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Fled Nazi Germany : Douglas Sirk, Director of U.S., Foreign Films, Dies

January 17, 1987|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

Douglas Sirk, the Danish-born director who amassed a considerable reputation in German films of the 1930s but was forced to flee the Nazi regime because of his leftist leanings and come to Hollywood where his material never matched his ability, is dead.

The director of such popular American melodramas as "Magnificent Obsession" and "Written on the Wind" was 86, an aide said, adding that he died Wednesday in a Lugano, Switzerland, hospital after being ill for several years. He was believed to have had cancer.

Sirk was born Detlef Sierck in Skagen, Denmark, but went to Germany as a youth to study drama. He translated Shakespearean sonnets and directed several successful stage dramas in Hamburg, where he established an avant-garde reputation for the plays of Bertolt Brecht.

But he soon believed he would be better off in Berlin, heart of the German film industry, because the Nazi regime was less likely to censor motion pictures. The government needed the foreign dollars generated on the international market.

Led to Stardom

His first two major movies launched actress Zarah Leander to stardom.

By 1937, he had become both a successful film director and head of the Leipzig drama school but was forced to leave Germany for Austria and France that year because of increasing political pressure. In addition to his own politics, he had taken a German wife.

Sierck came to the United States in the early 1940s and changed his name to Douglas Sirk. His first U.S. film, ironically, was "Hitler's Madman." It was typical of the low-budget pictures that were to follow.

His other Hollywood credits include "Weekend With Father," "Has Anybody Seen My Gal," (one of the first James Dean films), "There's Always Tomorrow," "A Time to Love and a Time to Die" and "Imitation of Life," his last U.S. picture in 1959.

In the early 1960s, he returned to Europe and independent filming. After falling ill, he retreated to his home near Lugano in southern Switzerland.

Recent Revival

After years of obscurity, Sirk's works have seen a recent revival in Europe, primarily because of his early Expressionist tendencies.

One of Sirk's most prominent fans was Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the late West German film maker.

"I have seen six films by Douglas Sirk," Fassbinder once wrote. "The most beautiful in the world were among them."

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