They became famous during their lives and now they are legends that will live forever on the silver screen. Meet these legendary Czech actors.
Surely movie enthusiasts would argue that there are many more Czech actors who deserve to be in our list of legends. However, we find these to be the most iconic Czech actors from those no longer alive, so let’s start with them!
And if you want more from the Czech movie scene, browse the Movies category.
Vlasta Burian is known as the king of comedians. His talent for comedy made him the star of his era and he was also very gifted for improvisation. He starred in famous movies like Station Master (Přednosta stanice 1941), Ducháček Will Fix It (Ducháček to zařídí, 1938) or Anton Spelec, Sharp-Shooter (Anton Špelec, ostrostřelec, 1932).
He also made movies in cooperation with other famous actors, for example the fairy-tale Once Upon a Time There Was a King… (Byl jednou jeden král, 1954) which became a Christmas evergreen thanks to Burian’s wit as well as the brilliance of Jan Werich.
He was persecuted by Germans during WWII, his theatre was closed down and later nationalized by the communists who also constructed false accusations against him. He was imprisoned twice and banned from acting for five years.
An interesting and sad fact is that after the WWII the communists tricked many people into believing that Burian collaborated with the Germans. Jan Werich and George Voskovec even released a song called Burian, the collaborator from the US. A deed Werich later regretted as he was acting based on false accusations.
His full name was Jan Křtitel František Serafínský Werich and he was an incredibly talented artist. Besides being an actor in TV and theatre, he was also a book author and his storytelling is legendary even today.
He formed a memorable trio with the Czech-American writer Jiří (George) Voskovec and the conductor and pianist Jaroslav Ježek. The duo Voskovec & Werich wrote several successful theatre plays, comedies at first and later political ones.
Among his most famous roles are the king in Once Upon a Time There Was a King…, king and baker in The Emperor and the Golem and we mustn’t forget his book called Fimfárum. It’s a book of peculiar children’s stories which was made into three animated films in 2002 – 2011 with recordings of Werich’s voice.
Vladimír Menšík was a Moravian actor, story-teller and entertainer from Ivančice. He studied the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts which launched his career in theatre. His break came at the turn of the 50ies and 60ies and his success became huge.
Despite of being very versatile he played mainly comical roles and also hosted hundreds of TV shows. He was extremely hard working despite of his many health problems. Menšík supported his extended family and was taking up literally every project he could. This and the fact that he was self-medicating caused his death at only 58 years of age, two days after his last show.
To name his most popular roles is difficult as there are so many so well-known…but here are a few at least: Karel Majer in the fairy-tale series Arabela, Vincek in Three Wishes for Cinderella, vampire in The Girl on the Broomstick or Zemánek in Což takhle dát si špenát.
Kopecký was a theatre and movie actor. He was of Jewish heritage after his mother and was therefore sent to a German Nazi camp as a young man. He survived but this was not the end of life difficulties for him. Besides being bipolar he was a heavy drinker which caused him trouble especially professionally. He was also a womanizer and never tried to keep his mistresses a secret even when he was married. His first wife was the famous Czech actress Stella Zázvorková. They had a daughter who inherited his illness as had a very sad fate (more of that in out list of Legendary Czech Actresses).
His political life was turbulent as well. He joined the communist party and was expelled in 1954. Later he signed the Anticharta, a communist party reaction to the Charta 77 manifesto (anticomunist). However, it was Kopecký, the first artists in still communist Czechoslovakia who dared to say openly in 1987 that the leaders of the communist party should step down.
And let’s name some of his most famous movies: I Killed Einstein, Gentlemen! (Zabil jsem Einsteina, pánové!), We’ll Kick Up a Fuss Tomorrow, Darling… (Zítra to roztočíme, drahoušku…), Dinner for Adele (Adéla ještě nevečeřela) or How to Drown Dr. Mracek, the Lawyer (Jak utopit dr. Mráčka aneb Konec vodníků v Čechách).
Coming from a line of famous Czech actors, Rudolf Hrušínský Sr. was destined to become a great actor. He was expelled from highschool but his career was already set as he had been acting since he was a child. After signing The Two Thousand Words manifesto in 1968 he was banned from acting and was without a job for years.
He spent some time in politics after the Velvet Revolution. Both of his sons are actors as are two of his grandkids.
You could see Hrušínský as Pandrhola in the fairy-tale Dařbuján and Pandrhola, Karel Kopfrkingl in The Cremator, Josef Ledvina in Dinner for Adele or as the doctor in My Sweet Little Village.
Jan Tříska is surely known also to our US readers. This exceptional Czech actor was born in Prague and emigrated to Canada in his 40s. Later he moved to the USA and decided to come back to the Czech Republic after the Velvet Revolution.
Tříska was a successful theatre actor known for his many roles. Let’s mention at least the iconic lead character in Shakespear’s King Lear. Some of his famous Czech movie roles include the lead character of Igor Hnízdo in The Elementary School (Obecná škola) and Lunacy (Šílení). And as for the US-cinematography, he acted in movies like Blizzard, Apt Pupil, Ronin or The People vs. Larry Flint.
Tříska died quite inexpectedly at the age of 80 years. Just two days after falling from the Charles’ Bridge in Prague into the Vltava river (he liked to sit on the bridge and relax).
Josef Kemr was one of those Czech actors who almost never played the lead characters but became absolutely memorable for their supporting roles. Although he started in radio and theatre, his career includes hundreds of TV and movie roles.
Besides his work he is remembered also for his strong character. When he was to be awarded the title of “Artist of Merit”, he declined it by a letter sent to the communist party saying that he wouldn’t kiss a beating hand.
To mention at least some of the movies he starred in we have to name the Witchhammer (Kladivo na čarodějnice), Chalupáři, The Emperor and the Golem (Císařův pekař – pekařův císař), Divá Bára or Klapzubova jedenáctka.
There are not many Czech actors who’d gained their fame in their early childhood. Tomáš Holý was an exception and sadly his fame couldn’t extend much beyond his childhood. He died just before his 22nd birthday in a car accident caused by himself (he was drinking and driving).
His most famous roles include mostly child characters in family movies like Jak vytrhnout velrybě stoličku, How to get dad into reform school (Jak dostat tatínka do polepšovny) or Long Live Ghosts! (Ať žijí duchové!).
His exceptional talent caused quite a fuss at the International Festival in Monte Carlo (movie How to get dad into reform school). The jury expressed that Holý was the best child actor since the times of Shirley Temple.