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Paul Lukas (born Pl Lukcs; May 26, 1894 – August 15, 1971) was a Hungarian actor. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in the film Watch on the Rhine (1943), reprising the role he created on the Broadway stage.


Lukas was born Pl Lukcs in Budapest into a Jewish family, the son of Adolf Munkcsi and Mria Schneckendorf. He was later adopted by Mria (ne Zilahy) and Jnos Lukcs, an advertising executive.

Lukas made his stage debut in Budapest in 1916 and his film debut in 1917. At first, he played elegant, smooth womanizers, but increasingly he became typecast as a villain. He had a successful stage and film career in Hungary, Germany, and Austria, where he worked with Max Reinhardt. He arrived in Hollywood in 1927 and became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1937.

Paul Lukas starring as Kurt Mueller in the original Broadway production of Lillian Hellman‘s Watch on the Rhine (1941)

He was busy in the 1930s, appearing in such films as the melodrama Rockabye, the crime caper Grumpy, Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Lady Vanishes, the comedy Ladies in Love, and the drama Dodsworth. He followed William Powell and Basil Rathbone portraying the series detective Philo Vance, a cosmopolitan New Yorker, once in The Casino Murder Case (1935).

His major film success came in Watch on the Rhine (1943), where he played a man working against the Nazis, a role he originated in the Broadway premiere of the play of the same name in 1941. His portrayal of Kurt Mueller, a German migr with an American wife, played by Bette Davis, was universally lauded by critics. Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times, wrote, “As the enemy of fascism, Mr. Lukas’ haggard, loving, resourceful determination becomes heroic by virtue of his sincerity and his superior abilities as an actor.” He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for the role, winning out over luminary efforts as Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, Gary Cooper in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Walter Pidgeon in Madame Curie, and Mickey Rooney in The Human Comedy. He also received the New York Film Critics Award for his performance.

In 1943, he guest starred as the eponymous character in an episode of the radio program Suspense, “Mr. Markham, Antique Dealer”. On April 2, 1944, he starred in “The Steadfast Heart” on Silver Theater.

Modern viewers also remember Lukas for his role as Professor Aronnax in Walt Disney‘s film version of Jules Verne‘s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954). By that time, however, he was, at age 60, suffering from memory problems during the production, apparently leading him to lash out at cast and crew alike. Even friend Peter Lorre was not immune to the abuse.

In the 1940s, Lukas was a charter member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, a conservative lobbying group opposed to possible Communist influence in Hollywood.

Lukas’ film career picked up momentum in the 1960s with six films, including Fun in Acapulco with Elvis Presley in 1963 and Lord Jim with Peter O’Toole in 1965. His final film, The Challenge, was released in 1970.

The remainder of his career moved from Hollywood to the stage to television. His only singing role was as Cosmo Constantine in the original 1950 Broadway stage version of Irving Berlin‘s Call Me Madam, opposite Ethel Merman (although he is heard singing a song in the 1933 film Little Women, displaying a pleasant voice).


Lukas died August 15, 1971, in Tangier, Morocco, reportedly while searching for a place to spend his retirement years. He is buried in Spain.


Lukas was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6821 Hollywood Boulevard on February 8, 1960.

Partial filmography

Year Title Role Notes
1922 Samson and Delilah Ettore Ricco, tenor
1923 The Unknown Tomorrow
1928 Three Sinners Count Dietrich Wallentin
Manhattan Cocktail Boris Renov
The Woman from Moscow Vladimir
Loves of an Actress Doctor Durande
Two Lovers Don Ramon de Linea
Hot News James Clayton
Night Watch Captain Corlaix
The Shopworn Angel Bailey
1929 The Wolf of Wall Street David Tyler
Illusion Count Fortuny
Half Way to Heaven Nick Pogli
1930 Behind the Make-Up Boris
Slightly Scarlet Malatroff
Young Eagles Von Baden
The Benson Murder Case Adolph Mohler
The Devil’s Holiday Dr Reynolds
Grumpy Berci
Anybody’s Woman Gustave Saxon
The Right to Love Eric
1931 City Streets Big Fellow Mashal
Unfaithful Colin Graham
Working Girls Doctor Joseph Von Schrader
Women Love Once Julien Fields
The Beloved Bachelor Michael Morda
Strictly Dishonorable Gus
The Vice Squad Stephen Lucarno
1932 No One Man Dr Karl Bemis
Tomorrow and Tomorrow Doctor Nicholas Faber
Thunder Below Ken
Downstairs Albert, the Baron’s Butler
Rockabye Antonie de Sola
A Passport to Hell Lt. Kurt Kurtoff
1933 The Kiss Before the Mirror Walter Bernsdorf
Sing Sinner Sing Phil Carida
By Candlelight Josef
Secret of the Blue Room Captain Walter Brink
Captured! Colonel Carl Ehrlich
Little Women Prof. Bhaer
Grand Slam Blondie
1934 The Countess of Monte Criso Rumowski
Glamour Victor Banki
I Give My Love Paul Vadja
Gift of Gab The Corpse
Father Brown, Detective Flambeau
The Fountain Rupert von Narwitz
Affairs of a Gentleman Victor Gresham
1935 Age of Indiscretion Robert Lenhart
The Casino Murder Case Philo Vance
The Three Musketeers Athos
I Found Stella Parish Stephan Norman
1936 Dodsworth Arnold Iselin
Ladies in Love John Barta
1937 Brief Ecstasy Professor Paul Bernardy
The Mutiny of the Elsinore Jack Pethurst
Espionage Anton Kronsky
Dinner at the Ritz Baron Philip de Beaufort
1938 The Lady Vanishes Dr Hartz
1939 Confessions of a Nazi Spy Dr. Kassell
Captain Fury Francois Dupre
1940 Strange Cargo Hessler
The Chinese Bungalow Yuan Sing
The Ghost Breakers Parada
A Window in London Zoltini Released as Lady in Distress in USA
1941 The Monster and the Girl W. S. Bruhl
They Dare Not Love Baron von Helsing
1943 Watch on the Rhine Kurt Muller
Hostages Rheinhardt
1944 Uncertain Glory Inspector Marcel Bonet
Address Unknown Martin Schulz
Experiment Perilous Nick Bederaux
1946 Deadline at Dawn Gus Hoffman
Temptation Sir Meyer Isaacson
1947 Whispering City Albert Frederic
Don’t Be a Sucker The Refugee Produced by the US War Department
1948 Berlin Express Dr Bernhardt
1950 Kim Lama
1954 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Prof. Pierre Aronnax
1958 The Roots of Heaven Saint Denis
1960 Scent of Mystery Baron Saradin
1962 Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Karl von Hartrott
Tender Is the Night Dr. Dohmler
1963 55 Days at Peking Dr. Steinfeldt
Fun in Acapulco Maximillian Dauphin
1965 Lord Jim Stein
1968 Sol Madrid Capo Riccione
1970 The Challenge Dr Nagy