Leo Birinski (June 8, 1884 – October 23, 1951) was a playwright, screenwriter and director of Jewish origin. He worked in Austria-Hungary, Germany and in the United States. As a playwright in Europe he gained his biggest popularity in 1910 – 1917, then he was forgotten. From the twenties to the forties of the 20th century he worked mainly as a screenwriter, first in Germany, later in the USA. In the USA he returned to writing the stage plays. He was writing in German and later on in the USA in English. Until recently, only a minimal amount of information about his life was available. In addition there were many legends and rumours concerning Birinski's person, some of them even spread by himself. For example the false report of his „suicide“ in 1920 even found its way from the newspaper obituaries into encyclopedias.
= Variations in his name
Leo Birinski – surname after his mother, approx. from 1908 his civil and stage name.
Other variations in spelling and form: Leo G. Birinski, Leo Birinsky, Lev G. Birinski, Lev Birinskij, Lav Birinski, Birinszki Leó, Lev Birinszkij, Leon Birinski etc.
Leo Gottesmann – surname after his father, used as his civil name until at least 1906.
The circumstances of Birinski's early life are quite indefinite; different sources offer eight possibilities of his place and date of birth. He was probably born on June 8, 1884, in Lysianka, Ukraine, Russian Empire. He occasionally presented this information in official documents, and it is supported by some indirect evidence, although it is impossible to prove definitively because the local birth records for Lysianka were not preserved. His father, Hersch Gottesmann, was born in Borschiv in eastern Galicia and was a salesman (he indicated „Agent“ as his employment in registration forms). His mother, Carna, born Berinska or Birinska, was a tenant's daughter from Lysianka. Birinski spent his childhood in the Ukraine and in the Czernowitz, the capital city of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bukovina.
At the beginning of the 20th century (either in 1901 or 1904, according to the sources consulted), he moved to Vienna. He worked in a bookshop, turned to translating and started to write by himself. From his Viennese era come three of Birinski's plays: the tragedies Der Moloch (The Moloch) and Raskolnikoff (after the novel Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky), and his most successful comedy (or tragicomedy, according to Birinski) Narrentanz (Dance of Fools), written in 1912. In March 1920, the already-mentioned suicide rumour, caused by a mistaken identity with his younger namesake, Leon Gottesmann, was spread in the local newspapers. Although repeatedly denied, the report was included into several contemporary encyclopedias. In fact, in April 1921 Birinski left Vienna and moved to Berlin.
- Leo Birinski is on the right, sitting on the white horse (c. 1923).]]
In Germany, Birinski probably married Jewish pianist Felicia Aschkenas, born probably in 1902 in Warsaw. He worked only for the movie industry, wrote many screenplays, and together with Paul Leni, directed the motion picture Das Wachsfigurenkabinett. During his German era he demonstrably participated in the screenplays of thirteen films, e.g. Tragödie der Liebe with Marlene Dietrich, Varieté by Ewald André Dupont, and pictures by Gennaro Righelli. Probably in September 1927 Birinski left for the USA; two years later, his wife followed him. They both identified themselves to the immigration officers by Nicaraguan passports. Birinski had even listed the city of Bluefields in Nicaragua as his birthplace. Most probably this was just a false identity.
In the USA he continued his work as an author of motion picture stories and screenplays (he participated in the thirteen documented films). The first Birinski American work was probably the story for Love and the Devil. Some of his pictures belong among the so-called „major“ films of the period: e.g. Mata Hari with Greta Garbo or Mamoulian´s movies The Song of Songs, with Marlene Dietrich, and The Gay Desperado. He once again tried the work of film director with Flirtation in 1934. The last known picture after a story by Birinski was the spy comedy The Lady Has Plans from 1942. Its adaptation for the radio series, Lux Radio Theater, was also created, and broadcast in April 1943 on the CBS radio network with Rita Hayworth and William Powell in the leads. Birinski also wrote several stage plays in the USA. On Broadway (New York City) his play Nowhere Bound was presented in January 1935 at the Imperial Theatre, and The Day Will Come in September 1944 at the National Theatre. In addition to these works, a manuscript of a stage play The Holy Devil (Rasputin) was found among the papers left by Herman Bernstein (a journalist and writer who died in August 1935). This play was probably never performed or published.
The last seven years of Birinski's life are enfolded in mist again. According to the extant death certificate, Leo Birinski died on October 23, 1951 at Lincoln Hospital in The Bronx, New York City. The certificate includes almost no information about the deceased. It could stand for Leo Birinski died in poverty and probably entirely lonely (without any relatives or heirs). He was buried at Potter's Field at Hart Island in a mass-grave („plot 45, section 2, no. 14“). In 2009 were found Birinski's relatives living in Israel and USA.
Poster for world premiere of Raskolnikoff. Fürstliches Hoftheater Gera: April 9 1913.
- Der Moloch (The Moloch), tragedy in three acts (1910). Premiere: January 21 1910, Neue Wiener Bühne Vienna.
