no longer have much time to write for the cabaret. To make the loss of my principal writer easier to take, he had brought along a replacement, commending him warmly: 'Here is a young man who writes regularly for the Arbeiterzeitung, as well as poems and songs for the Wiener Werkl. He'll write your main sketches for you now.' And so, the dramatist Jura Soyfer was introduced to the ABC."

"Jura Soyfer was indeed a wonderful addition to the creative ensemble of the 'ABC'. He wrote text for the prose playlets in the program, as well as some fabulous chansons, such as 'Voll von Hunger und voll von Brot':

'Full of hunger and full of bread
is this wonderful earth.
In poverty and richness is this earth,
without limit is this earth.'

"With this chanson, the playlet 'Weltuntergang' ('The End of the World') was the success of the season. Had Jura Soyfer not died of typhus in Buchenwald, he would have become one of the most important German language dramatists of the 20th century. It fills me with pride and satisfaction to have been the one who first put Jura Soyfer on the cabaret stage."


Josef Meinrad

While Leon Askin was director and artistic director of the "ABC" cabaret in 1935, he met Josef Meinrad.

"One day, a young blond man came to me and, in an atrocious Austrian proletarian dialect, declared: 'I wuell a Schauspuela wern, i tua olles!' ('I want to become an actor, I'll do anything!'). He also told me that he wanted to be a parish priest and that he was a trained carpenter. At that, I sat up and took notice, since carpenters were much harder to find than actors. So I hired him immediately."

"That would-be priest with the barely intelligible dialect was to become the future wearer of the Iffland Ring, Josef Meinrad."


Leopold Lindtberg

Leopold Lindtberg was a student and associate of Erwin Piscator. He later became the artistic director of the Düsseldorf Municipal Theater where Leon Askin was engaged for five months in 1932.

"During one of the first rehearsals, he came to me and said: 'With you, you've really got to break up the ice!' The meaning of this observation was clear to me. All Dumont actors, myself included, were stuck in the Dumont method. To come from Louise Dumont was considered by many companies the best reference one could have, while many other theaters were not so keen to hire Dumont actors because of their distinct method. However, Lindtberg trusted my talent and let me play four important roles."


Billy Wilder

In 1961, Billy Wilder cast Askin in his film "One, Two, Three."

"To film with Billy Wilder is a pleasure and a special experience for any actor who aspires to perfection; he is a true master of his trade. Some young directors and actors consider Wilder a good, but old-fashioned director. But what is old-fashioned? Films such as those that Wilder made don't fit with the current action-oriented trend. There are hardly any comedies anymore in the Billy Wilder style. If it is old fashioned to characterize a role perfectly, then I can only quote Raimund and say: 'Wünsch guate Nocht, do wuell i liaba Gärtner blieben' ('Say good night, then, 'cause I'd rather remain a gardener')."

"Wilder's films always had a polished, complete plot. The brilliance of a director consists in the realization of this effect."


Otto Preminger

Leon Askin met Otto Preminger in 1937 in a Josefstadt production of Emmet Lavery's Jesuit drama "Die erste Legion" ("The First Legion").

"Director of this Josefstadt production was Ludwig Otto Preminger. Actors feared him because of his manner on the stage. There were actors who refused to act under him. I was fortunate enough to know Preminger personally, and he proved to be a great personality. I have never forgotten his humanity and generosity. I know that Preminger sent large monthly dollar amounts over a long period to an actor who had fled Vienna and, because of his accent, could find no work, neither in Hollywood nor in New York."

"As a director, he knew his trade and knew what theater- and film-goers wanted. He was no Reinhardt, neither was he a Piscator; he created audience-pleasing productions. But as director in the Josefstadt, he was one of the first theater directors to stage contemporary American plays in German language."

"We started our careers at just about the same time - Preminger as assistant to director Jahn at the 'Komödie' and I as student at the 'Neue Schule.' Years later, when had completed basic training in Los Angeles and was already a sergeant in the US Army, I used to visit Preminger regularly on Sunday mornings. We had breakfast together at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel: he, seated in the bathtub, and I, in my uniform, at a small table next to it."


Erwin Piscator

On the advice of Bertha Zuckerkandl, Leon Askin contacted Maria Ley in Paris in 1938. She was known for her support of refugees, and, besides which, was married to the director and actor Erwin Piscator.

"The result of my first meeting with Piscator was that he hired me to do a whole range of things-director's assistant, secretary, auditor, associate and errand boy."

"At that time, I didn't yet know at all Piscator the man, but Piscator the director meant something to me. Back then, I really didn't have any idea of his actual importance to the theater. Within a short time, however, I became a great fan of his conception of theater, and I still am to this day."

"Erwin Piscator had become a committed pacifist as a result of his experiences in World War I. His pacifist attitude also expressed itself clearly in his productions. Once I said to him: 'If you were to stage a French bedroom farce, it would probably also have a pacifist undertone.' Piscator looked at me for a moment, somewhat perplexed, and then he laughed and said: 'You know me pretty well, don't you!'"


Louise Dumont

Louise Dumont-Lindemann, former Vienna Burgtheater actor and colleague of Max Reinhardt, was the founder and long-time manager of the famous Düsseldorf Theater.

"Louise Dumont was difficult to describe and perhaps even more difficult to know. She was neither arrogant nor distant, but rather simply unapproachable. Her face was a strong face, framed with short, metal-gray hair. With her deeply-set black eyes, she penetrated her surroundings. She looked severe, but in her look was also kindness-even if only recognizable to those who knew her well. Louise, as we called her, was not particularly tall, yet her bearing was that of a queen of antiquity."

"Louise Dumont died on May 17th, 1932 of a pulmonary edema. On our Holland tour, Louise had come down with a bad cold and developed pneumonia. In spite of her fever-weakened state, she insisted on continuing to play what was to be her last role, Mutter Sorge in the second part of 'Faust'. Her last words on stage-'There he comes, there he comes, Brother Death'-were as a prophecy of her own death, which was to come a few weeks later."


Max Reinhardt

In 1928, when Leon Askin played a small part as an extra in the Reinhardt version of "Kabale und Liebe" ("Love and Intrigue"), he met Max Reinhardt in person.

"During a dress rehearsal in the Reinhardt Theater, in my role as servant, I stood shyly in the doorway to the salon where the President was in a serious argument with his son Ferdinand. Suddenly I felt the cold, steely eyes of the master directed towards me. I was nervous, and the palms of my hands began to perspire and my knees to tremble. He seemed threatening to me, as he came towards me, and I nearly ceased to breathe. Reinhardt was staring at me, or rather, at my three-cornered hat which, in his opinion, did not sit right. With a quick gesture, he pushed it to the left. 'Remember that for the rest of your life,' he said as he turned away to continue with the rehearsal. That was the first and last personal contact I had with this brilliant man."


Bertolt Brecht

Leon Askin met Bertolt Brecht in 1946.

"Only once did I meet Brecht personally. It was in 1946, at the invitation of Kadidja Wedekind, Frank Wedekind's daughter. Brecht was interested in producing Wedekind's 'Lulu.' Both of them - Brecht, as well as Kadidja - needed money. Otherwise, they were quite different people. Brecht was of the opinion that 'Lulu was also a political play, whereupon Kadidja nearly became hysterical. What had begun so promisingly ended in a horrible fight which lasted until well into the night. The only person to benefit from this meeting was I. I would probably never have otherwise so easily had the opportunity to observe and to listen to this great man. Naturally, I went on to learn much more about Brecht from my mentor and friend Erwin Piscator, who was also mentor to Brecht."