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Dieter Wedel: What remains of the director and screenwriter

Dieter Wedel wrote television history with his TV series. A look back at a controversial career.

If from Dr. Dieter Wedel was mentioned, the attribute “big” usually came into play. As big as “Der Große Bellheim”, the four-part street sweeper on ZDF that made the director suddenly famous in 1993. Since then, people have always spoken of the “big frond”.

At least that was the case until January 2018. At that time, the #MeToo debate also included the “big frond”. Several actresses accused him of sexual assault; he denied everything. According to several media reports, the Munich I Regional Court confirmed the director’s death on Wednesday, the same day that a decision was to be made on whether to allow charges of rape. He died in Hamburg on July 13 at the age of 82.

An impressive life’s work

Wedel was undisputedly an ambivalent type, which was already evident at his age. Dieter Karl Caesar Wedel, as his parents – a Frankfurt leather manufacturer and a concert pianist – christened him, always gave 1942 as the year of birth. Accordingly, he would have started school in Bad Nauheim (Hessen) in 1946 as a four-year-old. In 2010, Wedel said that he made himself three years older in 1968 in order to get his first directorial commission “Gedenktag”. The producers would never have entrusted the project about the East Berlin uprising of June 17, 1953 to a 26-year-old.

As early as 1965, Wedel had stated in a curriculum vitae he had written in the appendix to his doctoral thesis at the Philosophical Faculty of the Freie Universität Berlin (topic: “The Frankfurter Schauspielhaus in the years 1912 to 1929”) that he had died on November 12, 1939 in Frankfurt am Main was born.

Because of his promotion to Dr. phil. the former model student Dieter Wedel was respectfully called “the doctor” on the set. His life’s work is and remains impressive. Wedel’s TV miniseries caused a stir: “Once in a Lifetime – Story of a Home” (1972), “Every Year Again – The Semmeling Family” (1976), various “Black-Red-Gold” films, “The Great Bellheim” (1993), “The Shadow Man” (1996), “The King of St. Pauli” (1998), “The Semmeling Affair” (2002), “Papa and Mama” (2006), “Greed” (2010). He also worked as a theater director in Hamburg and at the Bad Hersfeld Festival and initiated the “Nibelungen Festival” in Worms.

With all the hymns of praise for the author and TV director, there were also repeated allegations that Wedel had used US colleagues such as Francis Ford Coppola, Oliver Stone and Woody Allen. The “Süddeutsche Zeitung” found parts of “Jenseits von Afrika” in Wedel’s divorce drama “Papa und Mama”. Wedel found it all “exaggerated”, which animated Harald Schmidt to persiflage “Hollywood steals from Wedel”.

reputation as a tyrant

As painstakingly as “the doctor” worked on his career as a brilliant television personality, he also lived up to his reputation as a bully on the set. Actors and other employees repeatedly complained about Wedel’s moods and harsh tone. In doing so, he paid no heed to big names. The renowned Viennese actor Paulus Manker once said that Wedel ruled “like a North Korean dictator.”

Wedel was also at loggerheads with Mario Adorf: the big star had guaranteed him high audience ratings for “big Bellheim” and “Schattenmann” and also founded the “Nibelungen Festival” in Worms with him. It is said that a quarrel ensued. Adorf is said to have been upset about Wedel’s stage technology. The “Süddeutsche Zeitung” describes the legendary argument as follows. Adorf: “Didn’t the people have a right to correct lighting tonight?” And further, already yelling: “Fuck the television!” Wedel: “You know what, Mario, kiss my ass!” Adorf then: “Do you know what you are? A little TV ass! Nothing but a little TV ass!”

Dieter Wedel and the women

Equally striking was Wedel’s relationship to the female sex. He had six children by six different women. Most of them were young women from the set, actresses, assistants who couldn’t resist Wedel’s famous glacier blue eyes. Sometimes he “had two, three and sometimes four girlfriends at the same time,” he wrote in his autobiography. “Drop me one, there were still enough to catch me.”

The doctor loved women like Hannelore Elsner, theater star Sylvia Manias, Ingrid Steeger and Julia Stemberger. For years Wedel lived with two women at the same time: in Hamburg with “main wife” Uschi Wolters, a teacher and producer, on Mallorca with the actress and dancer Dominique Voland, with whom he also had a son.

Serious allegations

In January 2018, several actresses accused Wedel of sexual harassment and even rape in the cover story “Im Zwielicht” of “Zeit-Magazin”. The director was immediately at the center of a public debate. For example, Til Schweiger said on Markus Lanz’s ZDF talk show: “Not everyone in the industry knew that he was said to have raped, but they knew that he was a tormentor.”

He denied everything

Dieter Wedel categorically denied all allegations, most of which were legally time-barred. In a statement, he said “that the allegations made against him by several actresses are unfounded and unjustified.” But he also regretted that he had exposed actors “to sometimes overly harsh, probably also hurtful criticism, especially on the set”.

And he got support from his ex-lover Ingrid Steeger (72), who was in a relationship with him from 1988 to 1992. She spoke of “character assassination” and said in an interview with “RTL Exklusiv”: “I refuse to say that Wedel was or is a rapist.” She also had auditions with him as an actress in hotel rooms, “he still didn’t do anything with me… He didn’t need it at all. He could have picked the actresses like that.” She “fell in love with his intelligence and education”. This is the real Dr. Frond.

The director and screenwriter no longer has to answer in court. According to the court, the case against him will be discontinued. Prosecutors indicted the director in March last year for an allegation from 1996. Actress Jany Tempel accused the director of rape. An allegation that Wedel denied until his death on July 13.

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