- Other productions in German: Modernes Theater Berlin (1910), Deutsches Theater Cologne (1911), Volkstheater Munich (season 1910 / 1911), Altes Stadt-Theater Leipzig (season 1910 / 1911) etc.
- Translated into:
- Raskolnikoff (aka Raskolnikow), tragedy in three acts after Dostoevsky (the first reference in 1910, published 1912). Play based on the novel Crime and Punishment. Premiere: April 9 1913, Fürstliches Hoftheater Gera.
- Other productions in German: Residenz-Theater Berlin (1917), Wiener Kammerspiele Vienna (1917).
- Translated into:
- Narrentanz (The Dance of Fools), tragicomedy in four acts (1912). Premiere: September 28 1912, Lessing-Theater Berlin.
- Global premiere at the same time on September 28 1912: Neues Deutsches Theater Prague, Neue Wiener Bühne Vienna, Schauspielhaus Munich, Schauspielhaus Dresden, Schauspielhaus Cologne, Stadttheater Königsberg (now Kaliningrad), Schauspielhaus Leipzig, Neues Theater Frankfurt, and Deutsches Theater Hannover.
- Other productions in German: about 40 productions in various towns through the whole German language area. On November 13 1912 it was produced even at Irving Place German Theatre in New York City.
- Translated into:
- Czech: Vincenc Červinka (1912), title Mumraj, production in National Theatre Prague (1912), National Theatre Brno (1912 at a former house), amateur theatre Maryša Prague (1976), The Drama Club Prague (1991), The Vinohrady Theatre Prague (2009) etc.
- Slovenian: Anton Melik (1913), title Vrtoglavci, production in Ljubljana (1913), Nova Gorica (1987).
- Hungarian: Ferenc Herczeg (1913), title Bolondok tánca, production in Budapest (1913). Miklós Győrffy (1994), title Bolondok tánca; production in Szeged (1994), Marosvásárhely (1995), Budapest (1998). An unknown translator (2002), title Maskarádé, production in Budapest (2002).
- Danish: Carl Behrens (1913), title Narredans, production in Copenhagen (1913).
- Dutch: Herman Heijermans (1913), title Narrendans, production in Amsterdam (1914).
- French: Maurice Rémon (1914), title La Danse des fous, production in Paris (1914).
- Macedonian: Vladimir Milčin (1980), title Бркотница (Brkotnica), production in Skopje (1980).
- Croatian: Tomislav Lipljin (1982), title Maskerada, production in Varaždin (1982).
- Serbian: Vida Ognjenović (1988), title Луда игрa (Luda igra), production in Novi Sad (1988).
- Slovak: Martin Porubjak (1991), title Chaos, production in Bratislava (1991).
- There are mentioned translations into English and Japanese too, but they are not credited.
- Nur Ruhe!, farce in three acts by Johann Nestroy, adapted for modern stage by Leo Birinski (published 1913). Premiere: January 5 1914, Deutsches Volkstheater Vienna.
- The Holy Devil (Rasputin), play in three acts (written before 1935). Not published and not produced till this time. Typescript of its text was found in Herman Bernstein papers.
- Nowhere Bound, play in three acts (1935). Premiere: January 22 1935, Imperial Theatre New York City. Director: Archimedes H. van Buren.
- The Day Will Come, play in three acts (1944). Premiere: September 7 1944, National Theatre New York City. Director: Lee Elmore.
Mumraj (Narrentanz) in The Vinohrady Theatre, Prague, 2009.
Mumraj (Narrentanz) in The Vinohrady Theatre, Prague, 2009.
- Tragödie der Liebe (in USA as Love Tragedy or The Tragedy of Love) – screenplay, Germany 1923. Director: Joe May, starring: Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich. Movie studio: May-Film.
- Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (in USA as Waxworks, Three Wax Men, or The Three Wax Works) – second director, Germany 1924. The main director: Paul Leni, starring: Wilhelm Dieterle, Emil Jannings, Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt. Movie studio: Neptun Film AG.
- Finale der Liebe – screenplay, Germany 1925. Director: Felix Basch, starring: Lucy Doraine. Movie studio: Lucy Doraine-Film GmbH.
- Varieté – screenplay, Germany 1925. Director: Ewald André Dupont, starring: Emil Jannings. Movie studio: Universum-Film AG (UFA).
- Der Bastard – screenplay, Germany 1925. Director: Gennaro Righelli. Movie studio: Phoebus Film.
- Der Mann aus dem Jenseits – screenplay, Germany 1925. Director: Manfred Noa, starring: Hans Albers, Olga Tschechowa. Movie studio: Gloria-Film GmbH.
- Der Prinz und die Kokotte – screenplay, Germany 1926. Director: Richard Eichberg, starring: Hans Albers. Movie studio: Richard Eichberg Film.
- Die Flucht in den Zirkus (in USA as The Circus of Life) – screenplay, Germany 1926. Director: Guido Parish (as Schamberg) and Mario Bonnard, starring: Wilhelm Dieterle. Movie studio: Greenbaum-Film GmbH.
