Curt Lowens: A Character Actor With True Character

(reprinted from my business blog…)

One of my favorite things to do is discover inspirational stories – about people you’d least expect, beautiful scenes of nature, or the toil of an insect.

If you are a MASH fan and watch the reruns on television, there is an episode about the 4077’s surgeons treating a wounded soldier from a small army unit from Luxembourg. The Luxembourg commander comes to the 4077th to visit his comrade-in-arms, and to thank the doctors for their diligent treatment of his wounds.

curt lowens, inspiration, MASH, character actor

This commander is played by a character actor named Curt Lowens. Very handsome, he has an elegant manner of speaking and the polite demeanor of the upper class European. So I looked him up on some of my favorite websites.

It turns out that Curt Lowens had just died this past May (2017) at the age of 91. The astonishing part was he was also a Holocaust survivor and war hero during WWII! My curiosity piqued, I researched further. Turns out that Curt Lowens, formerly Loewenstein, had become very well known among holocaust survivors, having saved over 100 Jews from certain death during the German occupation in Holland.

Curt was born in Poland in 1925. His father was a successful lawyer who had very high connections with the German and Jewish communities. The Loewensteins moved to Berlin in the 1930s when things became more dangerous for Jews in Poland. They thought they would be more protected by the large Jewish community in the German capital.

holocaust, concentration camp

After Kristallnacht destroyed their synagogue in 1938, the day before Curt’s bar mitzvah, the Loewensteins fled Berlin and entered Holland, trying to make their way to London. Before they could leave Holland, however, they were arrested and sent to a concentration camp. Miraculously, due to his father’s high connections, Curt and his family were released and allowed to reside in Holland.

The 13-year-old Curt soon joined the Dutch Resistance and over the next 2 years helped place over 100 Jewish children and adults with families who would hide them.

One afternoon, Curt was working outside on a farm when he saw two parachutes in the sky. Two American airmen had bailed out of their burning plane and landed in a nearby field. Curt was able to get them to trust him and he hid them in haystacks to avoid the Germans searching for them.

Afterwards Curt helped get the airmen back to England through the resistance underground, earning a commendation from General Eisenhower. He said the most vivid memory he had of the incident was getting his first taste of American chewing gum, which he mistakenly swallowed!

Curt, continued working with the British Eighth Corps as an interpreter, using a fake identity as a teacher until war’s end.

Curt emigrated to the U.S. in 1947 and studied to become an actor. He shortened his name to Lowens. Most of the roles he played were, of all things, Nazi officers, SS men, and even the Angel of Death Josef Mengele!  He appeared in movies such as Torn Curtain, Tobruk, Counterpoint, The Secret of Santa Vittoria, The Mephisto Waltz, The Hindenberg, The Other Side of Midnight, and Angels and Demons.

But his most active career path was as a guest star in nearly every TV series in the 60s, 70s and 80s that needed a German or Russian character. From General Hospital in 1962, to The FBI, Hogan’s Heroes, 12 O’clock High, Mission Impossible, MacGyver, Murder She Wrote, and MASH, ending with Legit, in 2013.

curt lowens, inspiration, MASH, character actor

In his later years, Lowens lent his life story to the Visual History Archive at the USC Shoah Foundation documenting the history of the Holocaust, and wrote his memoir called Destination: Questionmark. Lowens also worked with students at the Chapman School, providing his story and helping them create films and documentaries of te world’s history some in the world do not acknowledge.

There is no question what kind of man Curt Lowens was. Never one to bring attention to himself, he would say only that during his time with the Dutch Resistance, he did what anyone would do. As I watch his performances in television reruns, I only wish more people knew the story behind this selfless and caring man.

How To Have a Successful Classic Movie Festival

 

 

Our one-day Classic Film festival has ended and three of us enjoyed five movies in less than 12 hours!

It was TCM Backlot that inspired me to entertain with a classic movie festival, and I thank them with all of my heart.

You need to know that just above my friends here on the couch hangs a gift from TCM Backlot – a print of the old MGM studios with the TCM logo. Here it is:

It was a mini vacation for all of us movie lovers and I recommend it wholeheartedly.  All my films were either purchased at the TCM Shop or recorded from a TCM showing.

Our first film was All About Eve, a curiously relevant story of a young actress’s drive to succeed and replace her idol on the stage and screen. Eve (Anne Baxter), becomes the antagonist in her climb to stardom, taking advantage of the generosity of her supposed idol, stage actress Margo Channing, played by a marvelous Bette Davis.

Eve hides her ambition behind a sweet smile and deferential manner, while ingratiating herself with the people close to Margo, including her husband, played by Bette Davis’s real life husband, Gary Merrill.

While all this is going on, it’s Margo Channing’s skeptical dresser, played by the fantastic Thelma Ritter, who takes our role as the audience, watching what’s going on with jaundiced eyes and states outright that no one could be as sweet and innocent as Eve portends.

