Curt Bois was born on April 5th 1901 at 28 Ansbacherstrasse, in Berlins Schöneberg district. He was one of four children, his elder sister being the actress and comedian Ilse Bois, brought up by his single mother after their father had left them.
He began acting in 1907, age 6, and was one of the worlds first child actors in film. His first film role was in the silent movie ‘Bauernhaus und Grafenschloß’. In 1909 he played the title role in Der Kleine Detectiv (The Little Detective), and in 1911 he appeared alongside his sister in Shakespeare’s ‘Richard ll” at the Circus Busch.
Throughout the Weimar years he toured in vaudeville and cabaret through Germany, Austria, Hungary and Switzerland and in Berlin performed extensively at Trude Hesterberg’s ‘Wilde Bühne’. His style of humour and slapstick often being compared to Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd.
In 1924 he performed in “Quo Vadis”, the opening production at the Kadeko alongside Margo Lion and Kurt Gerron. The production was an early satire on Nazism and Hitlers ‘Beerhall Putsch’ of the previous year. It played over 300 times until May 1926.
(image: Archiv der Akadamie der Kunst, Berlin)
From cabaret he moved into Operetta, working with Max Rheinhardt, Mischa Spoliansky and Friedrich Hollaender.
His biggest hit was in the adaptation of Brandon Thomas’s play ‘Charleys Aunt’ in 1928/29 and together with Max Hansen, co-wrote the stage comedy ‘Dienst am Kunden’ (customer service) in 1931
He fled Germany in 1933, first for Vienna and then Zurich to join Trude Hesterbergs cabaret, Corso. From there he and his wife, the singer Hedi Ury, went to Paris to visit Ilse. Here the decision was made to go to America, firstly to New York and eventually to Hollywood, making his US film debut in 1937 in ‘Hollywood Hotel’. His most famous film role of that time was as ‘The Pickpocket’ in the classic 1942 film ‘Casablanca’.
He returned to Germany in July 1950, returning to the stage in Gogol’s ‘The Government Inspector’. In 1951, he again met Bertolt Brecht and they worked together on the film production of ‘Mr Puntilla and his Man Matti’
He continued to work in theatre and film throughout the 1950′s and 1960′s and then in television during the 1970′s and early 1980′s.
His final role was in the Wim Wenders film ‘Wings Of Desire’ (Der Himmel über Berlin) in 1987, for which he received the award for Best Supporting Actor at the European Film Awards. It was presented to him at The Theater De Westens, where he had first performed 80 years previously.
His 80-year acting career is longer than any other actor in history and he appeared in over 100 films in both Germany and the US.
He died on Christmas Day 1991, aged 90, and is buried in Berlin’s Friedhof Wilmersdorf. Strangely, his grave is unmarked.