William Berger

From The Spaghetti Western Database

William Berger
10/20/1928, Innsbruck, Austria
† 10/02/1993, Los Angeles, California

He was born Wilhelm Thomas Berger on October 20, 1928, in Innsbruck, Austria. Both his parents were doctors and the well-to-do family was on holiday in Italy when the war broke out. They fled to the US and settled in New York City. William did his studies at Columbia University, and took part, as a member of the athletic team, in the preliminaries for the 1948 Olympics. After his three year military service - which brought him to Korea - he briefly worked for IBM, but he would soon turn to acting.

First steps as an actor

He made his debut as an actor when he was asked to replace another actor in a stage play; he followed lessons at the Actor's Studio and made several successful stage appearances, but he was dreaming of a career in the movies and therefore moved with his family (his partner Marjorie and their two children) to Hollywood; he wasn't able to find work and soon had marital problems. Back in New York he took up acting again and fell in love with the actress Carol Lobravico, who introduced him to her jet-set friends (and the world of drugs). When making a trip to Europe in 1965, he was offered a small role in the Sinatra movie Von Ryan's Express.

The chance of a lifetime

His scenes were shot in Cinecittà, Rome, and Berger sensed that this could be his chance of a lifetime. He decided to stay in Rome and was offered a role alongside Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Spaak in Marco Ferreri's L'Uomo dei cinque palloni; the movie wasn't very successful (its feature length was brought back by producer Carlo Ponti to a mere 30 minutes for his portmanteau movie Oggi, domani e dopodomani) but nevertheless drew the attention to his blond hair and agile movements. By this time everybody in the business was thinking about making a western and looking for fair haired actors who looked American and could ride a horse. He was offered a role in the spaghetti western Ringo's Big Night and although the film was a mediocre affair, it marked the beginning of Berger's successful career as a spaghetti western actor.

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The spaghetti westerns

Berger had one more appearance as a lead actor in a spaghetti western, in the minor Sartana in the Valley of Death, but he would become one of the most familiar faces within the genre thanks to supporting roles in movies like Face to Face, Today it's Me, Tomorrow You, and many others. To fans of the genre he's probably best known for his appearances in the Sartana and Sabata movies, next to Gianni Garko and Lee van Cleef. His blond hair were dyed red for the part of Banjo, Lee van Cleef's friend and opponent in Sabata, a charming womanizer, armed with the fastest musical instrument in the West. In They Call him Cemetery, made in '71, when the spaghetti western production was already in decline, Garko and he played two aging gunfighters, looking back on their lives as hired gunman, turning the traditional pistolero - quick as lightning - into a spaghetti western counterpart of the wandering samurai. In the twilight spaghetti western Keoma (1976) he played Franco Nero's father. He also appeared in two 'post-spaghetti westerns', Tex e il signore degli abissi (1985) and Django 2: Il Grande Ritorno (1987). He continued working as an actor until his death, mainly for television.

Private life

As said, Carol Lobravico had introduced William to her jet set friends and the world of drugs. For quite some time they lived a life 'living apart together' and in Carol's absence he had often roommates, one of them being Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones. William and Carol finally married in 1969. One year later, August 4, 1970, when they were spending a weekend with several friends in Amalfi (province of Salerno), the police broke into their house and searched the place. A small amount of cannabis was found and William, Carol and all their friends were arrested. Six months later they were acquitted in a trial, but Carol had not survived the experience; suffering from hepatitus she had been taken to a psychiatric hospital for criminals, where she had been tied to the bed when her condition had become worse. She was brought to a hospital in Napels when she was already in life's danger and died of acute peritonitis.

William married three times: to the actress Carolyn Lobravico (born: 1932), singer Hanja Kochansky (born: 1937) and film editor Dorte Volz (born: 1943). Apparently he was not married to his first partner, Marjorie (the mother of his first two children).

William Berger died October 2, 1993 in Los Angeles, California from prostate cancer.

Now check out out: Alphabetical William Berger Spaghetti Western filmography


--By Scherpschutter