Sig Ruman: A Touchy Teutonic

Today is the birthday of Hollywood’s favorite go-to Teutonic foil Sig Ruman (Siegfried Albon Rumann, 1884-1967).

Ruman moved to the U.S. from his native Hamburg in 1924, and five years later found himself on Broadway appearing in George S. Kaufman and Alexander Woolcott’s comedy The Channel Road. This led to another half dozen Broadway plays, and scores of films. Ruman’s accent, his funny voice (kind of like Kermit the Frog’s), his ability to bug and flash his eyes when riled, and above all, a willingness to make himself look unflattering and ridiculous, made him a perfect comic foil, especially in an era when the Germans were the default villains in the movies. Through Kaufman’s auspices he wound up in several Marx Brothers movies: A Night at the Opera (1935), A Day at the Races (1937), and A Night in Casablanca (1946). He also worked with the Ritz Brothers in On the Avenue (1937); Burns and Allen in Honolulu (1936); three Lubitsch pictures: Ninotchka (1939), That Uncertain Feeling (1941) and To Be or Not to Be (1942); Ma and Pa Kettle on Vacation (1953); Martin and Lewis in Living It Up and Three Ring Circus (both 1954) and Jerry Lewis without Dean Martin in The Errand Boy (1961) and Way…Way Out (1966); and the Bowery Boys in Spy Chasers (1955). Other classics included Stalag 17 (1953); Houdini (1953); White Christmas (1954); and Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964). And of course numerous World War II era B movies where he played the Nazi villain. There never ceased to be a demand for his talents; he worked until he passed away at age 82.

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