Mischa Auer

Mischa Auer (born Mikhail Semyonovich Unskovsky (Михаил Семёнович Унсковский), 17 November 1905 5 March 1967) was a Russian-born American actor who moved to Hollywood in the late 1920s. He first appeared in film in 1928. Auer had a long career playing in many of the era's best known films. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1936 for his performance in the screwball comedy My Man Godfrey, which led to further zany comedy roles. He later moved into television and acted in films again in France and Italy well into the 1960s.

Mischa Auer
Trailer for Sweethearts (1938).
Mischa Ounskowsky

(1905-11-17)17 November 1905
Died5 March 1967(1967-03-05) (aged 61)
Years active1923-1967
Spouse(s)Norma Tillman (1931-1941) (divorced) 2 children
Joyce Hunter (1941-1950) (divorced)
Susanne Kalish (1950-1957) (divorced) 1 child
Elsie Souls Lee (1965-1967) (his death)
ChildrenAnthony Tillman
Zoe Tillman
Mischa Auer Jr.

Early life

Auer was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. His name is usually seen as Mischa Ounskowsky, Mischa being the German transliteration of Misha (the diminutive form of Mikhail), and Ounskowsky being the French transliteration of his surname. Auer's parents were a Russian naval officer and the daughter of Hungarian-born Jewish violinist Leopold Auer[1] and his wife, Nadine Pelikan. His father died when he was three, and he was taken in by his grandfather.[1] Leopold Auer emigrated to the United States after the Russian Revolution. Mischa Auer and his mother became separated, but were reunited during the Russian Civil War.[1] She, however, died of typhus.[1] Auer was able to contact his grandfather, who brought the teenager to the United States in August 1920.[1]


He began performing on the stage in the 1920s[1] in Bertha Kalich's Thalia Yiddish Theater, then moved to Hollywood, where he first appeared in 1928 in Something Always Happens.[2] He appeared in several small, mostly uncredited roles into the 1930s, appearing in such films as Rasputin and the Empress, Viva Villa!, The Yellow Ticket, the George Gershwin musical Delicious, the Paramount Pictures all-star revue Paramount on Parade and The Lives of a Bengal Lancer.[3]

In 1936, Auer was cast as Alice Brady's protégé in the comedy My Man Godfrey, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.[4] Prior to that, he had been mostly playing villains.[1] He stated, "That one role made a comic out of me."[1] From then on, he was regularly cast in zany comedy roles.[2] Auer played the ballet instructor Kolenkov in the Best Picture-winning You Can't Take It with You and the prince-turned-fashion designer in Walter Wanger's Vogues of 1938.[3] Auer can also be seen cavorting in such films as: Arsène Lupin (1932), One Hundred Men and a Girl, Hold That Ghost, Destry Rides Again, Spring Parade, Hellzapoppin', Cracked Nuts, Lady in the Dark, and Up in Mabel's Room (1944).[5] He was also one of the large cast of And Then There Were None, and appeared in a pair of vehicles for opera singer Lily Pons.[6][7][8]

In the 1950s, Auer appeared on several episodic television series, such as Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, Studio One, Broadway Television Theatre and The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre. He appeared in Orson Welles' Mr. Arkadin (1955), and in the 1960s, he made several films in France and Italy, including The Christmas That Almost Wasn't.[6]

Personal life

Auer married four times and had three children. Mischa's first wife was Norma Tillman (1931–1941), whom he married in 1931. They had a son Anthony and a daughter Zoia. They divorced in 1941. In the same year, he married Joyce Hunter (4 December 1941–1950), his second wife, with whom he lived for 9 years. His third wife was Susanne Kalish (5 May 1950–1957), and they had one daughter. His fourth wife was Elise Souls Lee (1965–5 March 1967) who died in 1976.


Mischa Auer paid the utility bills of the Holy Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Cathedral (in Los Angeles) for several years.


He died of cardiovascular disease in Rome in 1967 and was interred at Prospect Hill Cemetery in Gloversville, New York.[9]

Selected filmography


  1. Robinson, Harlow (2007). Russians in Hollywood, Hollywood's Russians: Biography of an Image. UPNE. pp. 78–81. ISBN 9781555536862. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  2. "Mischa Auer - Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos". AllMovie.
  3. "Mischa Auer". BFI.
  4. "My Man Godfrey (1936) - Gregory La Cava - Awards". AllMovie.
  5. Higham, Charles; Greenberg, Joel (1968). Hollywood in the Forties. London: A. Zwemmer Limited. p. 161. ISBN 9780302004777.
  6. "Mischa Auer - Movies and Filmography". AllMovie.
  7. "I Dream Too Much (1935) - John Cromwell - Cast and Crew". AllMovie.
  8. "That Girl from Paris (1937) - Leigh Jason - Cast and Crew". AllMovie.
  9. Willis, John (1 June 1983). "Screen World 1968". Biblo & Tannen Publishers via Google Books.
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