8 July 1885|
2 September 1929 (aged 44)|
Film director |
Paul Leni (8 July 1885, Stuttgart – 2 September 1929, Los Angeles) born Paul Josef Levi was a German filmmaker and a key figure in German Expressionist filmmaking, making Backstairs (Hintertreppe, 1921) and Waxworks (1924) in Germany, and The Cat and the Canary (1927), The Chinese Parrot (1927), The Man Who Laughs (1928), and The Last Warning (1929) in the U.S.
Leni became an avant-garde painter at the age of 15, he studied at Berlin's Academy of Fine Arts, and subsequently worked as a theatrical set designer, working for a number of theatres in Berlin (but not with Max Reinhardt).
During World War I he started directing as well with films such as Der Feldarzt / Das Tagebuch des Dr. Hart (1917), Patience (1920), Die Verschwörung zu Genua (1920/21) and Backstairs (1921). Waxworks (1924) was planned as a four part omnibus feature, but the last part was not shot when money ran out. He also made a series of unusual short animated films Rebus-Film Nr. 1 - 8, which were filmed crossword puzzles.
In 1927, he moved to Hollywood to accept Carl Laemmle's invitation to become a director at Universal Studios. There Leni made a distinguished directorial debut with The Cat and the Canary (1927), an adaptation of John Willard's stage play. The film had a great influence over Universal's later classic "haunted house" horror series, and was subsequently remade several times, notably in 1939 with Bob Hope. The following year he directed the big budget The Man Who Laughs, one of the most visually stylized of late period silent films.
Paul Leni died of blood poisoning in Los Angeles on 2 September 1929.