- Winnetou – screenplay, Germany 1926, not realised. Scheduled Director: Gennaro Righelli, scheduled star: Wilhelm Dieterle. Scheduled movie studio: Universum-Film AG (UFA).
- Die Geliebte – screenplay, Germany 1927. Director: Robert Wiene. Movie studio: Pan Europa-Film GmbH.
- Verbotene Liebe – screenplay, Germany 1927. Director: Friedrich Feher. Movie studio: Deitz & Comp. GmbH., National-Film AG.
- Der Soldat der Marie (in USA as Marie's Soldier) – screenplay, Germany 1927. Director: Erich Schönfelder. Movie studio: Eichberg-Film GmbH.
- Der Meister der Welt – screenplay, Germany 1927. Director: Gennaro Righelli, starring: Olga Tschechowa. Movie studio: Greenbaum-Film GmbH.
- Laster der Menschheit – screenplay, Germany 1927. Director: Rudolf Meinert, starring: Asta Nielsen, Werner Krauss. Movie studio: International Film-AG (IFA).
- Mata Hari, die rote Tänzerin (in USA as Mata Hari: the Red Dancer) – screenplay, Germany 1927. Director: Friedrich Feher. Movie studio: National-Film AG.
- Love and the Devil – story, USA 1929. Director: Alexander Korda. Movie studio: First National Pictures.
- Betrayal (aka Mensonges) – screenplay (not credited), USA 1929. Director: Lewis Milestone, starring: Emil Jannings, Gary Cooper. Movie studio: Paramount Pictures Inc.
- Queen Kelly – one version of screenplay, USA 1929. Realised after another screenplay.
- The Bargain in the Kremlin – screenplay, USA 1929, not realised. Scheduled Director: Paul Leni, scheduled star: Joseph Schildkraut.
- Olympia – screenplay, USA 1930. Director: Jacques Feyder. Movie studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. American movie in German language.
- Murders in the Rue Morgue – one version of screenplay, USA 1931. Realised after another screenplay.
- Mata Hari – screenplay, USA 1931. Director: George Fitzmaurice, starring: Greta Garbo, Ramón Novarro, Lionel Barrymore. Movie studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Loew´s Inc., George Fitzmaurice Production Distribution Co.
- Cheaters at Play – contributing to screenplay, USA 1932. Director: Hamilton MacFadden. Movie studio: Fox Film Corporation.
- The Song of Songs – screenplay, USA 1933. Director: Rouben Mamoulian, starring: Marlene Dietrich. Movie studio: Paramount Pictures Inc., Rouben Mamoulian Production Distribution Co.
- Stamboul Quest – story and contributing to screenplay, USA 1934. Director: Sam Wood, starring: Myrna Loy. Movie studio: Loew´s Inc., A Sam Wood Production Distribution Co.
- Flirtation (aka Mating Time) – Director and probably screenplay, USA 1934. Movie studio: Salient Pictures Corp.
- Nana (in UK aka Lady of the Boulevards) – contributing to story, USA 1934. Director: Dorothy Arzner, starring: Anna Sten. Movie studio: Samuel Goldwyn Company, United Artists Corp.
- The Gay Desperado – story, USA 1936. Director: Rouben Mamoulian. Movie studio: Pickford-Lasky Productions Inc., Rouben Mamoulian Production Distribution Co., United Artists Corp.
- Mademoiselle Docteur – screenplay, France 1936. Director: Georg Wilhelm Pabst, starring: Jean-Louis Barrault. Movie studio: Film Trocadéro.
- I Gave My Wife to the King – story, USA 1936. Not realised – banned by MPPDA according to Hays Code. Movie should concern about the affair of former king Edward VIII and Mrs. Wallis Simpson.
- Full Confession – story, USA 1939. Director: John Farrow. Movie studio: RKO Radio Pictures Inc.
- Whitechapel – screenplay, USA 1939, not realised. Scheduled movie studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
- Palace of Thousand Lies – story, USA 1942, not realised. Scheduled star: Claudette Colbert, scheduled movie studio: Paramount Pictures Inc. It could be an original title for the following movie too.
- The Lady Has Plans – story, USA 1942. Director: Sidney Lanfield, starring: Paulette Goddard, Ray Milland. Movie studio: Paramount Pictures Inc.
This article is partially based on a translation from the article in Czech Wikipedia.
- Enciclopedia dello spettacolo, 2nd volume, Rome 1954.
- Wininger Salomon: Große Jüdische National-Biographie, 2nd volume, Cernăuti 1925 – 1936.
- Doyle Billy H.: The Ultimate Directory of Film Technicians…; Lanham (Maryland) and Folkestone 1999.
- Hübl, Dušan; Lev Birinskij – životopisný mumraj; Praha 2004.
- Wiener Stadt- und Landesarchiv, Vienna, Austria (police registrations).
- Municipal Archives of New York City (resting place).