Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau was born December 28th, 1888. An openly gay German director, he is best known for his work Nosferatu, and on the film Sunrise, widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.
Born Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe in the Bielefeld, Province of Westphalia. Plumpe would take the pseudonym of “Murnau” from the town of that name near Lake Staffel, south of Munich, where he lived for a time.
Murnau studied philology at the University in Berlin and later art history and literature in Heidelberg, where director Max Reinhardt saw him at a students’ performance and decided to invite him to his actor-school.
He then joined the Imperial German Flying Corps and flew missions in northern France for two years; surviving eight crashes without severe injuries. After landing in Switzerland, he was arrested and interned for the remainder of the war in a POW camp.
Murnau returned to Germany where he soon established his own film studio with actor Conrad Veidt. His first feature-length film, The Boy in Blue, a drama inspired by the famous Thomas Gainsborough painting, was released in 1919.
Murnau’s homosexuality, would have been more or less accepted in his Berlin artistic circles of the day. Germany, indeed, was one of the gay-friendlier spots in the world until the Nazis took power
Murnau’s most famous film is Nosferatu, a 1922 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The release would be the only one by Prana Film because the company declared itself bankrupt in order to avoid paying damages to Stoker’s estate (acting for the author’s widow, Florence Stoker) after the estate won a copyright infringement lawsuit. Apart from awarding damages, the court ordered also all existing prints of the film to be destroyed. However, one copy had already been distributed globally. This print, which has been duplicated time and again has made Nosferatu an early example of a cult horror film.
Murnau emigrated to Hollywood in 1926, where he lives his life as an out gay man and joined the Fox Studios and made Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), a movie often cited by scholars as one of the greatest of all time. Released in the Sunrise was not a financial success, but received several Oscars at the very first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929. In winning the Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Production it shared what is now the Best Picture award with the movie Wings. In spite of this.
A week prior to the opening of the his film Tabu, Murnau drove up the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles, California in a hired Rolls-Royce. The young driver, a 14-year-old Filipino servant, crashed the car against an electric pole. Murnau who was only 42, suffered a head injury and died in a hospital the next day, in nearby Santa Barbara.
But that is not the end of the story for the man who brought the first and most famous vampire movie to the silver screen.
In July of 2015 skull of F. W. Murnau was stolen from his resting place from a cemetery outside of Berlin. The German tabloid B.Z. reported that investigators had found wax residue in the tomb and “could therefore not rule out occult” motives for the theft.
F. W. Murnau’s skull has never been found.
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