Francis Lederer

Francis Lederer (November 6, 1899 – May 25, 2000) was an Austrian-born American film and stage actor with a successful career, first in Europe, then in the United States. His original name was František Lederer and in the early years of his career he performed under the stage-name Franz Lederer.

Francis Lederer
Lederer in 1932
František Lederer

(1899-11-06)November 6, 1899
DiedMay 25, 2000(2000-05-25) (aged 100)
Resting placeForest Lawn Cemetery (Cathedral City)
Years active1928–71
Spouse(s)Ada Nejedly
(m. 19??; div. 1928)
(m. 1937; div. 1940)

Marion Irvine
(m. 1941; his death 2000)

Acting career


Lederer started acting when he was young, and was trained at the Academy of Music and Academy of Dramatic Art in Prague.[1] After service in the Austrian-Hungarian Imperial Army in World War I, he made his stage debut as an apprentice with the New German Theater, a walk-on in the play Burning Heart.[2] He toured Moravia and central Europe,[3] making a name for himself as a matinee idol in theaters in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria and Germany. Notable among his performances was a turn as Romeo in Max Reinhardt's staging of Romeo and Juliet.[2]

In the late 1920s, Lederer was lured into films by the German actress Henny Porten and her husband.[3] He worked with G.W. Pabst in Pandora's Box, starring Louise Brooks,[4] and Atlantic[5] (both 1929).[1] He was also notable in The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna in the same year. Lederer, billed as "Franz" at this time, made the transition from silent films to sound films.[3]


In 1931, Lederer was in London to perform on stage in Volpone and the next year in Autumn Crocus by Dodie Smith, which he then performed on Broadway[6] – using the name "Francis" – where it played for 210 performances in 1932 and 1933.[7] He also performed the play in Los Angeles.[2] As the rise of the Nazi movement and the institutionalization of anti-Semitism spread throughout Europe and the political situation there deteriorated, Lederer, who was Jewish, chose to remain in America rather than return home.[2] He became a U.S. citizen in 1939.[8]

Lederer's first American movies were Man of Two Worlds (1934), Romance in Manhattan (1934), with Ginger Rogers, The Gay Deception (1935), with Frances Dee, and One Rainy Afternoon (1936). He was cast as the lead with Katharine Hepburn in the 1935 film Break of Hearts, but the producers replaced him with Charles Boyer. It was Irving Thalberg's plan to make Lederer "the biggest star in Hollywood" but the death of Thalberg ended this possibility.[3]

Although he continued to play leads occasionally – notably when he was a playboy in Mitchell Leisen's Midnight with Claudette Colbert and John Barrymore in 1939[2] – in the late 1930s Lederer began to expand his character parts, even playing villains.[2] Edward G. Robinson praised Lederer's performance as a German American Bundist in Confessions of a Nazi Spy in 1939,[1] and he earned plaudits for his portrayal of a fascist in The Man I Married (1940) with Joan Bennett.[2] He also played Count Dracula for The Return of Dracula in 1958.

Throughout his career, Lederer, who studied with Elia Kazan at the Actors Studio in New York City, continued to take stage acting seriously, and he performed often both in New York and elsewhere. He appeared in stage productions of Golden Boy (1937), Seventh Heaven (1939), No Time for Comedy (1939), in which he replaced Laurence Olivier,[2] The Play's the Thing (1942), A Doll's House (1944), Arms and the Man (1950), The Sleeping Prince (1956) and The Diary of Anne Frank (1958).[2][6]

Although he took a break from making films in 1941, in order to concentrate on his stage work, he returned to the silver screen in 1944, appearing in Voice in the Wind and The Bridge of San Luis Rey, and in films such as Jean Renoir's The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946) and Million Dollar Weekend (1948). He took another break from Hollywood in 1950, after making Surrender (1950), and returned in 1956 with Lisbon and the light comedy The Ambassador's Daughter. His final film appearance was in Terror Is a Man in 1959. During the 1950s, he served as honorary mayor of Canoga Park.

He would continue to make television appearances for the next 10 years in such shows as Sally, The Untouchables, Ben Casey, Blue Light, Mission: Impossible and That Girl. His final television appearance occurred in a 1971 episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery called "The Devil Is Not Mocked". In it, he reprised his role as Dracula from The Return of Dracula.

Later life and death

In his later life, Lederer, who had become very wealthy, invested in real estate, especially in the Canoga Park community (part of which at one time included West Hills in 1987). He was active in local and Los Angeles civic affairs, philanthropy and politics. He served as Recreation and Parks Commissioner for the city of Los Angeles, received awards for his efforts to beautify the city and was the honorary mayor of Canoga Park for quite a time. He became involved with peace movements, taught acting, and was one of the founders of the American National Academy of Performing Arts in Los Angeles, and the International Academy of Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. In 2000, he was honored by the Austrian government with the Cross of Honor for Science and Arts, First Class.[2]

Lederer was married three times. His first marriage was to Ada Nejedly, an opera singer. The year they wed remains undetermined, but records show the couple divorced in 1928.[9] Then, in 1937, he married the actress Margo; they divorced three years later. Lederer's final marriage was to Marion Eleanor Irvine, a native of Canada who lived most of her life in California.[2][10] They wed there in 1941, and over the years he and Marion remained active in supporting various community projects and international humanitarian services, including the promotion of UNICEF.[10] They remained together for nearly six decades, until his death in 2000.

Francis Lederer worked until the week before he died, at the age of 100, in Palm Springs, California, one of the last surviving World War I veterans of the Austro-Hungarian Army. He is interred in the mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California.[11]

Lederer estate and residence

In 1934, Francis Lederer began the design and construction, with the help of artisan builder John R. Litke, of his landmark residence and stables on the hilltop of a large rancho in the Simi Hills in Owensmouth, renamed Canoga Park, renamed again to present day West Hills. It is in the western San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, California, at the west end of Sherman Way. The house is an example of blending Mediterranean Revival and Mission Revival styles.

The residence and stables are both protected Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monuments.[12] After the house was damaged by the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the property was completely renovated. The estate is next to the very large 1845 Mexican land grant Rancho El Escorpión, which was his southern rural viewshed and remained undeveloped open space until 1959. The home and grounds are still in the hands of the family.[13]

Selected filmography


United States

See also


  1. Erickson, Hal Biography (Allmovie)
  2. TCM Biography
  3. Christopherbkk Biography (IMDB)
  4. Die Büchse der Pandora on IMDb
  5. Atlantik on IMDb
  6. Francis Lederer at the Internet Broadway Database
  7. Autumn Crocus at the Internet Broadway Database
  8. Frantisek Lederer, Petition for Naturalization, U.S. District Court of Los Angeles, Jan. 21, 1939. Selected U.S. Naturalization Records: Original Documents, 1790–1974 (World Archives Project) [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2009.
  9. Villecco, Tony (2001). Silent Stars Speak: Interviews with Twelve Cinema Pioneers. McFarland & Company. p. 112. ISBN 978-0786408146.
  10. "Marion Lederer Obituary". The Desert Sun. April 21, 2011.
  11. Francis Lederer at Find a Grave
  12. SFVHS Valley History
  13. Big Orange-Lederer Environs
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