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The Death Mask of F.W. Murnau

Friedrich Wilhelm "F. W." Murnau (1888-1931) was one of the most influential German film directors of the silent era and a prominent figure in the expressionist movement in German cinema during the 1920s. Murnau's best known work was his 1922 film Nosferatu, an adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Last Laugh, and Sunrise.

This is the deathmask of at the Berlin Filmmuseum

Garbo and Murnau
Mauritz Stiller was a good friend of of F. W Murnau's. Hewas the type of artist whose sensitivities doubtless reminded Greta of her mentor M. Stiller.

“During the period of mutual admiration between Garbo and the director Murnau ... I remember them both sprawled in a lively tête-à-tête on the wide expanse of Ludwig Berger’s billiard table,” Sergei Eisenstein wrote in his memoirs.

It is unknown when GG met Murnau for the first time but they may became friends around 1929. He was as solitary as she was. Rumor is that they may even talked about doing a movie together.

Murnau was a regular guest at the Viertel (Salka and Berthold) house on 165 Mabery Road in Los Angeles. Garbo became Salka's friend around April 1930.

Garbo and Murnau (photomontage)

Murnau’s Death Mask
In 1931, seven days before the premiere of his film Tabu, he allowed a fourteen year-old Filipino boy named Garcia Stevenson to ride his limo. And for some absolutely bizarre reason, he let the boy drive the Packard vehicle beside him.

Stevenson, driving too fast and swerving to avoid a truck, eventually crashed against an electric pole, killing the legendary film director. Garcia was not hurt, nor the other person in the car, but Murnau’s head was cracked open on a roadside pole and he died at hospital shortly afterwards. He was 42 years old.

While the scandalous rumors surrounding Murnau's death resulted in the appearance of only a handful of mourners at his funeral, Garbo showed up during the interment. Garbo also commissioned a death mask of him, which she kept on her desk during her years in Hollywood (not for her whole life, as many may think). Decades later, Garbo gave the Mask to Murnau’s family.

Murnau was later entombed on Southwest Cemetery (Südwest-Kirchhof Stahnsdorf) in Stahnsdorf near Berlin.

Garbo and the Death Mask (photomontage)

A death mask is a wax or plaster cast made of a person’s face following death. Death masks may be mementos of the dead, or be used for creation of portraits.

Today, the Death Mask belongs to the Filmmuseum in Berlin/Germany.

Source: Barry Paris – Garbo (1994) and Karen Swenson – A life Apart (1997)

Garbo personally owned or worn - Introduction


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