Torben Emil Meyer (1 December 1884 – 22 May 1975) was a Danish character actor who appeared in more than 190 films in a 55-year career.
Meyer was born in Copenhagen, Denmark and began his career as a stage actor in Denmark. He appeared in his first silent movie, Vor tids dame in 1912 and made twenty more before making Don Quixote in 1926.
This movie achieved considerable international stature, and Meyer followed the migration of leading European actors to Hollywood the following year. His first American role was as a spy in the silent movie The Man Who Laughs starring Conrad Veidt in 1928. Meyer arrived just when the transition to sound was in progress.
In contrast to many other European-born actors, his thick accent became an asset for him. He appeared uncredited in numerous movies throughout the 1930s and 1940s, almost always cast as a German.
In 1930, Meyer received a small part in a Michael Curtiz film A Soldier’s Plaything, and in 1932, Meyer appeared in two Swedish language American films, Trådlöst och kärleksfullt and Halvvägs till Himlen. Later that year, he had a small part in Murders in the Rue Morgue, based on the Edgar Allan Poe short story which starring Bela Lugosi.
Meyer had small parts as waiters in five different movies during 1932; in German émigré director Ernst Lubitsch’s film Broken Lullaby starring Lionel Barrymore, in George Cukor’s What Price Hollywood?, where he plays a waiter in the famous Hollywood restaurant ‘The Brown Derby’, in Downstairs starring Paul Lukas, in Mervyn LeRoy’s Big City Blues starring Joan Blondell and in The Match King. Also that year, he had a small part in The Animal Kingdom starring Leslie Howard.
Next Meyer went from waiter to butler in a number of films in the 1930s; The Crime of the Century, John Ford’s The World Moves On, Preview Murder Mystery starring Reginald Denny, Piccadilly Jim and The First Hundred Years both starring Robert Montgomery, and The King and the Chorus Girl starring Joan Blondell.
However, he was again cast as a waiter in Reunion in Vienna starring Lionel Barrymore, in The Good Fairy starring Margaret Sullavan, in Break of Hearts starring Katharine Hepburn and Charles Boyer (in this one he was headwaiter at The Ritz), in Two for Tonight starring Bing Crosby, in The Gay Deception as a butler and in To Beat the Band.
In 1935, Meyer was strangled by Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein in James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein. Two years later, in 1937, Meyer had a number of bit parts; as a servant in Tovarich starring Claudette Colbert, Charles Boyer and Basil Rathbone, as Raymond Massey’s servant in The Prisoner of Zenda starring Ronald Colman in the title role and as Tyrone Power’s chauffeur in Sonja Henie’s Thin Ice.
In 1938 Meyer played a German Police Prefect in a Simon Templar movie, The Saint in New York, and the following year, he played a doorman in Topper Takes a Trip starring Roland Young and Billie Burke. In 1939, Meyer had a bit part in Warner Bros. anti-Nazi movie Nurse Edith Cavell starring Anna Neagle.
n 1940, Meyer had a small role in Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet starring Edward G. Robinson, Ruth Gordon and Otto Kruger, and later that year, featured in the Charlie Chaplin movie, The Great Dictator. He also appeared that year in Four Sons, starring Don Ameche. He is seen in the beginning of the movie as a farmer driving a hay wagon from Nazi Germany into Czechoslovakia and then gives Don Ameche’s character a ride home. Later that year, he got to play ‘Mr. Schmidt’ in Preston Sturges’ Christmas in July, his first film with the writer-director.
Meyer become part of Sturges’ unofficial “stock company” of character actors, appearing in every American film written and directed by Sturges with the exception of The Great McGinty. Evidently as a private joke, Sturges nearly always cast Meyer as a character named “Schultz”, with conspicuous exceptions as playing Dr. Kluck in The Palm Beach Story in 1942.
In 1942, at age 57, Meyer acted in one scene in the anti-Nazi movie Berlin Correspondent with Dana Andrews, playing a restaurant manager who is harassing Virginia Gilmore for her ration card. Next he had a small part as a Dutch banker in Casablanca who is seated at a baccarat table.
His female friend (played by Trude Berliner) wants to have a drink with Rick but is told no by Carl, the headwaiter (S.Z. Sakall). Meyer is annoyed by this rebuff telling Carl, “Perhaps if you told him I ran the second largest banking house in Amsterdam.” He is informed that it wouldn’t impress Rick, “the leading banker in Amsterdam is now the pastry chef in our kitchen” and “his father is the bellboy!”
