Oscar Actors: Schildkraut, Joseph–The Life of Emile Zola

Career Summary:

1 Best Supporting Actor Oscar, The Life of Emile Zola, 1937

Age at winning: 42

Schildkraut was born on March 22, 1896 in Vienna, Austria, to a Jewish family; he was the son of Erna (née Weinstein) and stage and film actor Rudolph Schildkraut.

The younger Schildkraut moved to the U.S. in the early 1900s. He appeared in many Broadway plays, including a notable production of Peer Gynt.

In 1921, Schildkraut played the title role in the first American production of Ferenc Molnár’s Liliom, the play that would serve as basis for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel.

He began working in silent movies, as the Chevalier de Vaudrey in D. W. Griffith’s Orphans of the Storm with Lillian Gish. Later, he was featured in Cecil B. DeMille’s epic 1927 film The King of Kings, as Judas Iscariot. Schildkraut’s father Rudolf also appeared in the film.

Schildkraut also played a Viennese-accented, non-singing Gaylord Ravenal in the 1929 part-talkie film version of Edna Ferber’s Show Boat, which was not a critical or box-office success. The classic Kern and Hammerstein musical versions of the play were made into successful movies in  1936, and then again in 1951.

Schildkraut received the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Alfred Dreyfus in The Life of Emile Zola (1937).

He gained further fame for playing the ambitious duc d’Orléans in the historical epic Marie Antoinette (1938), opposite Norma Shearer, Tyrone Power, John Barrymore.

He gave a notable performance as the villainous Nicolas Fouquet in The Man in the Iron Mask (1939).

Schildkraut is best remembered today for playing Otto Frank in both the stage production and film version of The Diary of Anne Frank (1959).

He was also an active character actor and appeared in guest roles on several early TV shows, including the Hallmark Hall of Fame, in which he played Claudius in the 1953 production of Hamlet, with Maurice Evans in the title role.

He also hosted and starred in Joseph Schildkraut Presents, a short-lived series on the DuMont Television Network from October 1953 to January 1954.

In 1961, during the third season of The Twilight Zone, he appeared on episode 9, “Deaths-Head Revisited.” He later played an elderly man in “The Trade-Ins” in season 3, episode 31 of the same show.

Emmy Nominations

In 1963, he was nominated for a Best Actor Emmy Award for his performance in a guest starring role on NBC’s Sam Benedict legal drama which starred Edmond O’Brien and Richard Rust.

Schildkraut was married three times. His first marriage was to actress Elise Bartlett in 1923; they divorced in 1931. He married Mary McKay in 1932, until her in 1962. In 1963, Schildkraut married Leonora Rogers, who survived him.

Schildkraut died at his home in New York of heart attack on January 21, 1964, at age 69.  His father also died at the same age, also of a heart attack.

Joseph Schildkraut, nominated for (and then winning) Supporting Actor Oscar in “The Life of Emile Zola” (1937) didn’t attend the banquet. “My agents discouraged me from going to the affair,” he later recalled, “because they thought the recipient would be Ralph Bellamy or Thomas Mitchell.”


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Schildkraut was already in bed, when the telephone rang and the excited voice of a man who did not even bother to introduce himself bellowed: “Where in the hell are you Why aren’t you here The awards are about to be handed and you are not here.”

Thinking it was some kind of practical joke, Schildkraut blurted out, “If you don’t tell me, I won’t come.” As a result, the anonymous man noted, “Yes, you son of a gun, you won it! Get down here quickly!”

Schildkraut dressed in style, ordered out the car, and went to the Biltmore Hotel, where the ceremonies took place. He arrived just in time to be seated at the Warner’s table and to accept the Oscar from Frank Capra for his portrayal of Captain Dreyfus.