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Paul Muni Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (5)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Spouse (1)  | Trade Mark (1)  | Trivia (20)  | Personal Quotes (6)  | Salary (2)

Overview (5)

Born in Lemberg, Galicia, Austria-Hungary [now Lviv, Ukraine]
Died in Montecito, California, USA  (heart problems)
Birth NameMeshilem Meier Weisenfreund
Nickname Munya
Height 5' 9" (1.75 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Paul Muni was born Sept. 22, 1895, in Lemberg, Austro-Hungarian Empire, to Salli and Phillip Weisenfreund, who were both professionals. His family was Jewish, and spoke Yiddish. Paul was educated in New York and Cleveland public schools. He was described as 5 feet 10 inches, with black hair and eyes, 165 pounds. He joined the Yiddish Art Theatre in New York (1908) for 4 years, and then moved to other Yiddish theaters until 1926, when he "went into an American play" called "We Americans", his first English-language role. In 1927-28, he appeared in the plays "Four Walls", "This One Man", "Counsellor-at-Law", and others. He began with Fox in 1928. He would later alternate between Broadway and Hollywood for his roles, becoming one of the more distinguished actors in either venue. Failing eyesight and otherwise poor health forced him into retirement after his appearance in The Last Angry Man (1959).

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Bill Takacs <kinephile@aol.com>, Dave Curbow <dcurbow@acm.org>

Spouse (1)

Bella Muni (8 May 1921 - 25 August 1967) ( his death)

Trade Mark (1)

Known for his complete transformations into the roles he played (often changing his voice and appearence)

Trivia (20)

One of only six actors to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his first screen appearance. The other five actors are: Orson Welles, Lawrence Tibbett, Alan Arkin, James Dean and Montgomery Clift.
Wife Bella was niece of actor Boris Thomashefsky and cousin of classical conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.
Interred at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery (now called Hollywood Forever), Hollywood, California, USA.
Suffered all his life from a rheumatic heart.
Received Oscar nominations for both his first and last screen performances (The Valiant (1929) and The Last Angry Man (1959)).
Was given the nickname "The New Lon Chaney" at the start of his film career.
During his live TV appearance in the Playhouse 90 (1956) episode "The Last Chance", he appeared to be wearing a hearing aid. He wasn't. At his advanced age, and given the state of his health, it was no longer possible for him to memorize long stretches of dialogue on short notice. What he was wearing was a small radio transmitter, through which he was fed his lines just prior to speaking them.
Turned down the role of Roy Earle in High Sierra (1941), which was eventually given to Humphrey Bogart.
A man of 5' 9" height, he wore small lifts (adding three or four inches) and padding to appear more hulking and ape-like as Tony in Scarface (1932).
At the time he left Warner Brothers, he was trying to convince the studio to let him star in a biography of Ludwig van Beethoven. Warners weren't interested, and Muni never did portray the composer. If the film had been made, it would have been the first screen biography of Beethoven in English. Jack L. Warner, who was president of Warner Brothers, said to the actor, "Nobody wants to see a movie about a blind composer".
Perhaps the most famous portrayer of Louis Pasteur, Muni was born only six days before Pasteur's death.
Won Broadway's 1956 Tony Award as Best Actor (Dramatic) for "Inherit the Wind."
Of the six actors to receive Best Actor Academy Award nominations for their first screen appearance, he's the only one to eventually win a Best Actor Oscar during his career. Of the other five, Orson Welles won an Oscar for Best Screenplay, Alan Arkin eventually won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and Montgomery Clift, Lawrence Tibbett and James Dean never won.
He and James Dean are the only actors to receive an Academy Award nomination for both their first and last screen appearance.
He once told Clifford Odets about how he gave up boxing because it endangered his secondary career as a violinist. This inspired Odets to write "Golden Boy" (its film adaptation Golden Boy (1939) was directed by Rouben Mamoulian).
In 1959, he appeared in a Broadway-bound musical adaptation of "Grand Hotel" entitled "At the Grand". Disagreements between the star, the producers and the directors prompted the early closing in San Francisco before it ever made it to New York.
In early 1930 Fox Film Corporation announced that Paul Muni's next film for the company would be "It Might Have Happened", to be directed by Irving Cummings. The film eventually was not made.
Stars in four Oscar Best Picture nominees: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932),The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936), The Good Earth (1937) and The Life of Emile Zola (1937), with the last of these winning in the category. He was nominated for Best Actor for his performances in all of these except The Good Earth and won for The Story of Louis Pasteur.
Had a fondness for playing historical characters and appearing in heavy disguise. Co-star Bette Davis wrote in her autobiography : "There is no question that his technique as an actor was superb...(but) Mr. Muni seemed intent on submerging himself so completely that he disappeared".
Producer Hal B. Wallis remarked after the failure of Juarez (1939) at the box office "Every time Paul Muni parts his beard and looks down a telescope, this company loses two million dollars".

Personal Quotes (6)

I don't want to be a star. If you have to label me anything, I'm an actor - I guess. A journeyman actor. I think "star" is what you call actors who can't act.
A writer can write in an attic, or on top of a bus. Or with a sharp stick in some wet cement. To act, an actor has to have words. A stage. a camera turning. I can't go into the middle of Times Square, stop traffic and start acting.
I won't go up in a plane, but if a play crashes, I'll jump into the next one that comes along and take it up for a spin.
I've never tried to learn the art of acting. I have been in the business for years but I still can't tell what acting is or how it's done.
[to Irving Thalberg, on the MGM producer's desire to cast him as Wang Lung in The Good Earth (1937)] I'm about as Chinese as Herbert Hoover.
[on Robert Donat's performance in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)] The most magnificent performance I've ever seen on any screen. Not a false motion - not a wasted gesture. He is the greatest actor we have today.

Salary (2)

The Good Earth (1937) $3,000 /week
Juarez (1939) $11,500 /week

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