In 1943, Meyer played a waiter again in RKO’s spy thriller Journey into Fear starring Joseph Cotten, Dolores del Río and Orson Welles. Next, he portrayed a gypsy in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man starring Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. in the title roles.
This was followed with a bit role in Warner Bros.’s war drama Edge of Darkness, starring Errol Flynn and Ann Sheridan, where he plays a clerk for Kaspar Torgerson (Charles Dingle) in a Norwegian cannery. Next he played Gottwald in the spy drama They Came to Blow Up America starring George Sanders and Ward Bond.
The following year, Meyer, wearing a beard and mustache, played a sympathetic Swiss Red Cross representative named Karl Kappel in the 20th Century Fox, The Purple Heart, a war drama of captured US army air force pilots from the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo put on trial in Japan, starring Dana Andrews and Richard Conte. After this, he played Dr. Dahlmeyer in The Great Moment starring Joel McCrea.
Next he played Emil Rameau’s butler in the musical Greenwich Village starring Carmen Miranda and Don Ameche.
Meyer received a bit part as a hotel manager in Once Upon a Time starring Cary Grant. In Hotel Berlin in 1945, which starred Helmut Dantine and Peter Lorre, Meyer plays a barber named Franz. Later that year he was a town official in the Fred Astaire musical Yolanda and the Thief.
After World War II, Meyer continued to receive roles. In 1946, he played a Count in the Bob Hope comedy Monsieur Beaucaire. The following year, he received a small part in Millie’s Daughter. Later that year, Meyer who once played a lowly waiter in the famed Los Angeles restaurant ‘The Brown Derby’ back in 1932, now gets to play the head waiter there in Variety Girl which had cameos from literally dozens of Hollywood stars.
In 1949, he portrayed doctors in two movies; he had a small part as Doctor Shultz in the comedy The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend starring Betty Grable and a larger one as Doctor Hans Heinrich in the Bowery Boys film Hold That Baby! Later that year, Meyer played a captain of an ocean liner in the Bob Hope comedy The Great Lover.
In 1951, Meyer played Donovan in Grounds for Marriage starring Van Johnson. Later that year, he got a part as an auto mechanic in Come Fill the Cup starring James Cagney. The next year, Meyer played the mayor of a small French town during World War I in the John Ford drama What Price Glory?. Later in 1952, Meyer was a station master in The Merry Widow starring Lana Turner.
The next year, Meyer appeared in the musical Call Me Madam starring Ethel Merman and Donald O’Connor. Next he portrayed another waiter in the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedy The Caddy, and appeared as a chef in another Martin and Lewis comedy the following year, Living It Up.
Meyer appeared in the Bob Hope comedy Casanova’s Big Night which also starred Joan Fontaine and John Carradine in 1954, his fourth Bob Hope movie. Next, he got to play cards again, as he did in Casablanca, in Deep in My Heart starring José Ferrer and Merle Oberon.
Meyer was out catching butterflies in the Michael Curtiz comedy We’re No Angels starring Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray and Peter Ustinov. He played a scribe in the John Wayne film The Conqueror in 1956, and later he played a French waiter in the musical Anything Goes starring Bing Crosby and Donald O’Connor.
Meyer portrayed ‘Gaston’ in the sci-fly classic The Fly starring Vincent Price in 1958. Next he played Alex, the headwaiter at the Harmonica Club in The Matchmaker starring Shirley Booth, Anthony Perkins and Shirley MacLaine. The following year, he had the role of Hugo in This Earth Is Mine starring Rock Hudson and Claude Rains, and in 1960 he appeared in the Elvis Presley movie G.I. Blues.
In the 1950s and 60s, Meyer made some guest appearances on TV shows such as I Dream of Jeannie, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and I Love Lucy.
In 1961, at the age of 76, he got his best role in the classic Judgment at Nuremberg starring Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland and Montgomery Clift, playing the guilt-ridden “Werner Lampe”, one of the ex-Nazi judges on trial whose inability to explain his actions is one of the most powerful moments.
Two years later, in 1963, he had a small uncredited role in what would be the last movie of his career, A New Kind of Love.
Meyer died on 22 May 1975 of bronchial pneumonia in Hollywood, California at the age of 90. He was cremated and his ashes are in the Chapel of the Pines Crematory in Los Angeles.