|Meine "Zigeuner" Mutter | Emigration, N.Y. | Matura | Intifada|
Living, Acting, Surviving
A Film by Egon Humer
52 min. /
Mini DV-transfer DIGI BETA, 16:9
World Premiere: Vienna Jewish Film Festival,
13. Oktober 1997
LEON ASKIN - LIVING, ACTING, SURVIVING an intimate portrait of the Viennese Jewish actor, who was driven out of Austria by the Nazis and made a career as supporting actor in Hollywood. As an octogenarian he returned to Austria, living in a Jewish old people's home and still acting. The ambivalences of a life on the fringes of show-business, on and off stage, and at the same time being "a refugee who is a refugee who is a refugee".
Egon Humer watches closely the life of Leon Askin in Vienna: to paraphrase Joyce, of the actor as an old man.
We witness the highlights his engagement at the Volksoper Vienna in Klaus Maria Brandauers production of Franz Lehars "Land des Lächelns"; as a contemporary witness in Paulus Mankers production of Joshua Sobols "ALMA a SHOWbiz ans Ende" on the famous Alma Mahler-Werfel-Kokoschka and her time; applause for an actor who has enough experience to enact himself as well as his everyday life: wheelchair, rehabilitation, old peoples home.
Back, not home in Vienna, and struggling for the stage against illness and death, knowing that "posterity has little use for a dead actor" ...
"The day that I told my father of my desire to become an actor, he warned me that of all artists - writers, painters, musicians, composers - the actor is the one most quickly forgotten: Die Nachwelt flicht dem Mimen keine Kränze, said Papa, meaning that posterity has little use for a dead actor; to which I can add that many actors are dead and forgotten even before they are buried."
In 1994 an 87-year old man returns from a long journey, that he had not begun voluntarily: Leon Askin was born as Lion Aschkenasy in Vienna in 1907. He started a career on the stage and in satirical political revues in Austria and Germany. In 1933 he had to emigrate from Germany and went to Paris, then back to Austria, from where he had to flee from the Nazis in 1938 and emigrate to the United States. His parents were deported in 1942 and killed in concentration camps.
Askin served in the US-Army, and later had a huge success with his production of "Faust" on Broadway in 1949. In 1952 Hollywood took him over. In more than seventy films Askin played supporting roles, which were small, but often important for the plot. In Billy Wilders "One, Two, Three" he played the uncouth boss of a Russian delegation, in Henry Kostners "The Robe" the traitor Abidar. His most popular role was not in a movie and sounds like a bad joke: German Wehrmachts-General Burkhalter in the well-known TV series "Hogans Heroes" (please find Askin's filmography on following pages).
The tragic undertone of a career: from a character actor on stage, and proud of being it, to a mere type part on the screen and on TV, and popular. Yet this brought him side to side and near to the stars of Hollywood and many of them became his friends.
So when he returned to Austria, not without bureaucratic difficulties - being a stranger now -, he brought with him all the glamour of the big show-biz, which lends himself an aura of a "diva", most-welcomed in numerous film and theatre productions - although or maybe because he is for many a difficult, irritating and sometimes annoying personality. But self-stylization, acting and surviving might belong together.
LEON ASKIN - LIVING, ACTING, SURVIVING portrays the private person Leon Askin: in everyday life, in different encounters, at work on stage - with side-glances into Vienna's theatrical landscape. A portrait that also leads into other aspects of his life: solitude, the struggle for health and respect, the set-backs of aging, the self-examination of his Jewish identity and being a refugee as long as you live.
"I became an American citizen and am an American, heart and soul, not just the name only. I left Germany and Austria because my life was threatened. I have returned but as an American. I still have deep feelings for Vienna. I am staunch in my love for and loyalty to the United States, but if I may paraphrase Gertrude Stein, I must say that a refugee is a refugee is a refugee. Regardless where a refugee sets up his tent, he will never be home again."
By using Digital Video and doing the camerawork by himself, Egon Humer gathers filmic footnotes and private observations with a touch of home-video, sparsely flashed by archive material with fragments of Showbiz- and Hollywood-memories, on Leon Askin. In an over-voice, Askin himself comments the pictures, reading excerpts from his auto-biography and providing a bridge between the past and the present. Interviews with Leon Askin will complete this intimate journey into the life of a very complex personality full of humour, glamour, set-backs, grief and passion for life - also a postscript to Humers 1996 festival success "Emigration, N.Y.".