Used to giving his characters a particularly funny and amusing touch, Josef Meinrad was actually perfectly capable of changing tone depending on the situation. And thinking back to the fact that he was originally supposed to become a priest, it is interesting to note that, in the course of his career, the actor actually played the role of the priest no less than twenty-one times.
His friends called him Peppi
Many will remember the clumsy Major Böckl, faithful servant of Elisabeth of Austria, in Ernst Marischka‘s famous saga that began in 1955 with the film Sissi. Yes, because, in fact, Josef Meinrad used to give the characters he played an unmistakable style, perfectly capable of remain in the viewers’ memory for a long, long time. Even when they were secondary characters. And even though, in the course of his long career, the actor mainly devoted himself to theatre, the characters he played on film always gave the feature films that much-needed extra touch.
Despite the popularity gained over the years, however, Josef Meinrad was not initially supposed to become an actor. Josef Moučka, affectionately called Peppi by everyone, was born on April 21, 1913 in the Viennese district of Hernals. His father Franz was a tram driver, while his mother Katharina was a milkmaid and despite the family’s precarious financial situation, Josef had a very happy childhood. While attending the Atzbergerschule, at the age of nine he discovered his passion for acting by performing William Tell for the first time at school. His studies initially took a different direction, however, as his very religious mother wanted him to become an altar boy before advising him to attend the seminary.
Life as a seminarian, as well as a future as a priest, however, seemed ill-suited to Josef Meinrad, who abandoned his studies after a short time to begin an apprenticeship at a paint factory and finally began studying acting at the Kestranek am Getreidemarkt. After graduating in 1937, Meinrad continued to work at the aforementioned factory for a few more years, although his appearances in small theatres began to become more and more frequent.
1939 was finally a breakthrough year for the actor. In this year, he got his first important engagement at the theatre Die Komödie (adopting the surname Meinrad for the first time) and, after a brief period at the Burgtheater (in whose ensemble he became a permanent member in 1947 and where he remained until his 65th birthday in 1978), he was engaged during the war (in order to perform often for the troops) at the Deutsches Theater in Metz, where he also met his future wife, Germaine Renée Clement.
Josef Meinrad’s theatrical career proved to be particularly fulfilling. In addition to working permanently at the Burgtheater, the actor often took part in the Salzburg Festival (his performance as the ‘good guy’ in Jedermann was particularly noteworthy), in the Bregenz Festival, and he also frequently collaborated with the Theater an der Wien. Used to giving his characters a particularly funny and amusing style, Josef Meinrad was actually perfectly capable of changing tone depending on the situation. And thinking back to the fact that he was originally supposed to be a priest, it is interesting to note that in the course of his career (in theatre, as well as film and television) Meinrad actually played the role of the priest no less than twenty-one times.
The most famous of these roles is undoubtedly that of Dr. Wasner, the theologian and music teacher of the famous von Trapp family in the feature films The Trapp Family and The Trapp Family in America (Wolfgang Liebeneiner, 1956 and 1958). As far as the film world is concerned, Josef Meinrad took part in no less than fifty-six films in all, including 1. April 2000 (also directed by Liebeneiner in 1952), The Trial ( Georg Wilhelm Pabst, 1948), The Congress dances (Franz Antel, 1955) and, of course, the Ernst Marischka trilogy that began in 1955 with Sissi and starring the great Romy Schneider as Elisabeth of Austria. With Romy Schneider, Josef Meinrad would work again in Eva (directed by Rolf Thiele in 1959 and in which the actor played the role of Schneider’s father) and in The Cardinal, directed by Otto Preminger in 1963.
Particularly versatile and eclectic, Josef Meinrad acted for his audiences until April 1987, at the Bürgersaalkirche in Munich, where he performed the monologue Ich schweige nicht. By this time, he had become a legend, especially in the theatrical sphere in German-speaking countries, to the point that his talent led him to inherit the prestigious Ifflad-Ring, i.e. a ring depicting a portrait of the German actor and playwright August Wilhelm Iffland, which is bequeathed in a will to the person who is considered the most important actor in German-speaking theatre. So Josef Meinrad kept the ring until the day he died in Großgmain, near Salzburg, on February 18, 1996, designating the great Bruno Ganz as his heir.
Even today, therefore, his audience has not forgotten him. Just as the name of a small square near the Burgtheater, the Josef-Meinrad-Platz, shows. And thanks to his ability to reach the hearts of spectators of all ages, the famous actor from Hernals has today become deservedly immortal.