Herbert Irving Leeds, “Martin Kosleck as Heller”, 1942, Film Clip Photo,“Manila Calling”, Cinematography Lucien N. Andriot, 20th Century Fox
Born in March of 1904 in Barkotzen, now Poland’s Barkocin, Martin Kosleck was a German film actor who began his career during the silent film era. He appeared in more than fifty films and numerous episodes of television series, as well as, roles on the Broadway stage. A talented artist, Kosleck supported himself between film roles as an impressionist-styled portrait painter whose work included portraits of Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, and Bette Davis. He had a solo exhibition of his portraits and other works in 1935 at the Los Angeles Museum that received great reviews.
Born Nicolale Yoshkin to a forester of German-Russian and Jewish lineage, Kosleck studied for six years at the Max Reinhardt Dramatic School located at the Palais Wesendonck in Berlin Tiergarten. His forte was Shakespearian roles, however, he also appeared in musicals and revues at both German and English theaters. At the age of twenty-three, Kosleck had his film debut in International Film AG’s 1927 “Der Fahnenträger von Sedan”, a silent film by Austrian director Johannes Brandt. Three years later, he appeared in director Carmine Gallone’s musical “Die Singende Stadt (The Singing City)” and Richard Oswald’s sci-fi horror film “Alrune”, both sound films.
In the early 1930s, Kosleck met and began a relationship with the actor Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, already an established artist in Weimar Germany’s film industry and close friend of Marlene Dietrich. This sometimes turbulent relationship would last until Twardowski’s death from a heart attack in 1958. During their early time together, the National Socialist Party under Adolph Hitler was growing in power. Kosleck, an outspoken critic of the Party, soon earned the animosity of the newly established Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels.
Martin Kosleck, after learning he had been tried in absentia and sentenced to death, escaped to Britain in 1931. The following year, he arrived in New York City and performed on Broadway in “The Merchant of Venice”. This play featured the return to acting, after an absence of thirteen years, of Maude Adams who at that time was the most popular stage actress in America. Kosleck’s role in this play was noticed by director Anatole Litvak who signed him with the Warner Brothers Studio; his first role was in directors William Dieterie and Busby Berkeley’s musical comedy “Fashions of 1934”.
Hans Twardowski also left Germany in 1931 after finishing his role in Viktor Tourjansky’s “Der Herzog von Reichstadt”. He traveled to the west coast of the United States and first appeared in Universal Studio’s 1932 pre-Code drama “Scandal for Sale”. Twardowski appeared in several war films with Kosleck, including “Confessions of a Nazi Spy”, “Espionage Agent” and “The Hitler Gang”. His acting career ended along with the war; however, he continued to write, direct and act in stage plays. A talented singer, he also sang tenor in a number of musicals.
In 1934, Kosleck was given a small role playing Propaganda Minister Goebbels in the highly controversial Warner Brothers’s drama “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” based on a book by FBI agent Leon Turron who had uncovered Nazi operations in the United States. Kosleck, inspired by his deep hatred of the Nazis, portrayed Goebbels with an icy demeanor and piercing sinister stare, a performance that made Kosleck the directors’ choice for roles depicting both criminals and Nazi villains. Between 1939 and 1944, he appeared as the bad guy in a total of twenty-two war films and crime thrillers that include “Espionage Agent”, “Nick Carter, Master Detective”, “Calling Philo Vance”, “Nazi Agent”, and Paramount Studios’s “The Hitler Gang”, the second of his three roles as Goebbels.
After the end of the Second World War, Martin Kosleck continued his work at Universal Studios with appearances in several horror films. The first of which was the role of Ragheb, the Arkam sect disciple, in the 1944 “The Mummy’s Curse”. This film was Universal’s fifth entry in its “Mummy” franchise as well as Lon Chaney Jr’s final appearance as the mummy Kharis. In 1945, Kosleck again co-starred with Chaney as the disturbed plastic surgeon Dr. Rudi Polden in “The Frozen Ghost”. He was in two Universal films in 1946: a supporting role in “She-Wolf of London” which starred June Lockhart who had just finished filming “Son of Lassie”, and “House of Horrors”, a film which contains one of Kosleck’s best horror film roles, the obsessed sculptor Marcel de Lange who controls the mad killer known as “The Creeper”.
In 1947 Kosleck unexpectedly married the German actress Eleonora van Mendelssohn. Born to an elite banking family in Berlin, she was both a sensitive and vulnerable woman who had married four times and, after an abortion, initially used morphine as a sedative but soon became addicted. With less film roles offered, Kosleck returned with his wife to New York city where he appeared on Broadway in Jean Giraudoux’s “La Folle de Chaillot”, a production starring John Carradine and Tony Award winner Martita Hunt, that was recognized as one of the best plays of 1948-1949. Kosleck also had an extensive career in television with appearances on such shows as “Hallmark Hall of Fame”, “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”, “The Outer Limits”, “The F.B.I.”, “Mission Impossible” and “Studio One”, among others.
Martin Kosleck’s last screen appearance was as Horst Borsht in Robert Day’s 1980 detective comedy “The Man with Bogart’s Face”. This film is also noted for being the last film appearance of George Raft. Martin Kosleck died at the age of eighty-nine following abdominal surgery at a Santa Monica convalescent home in Los Angeles County. His body was cremated; the location of his ashes are unknown.
Notes: Eleonora von Mendelssohn, already a fragile person, had taken the role of caregiver for both her hospitalized gay brother Francesco who had suffered a stroke and Kosleck who had attempted suicide over a love affair dispute. In January of 1951, Eleonora committed suicide with a toxic cocktail of ether, pills and injections. Her body was discovered by Hans Twardowski. To better understand the tragic life of Eleonora von Mendelssohn, I suggest reading the biographical article located at The Mendelssohn Society website: https://www.mendelssohn-gesellschaft.de/en/mendelssohns/biografien/eleonora-von-mendelssohn
A complete list of Martin Kosleck’s films and television appearances can be found at the Swiss film site Cyranos located at: https://www.cyranos.ch/smkosl-e.htm
An article entitled “The Cult of Actor Martin Kosleck in The Flesh Eaters” contains information on Kosleck’s work with Universal Studios. It can be found on the Cult Film Alley website located at: https://cultfilmalley.com.au/2022/05/12/the-cult-of-actor-martin-kosleck-in-the-flesh-eaters-1964/
Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Martin Kosleck”, Studio Publicity Film Shot, Gelatin Silver Print
Second Insert Image: Eugene Fords, “Berlin Correspondent”, (Virginia Gilmore, Sig Ruman, Martin Kosleck), 1942, Cinematography Virgil Miller, 20th Century Fox
Third Insert Image: Tim Whelan, “The Mad Doctor”, (Martin Kosleck and Basil Rathbone), 1941, Cinematography Ted Tetzlaff, Paramount Pictures
Fourth Insert Image: Leslie Goodwins, “The Mummy’s Curse”, (Peter Coe, Martin Kosleck, Kay Harding), 1944, Cinematography Virgil Miller, Universal Studios
Bottom Insert Image: Jean Yarbrough, “House of Horrors”, (Rondo Hatton and Martin Kosleck), 1946, Cinematography Maury Gertsman, Universal Studios