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‘Last Tape’ Is Not Last Call, German Actor Says

February 29, 1988

FRANKFURT, West Germany (AP) _ The career of German stage great Bernhard Minetti spans from the tumultuous days of the Weimar Republic to a current round of accolades for his contribution to the theater.

He recently was made an honorary member of Frankfurt’s prestigous theater ensemble after receiving lengthy standing ovations for his final performance in Samuel Beckett’s classic ″Krapp’s Last Tape,″ at the city playhouse.

But the feisty, 83-year-old actor heatedly says he’s not heading towards his last curtain call.

″Why should I quit? I’m not sick,″ said Minetti, who is known for his brusque manner and general dislike of talking to the news media.

Over the years, he has played some of the greatest roles theater has to offer, always in his native German.

His Shakespearean heroes have included Hamlet, Othello and Lear. The actor’s roles by German playwrights have included both Mephistopheles and Faust in Goethe’s ″Faust,″ Robespierre in Buechner’s ″Danton’s Death″ and Wallenstein in Schiller’s ″Wallenstein.″

One of his favorite roles, the craggy-faced actor said in an interview is King Lear. ″I would play Lear again any time,″ he said, speaking in German.

Another role he said he would play again is Krapp in ″Krapp’s Last Tape,″ which he has been performing in Frankfurt since last October to enthusiastic reviews.

Projects for 1988, he said, include starring in a play by German playwright Gerhart Hauptmann in Berlin.

″If you want any other information, just read my book,″ he said, his voice rising.

Minetti wrote the 1985 book, ″Memoirs of an Actor,″ with the help of Frankfurt city theater director Guenther Ruehle.

″Minetti is certainly one of our country’s greatest actors,″ Ruehle said. ″He has a strong personality and presence, and brings a wonderful intellectual energy into his work.″

Minetti, who now lives in West Berlin, was a member of the Frankfurt city theater ensemble from 1951 to 1956.

Critics praise Minetti especially for leading roles he played as an older man.

″The older he gets, the better he is,″ drama critic Georg Hensel of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper said. ″Minetti has impressed me most with his performances as King Lear, Prospero and his work with the playwright Thomas Bernhard.″

The actor is well known for his performances in works by Austrian playwright Bernhard, who in 1976 wrote a play entitled ″Minetti - A Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man″ in the actor’s honor. Minetti starred in the poignant story of a lonely old actor and a little girl who visits him.

″I’m constantly being asked whether I’m the Minetti that Thomas Bernhard created,″ Minetti writes in his 1985 memoirs. ″Large portions of my life are not represented in Bernhard’s plays. On the other hand, Bernhard gets to the essence of my being as an actor.″

Frankfurt’s Neue Presse newspaper has called him West Germany’s ″grand old actor.″

Minetti’s professional career began in 1927, when the beleaguered Weimar Republic was trying to cope with mass unemployment and severe inflation. But in 1933, Adolf Hitler took power, destroying hopes of a democratic solution.

Although Minetti has worked in many West German cities, he is best known as a Berlin actor. He was a member of Berlin’s Prussian State Theater from 1930 to 1944, when World War II forced the theater to close.

Minetti recalls in his memoirs the day in 1934 when ensemble members gathered to hear Gestapo head Hermann Goering appoint renowned actor Gustav Gruendgens director of the Prussian State Theater.

″Herr Gruendgens, you have been appointed to make this theater the best one in Germany, and, with that, the world,″ Minetti quoted Goering as saying.

Minetti devotes several sections of his memoirs to Gruendgens, whose experiences working for the Nazis were the basis of Klaus Mann’s novel, ″Mephisto.″ That novel formed the basis for the 1981 Academy Award- winning film starring Klaus Maria Brandauer.

″He (Gruendgens) certainly suffered from many things that he couldn’t change, politically, mentally and also ethically,″ Minetti wrote. ″I often said to myself, ’he has a cross to bear.‴

Minetti was not a Nazi sympathizer, he said. In a chapter called ″Questions of Conscience″ he writes of the problems artists had trying to get through the period.

Minetti starred in more than a dozen films during the Third Reich, but is not primarily thought of as a film actor.

Today, he occasionally participates in West Germany’s peace movement.

″The arms build-up goes against the duty to be humane,″ he said. ″My desire to live and to act is still strong.″