Vlasta Burian, the King of Comedians, died 40 years ago

Vlasta Burian, photo: CTK

Thursday is the 40th anniversary of the death of Vlasta Burian, the most famous Czech actor of the 1930s and 1940s and a man known to Czechs as "The King of Comedians". Vlasta Burian was born in 1891, and his acting career began in 1910, when he started performing in cabarets. He had no professional training and only finished primary school. Some say Vlasta Burian was not very reliable - he used to be late for rehearsals, sometimes he did not appear at all. When the directors of several cabarets in Prague refused to hire him, he established his own in the city centre. As a director himself, he was very strict with his fellow actors, and it's said that if there were two performances in one day, the actors were not allowed to eat during the interval between them. By Alena Skodova

Vlasta Burian,  photo: CTK
Success made Burian a very rich man - he owned a large villa with a swimming pool and tennis court, he used to buy expensive cars, and the Czechoslovak flag was raised in his garden when the artist was at home. But despite the fact that he was surrounded by beautiful film stars, Vlasta Burian married an ordinary girl he had often heard laughing in the audience during his performances. Later on, his wife Nina helped him a great deal in running his theatre.

Czech tycoons and noblemen were often guests at Burian's villa but during WWII, when the Czech lands were occupied by Germany as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Nazi cultural officials and ministers of the protectorate government were also seen in his house. So it came as no surprise that after the war, Burian was accused of collaborating with the Nazis.

Although his contemporaries tried to defend him, saying that without contacts with the Germans he would have never been allowed to appear in films, he was put on trial three times. The last one destroyed him - he spend several months in custody, was stripped of all of his property and what was worst, the Czechoslovak authorities banned him from performing. He died in poverty and disgrace on January 31st 1962.

But Vlasta Burian has never been forgotten. A kind of 'Burianomania' emerged in the late 1960s, and his films - he starred in more than 30 - are regularly shown on TV. Eight years ago a court ruled that Burian had not after all collaborated with the Nazis and in 1999 Burian was named "The Czech Comedian of the 20th Century" in a poll of TV viewers.