Two thirds of the movie later, as the realization of Eve’s manipulations dawns on the players, we see that they are already caught in the web of Eve’s cunning and that their lives and relationships are at a standstill.

The denouement comes at the finale, as Eve discovers that she has made a pact with the devil, one Addison DeWitt, a theatre critic played by the cunning George Sanders, who has done his homework and uncovered the truth about the real Eve.

Justice never felt so good.

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Next up was The Lodger, a silent 1927 film, one of the first directed by Alfred Hitchcock and filmed in Hitch’s England, well before he came to America. Since we’ve seen or heard about Hitch’s more famous movies as his career advanced, you can see the talents of this storytelling genius emerging in this film.

The thick fog of London’s nights becomes one of the characters as the suspense builds, and we strain to figure out who was murdering blond women on the lonely streets. Neon signs blink on and off like silent screams and we’re made to wait as the scene slowly unfolds, introducing a very secretive man seeking a room in a boarding house, the lodger.

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After The Lodger and getting our racing heartrates back to normal, I introduced my friends to one of Barbara Stanwyck’s early films, Ball of Fire (1941), where she plays a New York showgirl full of piss and vinegar and brimming with sex appeal.

Ms. Stanwyck, who was a petite woman just over 5 feet tall, nevertheless casts a giant shadow across the astonished faces of 7 secluded and proper professors residing in a large New York townhouse. She asks if she could stay there on the pretense of hiding from an abusive boyfriend. Actually, she’s hiding from the district attorney who’s investigating said boyfriend (Dana Andrews).

Ms. Stanwyck’s character, appropriately named Sugarpuss O’Shea for her nightclub act, is like a naughty Snow White to 7 clueless dwarves – these elderly professors dedicated to creating a new encyclopedia.

One of the professors, played by Gary Cooper, is a grammarian researching American slang expressions. His exposure to Sugarpuss opens a treasure trove of slang that nearly overwhelms him. We laughed ourselves silly as a surprised Cooper learns what yum yum kisses are and his fellow “dwarves” learn the conga dance.

This screwball comedy features a healthy supporting cast of S.Z. Sagall, Oscar Homolka, Henry Travers, Richard Haydn, Dana Andrews and Dan Duryea.

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It was time to shift gears once again, as we settled in for the beautiful and perfect Laura from 1944, with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb and Vincent Price, directed by Otto Preminger. We are told in the opening scene that Laura was murdered in cold blood in her apartment.

Dana Andrews plays Detective Mark McPherson, and spends a lot of hours in Laura’s apartment, trying to understand Laura, her associates, and her playboy fiancé (Vincent Price). He’s mesmerized by the full length painting of Laura over the fireplace and even has dreams about her.

Throughout the film the very recognizable “Laura theme” undulates and seems to tease McPherson into thinking Laura still lives. She’s beautiful and as pure a soul as Clifton Webb, a newspaper columnist,  describes her in his narration of the story.

The tight script reveals the traits and flaws of each character as we try and determine who might have murdered Laura. There was plenty of motivation for some of them. The ending does not disappoint.

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Next up was The More The Merrier from 1941 starring Jean Arthur, Charles Coburn and Joel McCrea.

A delightful screwball comedy set in Washington, D.C. (my hometown) during World War II, the film could have been set during any turbulent time in any place where there was lack of housing. My mother relayed to me how the severe housing shortage in the nation’s capital was due to the military buildup of the war, bringing thousands of military and government personnel to the city. Mom had reached working age and was eager to join the ranks of the “government girls,” herself and work in support of the war effort within the burgeoning bureaucracy.

The film is the story of one of these government girls, Connie Milligan, exquisitely brought to life by Jean Arthur, who advertised a room for rent in her apartment. Naturally she expected applications from newly arrived women looking for a place to live, but when an amiable and harmless Mr. Dingle, (Charles Coburn) shows up in his rumpled suit and quiet manner, she relents.

But when Connie presents Mr. Dingle (Coburn) with a minute-to-minute schedule for sharing the morning chores as well as the kitchen and bathroom, that’s when things get crazy. The two of them briskly wend their way through the routine, passing each other between the kitchen, the morning stoop for the paper, and the shower. Soon Mr. Dingle gets locked out of the apartment while retrieving the newspaper, and ends up losing his trousers in the confusion.

But that isn’t all, that same day  another man approaches the apartment and Mr. Dingle rents half of his half of the apartment to this stranger, a virile Joel McCrea.  But Mr. Dingle doesn’t tell Connie of McCrea’s existence nor does he tell McCrea about Connie. The madcap happenings of the frantic morning routine, misunderstandings between fiancés, coworkers, and the three roommates started giggles that couldn’t be stopped.

And that wrapped up our mini classic movie festival with fantastic films, delectable food, and the comforts of home!

If you have ideas from your own movie festival — suggestions of films, food and other comforts, please share them in the comments!