Count Alexander Kolowrat

Count Alexander Kolowrat

29/1/1886 - 4/12/1927

Born in New York, Alexander returned to Austria-Hungary where he set up the first film studio in Vienna. A keen racing driver he once entered a midget as his riding mechanic to save weight.

Count Alexander Kolowrat-Kratowsky was born in Glenridge, New York, while his father, Count Leopold Kolowrat was in exile there for having killed Prince Auersperg in a duel of honor. His mother, Nadine Baroness von Huppmann-Valbella, and the rest of the family returned to Austria-Hungary when Leopold was pardonned by Emperor Franz Joseph. They became landowners in Bohemia, today a part of the Czech Republic. He served voluntarily in the exclusive feudal Thirteenth Dragoons in 1907/1908 and in 1912, went to live in Vienna and obtained Austrian citizenship.

Alexander was large, joyful character fascinated by technology. He started racing bicycles as a student, switching to motorcycles in 1907 and occasionally racing under the pseudonym “Klatowsky”. He was a regular competitor in the Semmering hill climb and at the Riederberg-Rennen and once entered a midget as his riding mechanic to save weight.

In 1908 he started racing touring cars and as he sat on the board of directors of Laurin and Klement, he raced their cars and provided valuable feedback to the factory. He competed in the Monte Carlo Rally as well as racing in France and at Brooklands in England in order to establish records for the company.

He was one of the earliest Austrian pilots and the first balloonist. His parties at the Viennese Sacher hotel were legendary, and in spite of his corpulence the young count was a dashing and charming man with an eye for beautiful women.

After seeing his first film in 1909 at the Pathé Brothers in Paris, he knew what he wanted to do. He thus became a film pioneer, producer and a founder of the Austrian film industry. Film enabled him to combine his passion for technology, adventure, and women. Especially beautiful women who he regularly invited to his studio for screen tests.

In 1910 when his father died, he inherited the vast family estates in Bohemia. These including a palace in Prague and another one in Vienna, as well as 21 churches. Better known under the name Sascha, he began the Sascha-Filmfabrik at his castle in Pfraumberg, Bohemia that same year.

In 1912 he built a workshop for film developing in one of his castles, Gross-Meierhöfen near Pfraumberg. However, when he found that he needed to be closer to the market, he moved to a studio in Biberstrasse in the center of Vienna. In 1913 he achieved his first big success with Der Millionenonkel, a film featuring Alexander Girardi performing scenes from his most famous operetta roles.

He served as officer in the imperial automobile corps in 1914, becoming the head of the film branch of the Imperial War Press Service in 1915.

After the First World War, he wanted to build a "people's car", a "Volkswagen", and he wanted Austro-Daimler and Ferdinand Porsche to build it for him. To publicise the car, four prototypes were built and entered in the 1922 Targa Florio. The result was the "Sascha", a nimble 1.1-litre four-cylinder "voiturette".

It was Alfred Neubauer’s first race and he tells in his biography how he was selected as one of the drivers. Kolowrat announced that the first car was to be raced by Lambert Pöcher and the second by Fritz Kuhn. And then Neubauer's nervous question: "And the third car will be raced by you, Count Kolowrat?" "No, my dear Neubauer", came the answer. "You will of course race the third car." Neubauer had slightly exagerated the story as there were alwayd four cars in the team with the Count driving the fourth entry.

Kuhn and Pöcher came 22nd and 24th respectively and won the sports car class. Neubauer won the racing car class and came 19th overall. Only Count Kolowrat retired. The overall winner Masetti in a 4.5-liter Mercedes averaged 59 km/h, while Neubauer in the 1.1-liter Sascha had averaged 52 km/h, only slightly slower.

Further victories came in 1922 at the Armanguez-Trophy race in Spain. That race ended in tragedy when a French car went in the crowd, killing over 20 spectators. Pöcher won at the August Spa meeting and at the Rießbergrennen, Semmering and Riedbergrennen, while Neubauer, Kuhn and Pöcher all took wins in the 1098 cc car.

The Sascha project was killed off at the end of 1922. Porsche resigned and walked out of Austro-Daimler and went to Mercedes in Stuttgart to become their Chief Designer. Neubauer followed Porsche to Germany to work for Mercedes, first as a driver then as the team manager in 1926. He remained in that position until 1955. Ferdinand Porsche oftern compared Neubauer to Count Kolowrat in character and body size.

In 1923 he married the Russian émigré Sophia Nikolajewna Princess Troubetzkoy.

In 1927 he made his last film, Café Elektric, which introduced the future star Marlene Dietrich. Kolowrat who was seriously ill with terminal cancer asked her to grace his bedroom one evening to flash her legs before him as his dying wish. Marlene dutifully appeared in his bedroom. With a smile and whirl she went through her routine, flashing her legs and naked thighs before him. With a dismissive wave the count indicated he had had enough.

He died of cancer on 4 December 1927 at the age of 42 in the Loew Sanatorium in Vienna. He is credited with bringing the Austrian film industry international recognition. He made 140 feature films of various lengths between 1911 and 1927.

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