William Dieterle was a German actor and film director, who worked in Hollywood for much of his career.
He was born Wilhelm Dieterle, the youngest child of nine, to Jewish parents Jacob and Berthe Dieterle. As a child, he lived in considerable poverty and earned money by various means including carpentry and as a scrap dealer. He became interested in theater early and by the age of sixteen, he had joined a travelling theater company. His striking good looks and ambition soon paved the way as a leading romantic actor in theater productions. In 1919, he attracted the attention of Max Reinhardt in Berlin who hired him as an actor for his productions. He started acting in German films in 1921 to make more money and quickly became a popular character actor. He tired of acting quickly and wanted to direct.
He directed his first film in 1923, Der Mensch am Wege, which co-starred a young Marlene Dietrich, but he returned to acting for several years and appeared in such notable German films as Das Wachsfigurenkabinett and F.W. Murnau’s Faust. In 1927, Dieterle and his wife, Charlotte Hagenbruch, formed their own production company and returned to directing films, such as Sex in Chains in which he also played the lead role.
In 1930, Dieterle emigrated to the United States when he was offered a job in Hollywood to make German versions of American films; he became a citizen of the United States in 1937. He adapted quickly to Hollywood filmmaking and was soon directing original films. His first, The Last Flight, was a success and has been hailed as a forgotten masterpiece. Other films made during the 1930s include Jewel Robbery, Adorable, A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Reinhardt, The Story of Louis Pasteur, The Life of Emile Zola, Juarez and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with Charles Laughton as Quasimodo.