Fritz Leiber (actor)

Fritz Reuter Leiber Sr. (January 31, 1882 – October 14, 1949) was an American actor.[1] A Shakespearean actor on stage, he also had a successful career in film.[2] He was the father of science fiction and fantasy writer Fritz Leiber Jr., who was also an actor for a time.[3]

Fritz Leiber
Leiber in 1930, photo by Ethel Standiford
Fritz Reuter Leiber

(1882-01-31)31 January 1882
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died14 October 1949(1949-10-14) (aged 67)
Years active19161949
Virginia Bronson
(m. 1910; his death 1949)
ChildrenFritz Leiber


Born in Chicago, Leiber was based there for most of his pre-Hollywood career. He married Virginia Bronson, who like him was a Shakespearean performer.[4] Leiber died, in the Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles, from a heart attack at the age of 67.[5][6]


Leiber and his wife spent much of their time touring in a Shakespearian acting company, known by the 1930s as Fritz Leiber & Co.[7] Leiber made his film bow in 1916, playing Mercutio in the Francis X. Bushman version of Romeo and Juliet.[8] With his piercing eyes and shock of white hair, Leiber seemed every inch the priests, professors, musical professors, and religious fanatics that he was frequently called upon to play in films. His many silent-era portrayals included Caesar in Theda Bara's 1917 Cleopatra and Solomon in the mammoth 1921 Betty Blythe vehicle The Queen of Sheba.[1]

He thrived as a character actor in sound films, usually in historical roles. In the film Champagne Waltz, he portrayed an orchestra maestro; the role required him to play classical music on a violin and jazz on a clarinet. One of Leiber's larger assignments of the 1940s, and his most notable musical role, was as Franz Liszt in the Claude Rains remake of Phantom of the Opera (1943).[2]

Leiber appears together with his son Fritz Leiber, Jr. in the wedding-feast scene of Greta Garbo's film Camille (1936) and in Warner Bros.' The Great Garrick (1937). Leiber also appeared with his son Fritz Leiber, Jr. in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) but Fritz Leiber, Jr. was not credited for his small speaking part.

Late in his career, Leiber performed briefly opposite Charles Chaplin as the priest who visits Monsieur Verdoux in his prison cell.[9]

Portrait collection

For most or all of his long acting career, Leiber had a hobby: each time he performed a new role, he had his likeness or portrait made in costume and make-up for that role.[10] Since Leiber was not an especially protean actor, he tended to look the same in every part: therefore, to bring some variety to his portrait collection, he varied the format and media of each likeness: one was a full-length oil painting, another a charcoal sketch of his upper body; one a sculpted bust, one a clay bas-relief, and so forth. After the actor's death, all of his surviving portraits passed to his son, Fritz Leiber Jr., who found himself in the awkward situation of sharing a cramped residence with more than two hundred copies of his father's face; Leiber Jr. later used this experience as the basis of his 1963 story "237 Talking Statues, Etc." The two Fritz Leibers also physically resembled each other enough to give casual visitors the impression that the portraits were of Leiber Jr. himself.



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