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PETER ALEXANDER – AUSTRIANS’ FAVOURITE

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Many people, especially in Austria and Germany, will remember the famous Peter Alexander singing joyful Christmas songs on television. Yet the popular and versatile Viennese artist – still fondly remembered by many viewers today – also made a name for himself as an actor and TV host.

A friendly face

Many people, especially in Austria and Germany, will remember the famous Peter Alexander singing joyful Christmas songs on television. Yes, because, in fact, the famous Austrian singer, actor, musician and TV host really did have a particularly friendly face, almost giving the impression of being a member of the family to anyone who had the chance to meet him or even just see him in films and on television. And, especially during Christmas time, one is often reminded of his popular performances.

Born on June 30, 1926 in Vienna, Peter Alexander Ferdinand Maximilian Neumayer was the son of banker Anton Neumayer and Bertha Katharina Wenzlick. As a child he was quite lively (one could already perceive his entertaining nature) and was even expelled from high school because of the many pranks he used to play on his classmates and teachers. After enlisting in the navy (and even being a prisoner of the British) during World War II, young Peter finally returned to Vienna. Initially, his parents wanted him to study medicine. The boy therefore started university, but soon abandoned his studies, as he wanted to establish himself first as an actor. So he began studying at the Max-Reinhardt-Seminar in Vienna, graduating in 1948 with honours.

His always cheerful and playful character and his characteristic face immediately suggested that our Peter Alexander was better suited to comedies than to dramas. He initially wanted to join the ensemble of the Burgtheater, but after taking part in small theatre productions, he realised that his future laid mainly in music (at the same time, he had self-taught as a singer and pianist). Even today, many of his songs are remembered by adults and children alike and often tell nostalgic stories set in Vienna. He soon became one of the most successful singers in the German-speaking countries (in Germany alone, he was in the top 100 eighty times). In the course of his career, he released 156 singles and 120 original LPs. His favourite genre was Schlager, and his greatest hits include the songs Wie Böhmen noch bei Öst’reich war, Das kleine Beisl, Alte Lieder, traute Weisen and Damals in Rom, as well as, of course, the Christmas albums Schöne Weihnachten mit Peter Alexander (1966) and Wunderschöne Weihnachtszeit (1972), just to name a few.

And what about cinema? Peter Alexander was also very successful in film. After playing a small role in the film The Angel with the Trumpet (Karl Hartl, 1948), he was soon given more and more important roles, even becoming the star of several films, given his growing popularity. From 1952 to 1972, Alexander took part in forty-one films, all mainly comedies or musical films, in which we can also see him in the role of a singer or even as himself. A versatile artist, he mainly collaborated with directors Géza von Cziffra and Paul Martin, and among the most important titles he took part in are Der letzte Walzer (Arthur Maria Rabenalt, 1953), The Legs of Dolores, Peter Shoots Down the Bird (Géza von Cziffra, 1957 and 1959), Yes, Women are Dangerous (Paul Martin, 1960) and The White Horse Inn (Werner Jacobs, 1960).

In the course of his career, Peter Alexander also had the opportunity to host numerous television programmes. And indeed, the role of television host was particularly congenial to him, so much so that for many years he hosted his own show, the Peter-Alexander-Show, which aired from 1963 to 1996 on the ZDF and ORF television stations. The Peter-Alexander-Show was a family show in which mainly musicians and actors met in order to create numerous comedy sketches and to bring some music into the homes of viewers. During all its editions, the show was a success, both in Austria and Germany, and the audience had become fond of this familiar and friendly figure and did not forget him even when his television appearances became increasingly sporadic.

In the last years of his life, in fact, Peter Alexander was invited as a guest on TV programmes only from time to time, and in 2006, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, his photo biography, Peter Alexander – Das tat ich alles aus Liebe…., edited by Michael Wenk and Barbara Löhr and for which Alexander also wrote the preface, was published.

Following the death of his wife (actress Hildegarde Haagen) in 2003, Peter Alexander sold his big villa in Switzerland and moved to Vienna, to the district of Grinzig (within the 19th district), where he died on February 12, 2011. In order to give his audience a chance to say goodbye to him for the last time, the municipality of Vienna decided to place his open coffin for a few days at the Central Cemetery, but, since his family refused an honorary grave, he is now buried at the Grinziger Friedhof, near what was once his home. His viewers, however, have never forgotten him. And even today, when one happens to hear one of his songs on the radio or television during Christmas time, one has the impression of returning to those happy evenings when we all got together to watch the Peter-Alexander-Show.

Info: the page of Peter Alexander on iMDb