The man who was The Joker

See anything green? A look at Conrad Veidt, the German actor who inspired the Dark Knight's most psychopathic foe...

Conrad Veidt in the role of Gwynplaine in The Man Who Laughs (1928)

As Seb Patrick points out today in 10 Essential Joker stories, Batman’s arch-nemesis was based on the lugubrious and rather fantastical physiognomy of German actor Conrad Veidt. Veidt was born in Berlin in 1893 and achieved his greatest fame as an actor appearing in the German expressionist classic The Cabinet Of Doctor Caligari (1920) as a sleepwalking psychopath. But it was Veidt’s role in The Man Who Laughs (1928) which Batman creator Bob Kane appropriated to create the most famous of the bat-villains…

In a 1994 interview, Kane explained: “Bill Finger and I created the Joker. Bill was the writer. Jerry Robinson came to me with a playing card of the Joker. That’s the way I sum it up. But he looks like Conrad Veidt — you know, the actor in The Man Who Laughs…So Bill Finger had a book with a photograph of Conrad Veidt and showed it to me and said, “Here’s the Joker.” Jerry Robinson had absolutely nothing to do with it. But he’ll always say he created it till he dies. He brought in a playing card, which we used for a couple of issues for [the Joker] to use as his playing card…”

Robinson has refuted this dismissal of his own role in the genesis of the Joker, claiming that Finger actually associated Veidt with the Joker when he first saw the character drawn.

The jocular rictus of Veidt in The Man Who Laughs is truly sinister, and perhaps most faithfully adhered to in the make-up of Cesar Romero’s Joker in the 1960s Batman TV series.

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