16 Sep 2011
While it is thought by historians that the authorized biography of Eric Von Stroheim contains many factual errors, there is enough that we do know about him that makes him a somewhat fascinating individual. Born in Viena Austria in 1885 as Erich Oswald Stroheim, Erich was the son of hat maker Benno Stroheim and Johanna Bondy. Stroheim emmigrated to the United States aboard the S.S. Prinz Friedrich Wilhelm on November 25th 1909.
Upon his arrival to Ellis Island, he claimed to be Count Erich Oswald Hans Carl Maria von Stroheim und Nordenwall. It is speculated that he decided to change his name so that he could appear to be Austrian nobility. Erich also fabricated elaborate stories about how he was an imperial officer in the military. In spite of this, his closest colleagues claim he had a decidedly lower class Southern Austrian accent and it was eventually confirmed that Erich was indeed the son of lower class parents and that he never served in the military.
“Throughout his career Erich Von Stroheim earned the reputation of a Walter Mitty-esque daydreamer and an idealist with a bad temper.”
While working in French films Stroheim met actress Denise Vernac who became his secretary and companion for the remainder of his life. In 1912 Erich met his first wife, Margaret Knox and in a shocking move for the times, moved in with her. Margaret became a mentor to Erich as she encouraged him to write while teaching him language and literature.