Oscar Actors: Auer, Mischa (Michael)–My Man Godfrey

Oscar Nominations: 1 Supporting Actor: My Man Godfrey (1936)

Genre: screwball comedy

Age at nomination: 31

Career duration: About three decades.

Age at death: 61


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Michael Auer was born Mischa Ounskowski on November 17, 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Jewish Descent

Auer’s parents were a Russian naval officer and the daughter of Hungarian-born Jewish violinist Leopold Auer. He was brought to the U.S. in 1920 by his maternal grandfather, violinist Leopold Auer, from whom he took his stage name.

Spotted by Director Frank Tuttle

For several years he appeared in films in small parts, mostly a villain. When his father died at age 3, he was taken in by his grandfather Leopold Auer emigrated to the US after the Russian Revolution. Mischa Auer and his mother became separated, but were reunited during the Russian Civil War. hen she died of typhus, Auer contacted his grandfather, who brought the teenager to the U.S. in August 1920. He attended New York’s Ethical Culture school, then turned to the theater. Auer was appearing in the play on Broadway when director Frank Tuttle offered him a part in the film “Something Always Happens” (1928)

My Man Godfrey

The turning point in his career came with his hilarious performance in Gregory La Cava’s “My Man Godfrey,” for which he was Oscar-nominated. His long, sad face, bulging eyes, and droll accent enlivened his comedies. For a while, he was one of Hollywood’s most popular supporting actors, typically in eccentric, comic roles.

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

Oscar Impact: Typecasting

In 1936, Auer was cast as Alice Brady’s protégé in the comedy My Man Godfrey, for which he was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, prior to which, he was mostly playing villains. He noted:  “That one role made a comic out of me.”

Auer appeared in some 60 American films before settling in Europe, where he continued acting.

Oscar Alert

In 1936, Auer competed for the Supporting Actor Oscar with Walter Brennan in “Come and Get It,” who won, Stuart Erwin in “Pigskin Parade,” Basil Rathbone in “Romeo and Juliet,” and Akim Tamiroff in “The General Died at Dawn.”

From then on, he was cast in zany comedy roles, such as the ballet instructor Kolenkov in Capra’s 1938 Best Picture You Can’t Take It with You, and the prince-turned-fashion designer in Walter Wanger’s Vogues of 1938.

Auer was also seen in 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). He became member of the ensemble-driven “And Then There Were None,” and appeared in some vehicles for opera singer Lily Pons.

In the 1950s, Auer appeared on episodic TV series, such as Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, Studio One, Broadway Television Theatre and The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre.

Auer 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.