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May Karl

May Karl  (18421912)Winnetou

German author of travel and adventure stories, dealing with desert Arabs or American Indians in the Old West. Among May's best known characters are Winnetou, Old Shatterhand, with whom the author himself closely identified, Kara ben Nemsi, and Hadschi Alef Omar ibn Hadschi Abu Abbas ibn Hadschi Dawud al Gosarah. May only visited in his late years the Orient and Asia he so colorfully had depicted in his books. However, he used the first-person narrative, which gives the reader a believable impression of actual experience. May's works have been translated into over 30 languages.

Karl May was born in Hohenstein-Ernstthal/Sachsen as the son of a weaver. There were 14 children in the family but nine died at an early age. May was blind for the first five years of his life. Through his father's determination to improve the boy's lot, he became a schoolteacher at an elementary school. He had graduated at the age of 19 from Plauen. He had also studied in Waldenburg but he was fired from the school when he stole six candle to take them home. May career was ruined when he was convicted of the theft of a watch, which, he claimed, was lent to him, and he lost his teacher's licence. This experience started a psychological crisis. He was twice arrested for fraud - he masqueraded among others as a medical doctor - and spent several years in prison, where he found the joy of books and good stories.

After his release in 1874 May started to send his own writings to various magazines. He wrote sentimental village stories and for an unscrupulous publisher a large number of novelettes anonymously. But this period also developed May's skills as a writer. His breakthrough idea was to produce Indian novels after the manner of Fenimore Cooper. He worked in Dresden as a journalist and in 1880 he married Emma Pollmer, with whom he had lived for two years. The did not have children and they separated in 1903. May then married Klara Ploehn, who was over 20 years younger and a widow. He had met Klara and her husband already 1889 and they had become his close friends.

In 1883 May moved to Blasewitz. With the appearance of his short story collections and novels, May gained fame in the 1890s, becoming one of the world's all-time best-selling fiction writers. In the last quarter of the 19th century, May was perhaps the most popular author of boys' books in Germany.

May wrote from 1875 over 70 books. Among his best-known works is WINNETOU, published in three volumes between 1876 and 1893. The story depicted the friendship of Old Shatterhand, an American pioneer of German descent, and Winnetou, the noble Red Indian chief, "roten Gentleman" (the Red Gentleman). Before his death in the third book, Winnetou abandons Indian gods and becomes a Christian. In 1895 May bought a house in Radebeul, which he named 'Villa Shatterhand'. It became his home for the rest of his life. In 1899-1900 May travelled in the Orient and Asia (1899-1900) and in 1908 in America. Having created a fortune with his pen, May wrote for his own pleasure the symbolical novel ARDISTAN AND DSCHINNISTAN (1909), a fairy tale of yearning for peace and redemption. In the age of imperialistic politics, May supported pacifist views, which he defended in his polemical writings.

In spite of his Indian novels and popularity in Europe, May did not gain much notice in the United States, where the reading public had begun to tire already in the 1850s of the Indian stories about 'Noble Savages'. May died on March 30, 1912 in Radebeul. He had suffered from a severe case of pneumonia in 1911, and against his doctor's orders he had made a trip to Vienna, where he had spoken before the academy for literature and music. May's autobiography, MEIN LEBEN UND STREBEN (1910), was reissued in an abridged version posthumously, entitled ICH (1917). In the original work May had presented a long series of accusations against Mr. Rudolf Lebius, and due an injunction the book was taken out from the shops.

In his diary, Spandau: The Secret Diaries (1976) Albert Speer mentions, that Hitler would lean on Karl May as proof that 'it was not necessary to know the desert in order to direct troops in the African theater of war... it wasn't necessary to travel in order to know the world.' According to Speer, 'Hitler was wont to say that he had always been deeply impressed by the tactical finesse and circumspection that Karl May conferred upon his character Winnetou.' Such man was the very model of a company commander. Hitler added that during his reading hours at night, May's stories gave him courage like works of philosophy or the Bible for others. He had attended May's fatal lecture in Vienna in 1912. In the middle of World War II May's Winnetou was printed in 300,000 copies to be delivered for German soldiers. For Martin Bormann Hitler told: "I used to read him by candle-light, or by moonlight with the help if a huge magnifying glass." (from Hitler's Table Talks, 1953). This admiration condemned May for some time to the fate of Richard Wagner, whose music wasn't publicly performed in Israel for years because Hitler had praised it.

The first "Winnetou the Warrior" film, The Treasure of Silver Lake / Der Schatz im Silbersee (1962), was directed by Dr Harald Reinl. Lex Barker, who had player Tarzan in Hollywood, became Shatterhand, and continued in Apache Gold / Winnetou - I. Teil (1963), The Last of the Renegades / Winnetou - II (1964), and Old Shatterhand / Shatterhand (1964). In 1964 Steward Granger joined the team, taking the role of Old Surehand in Flaming Frontier / Old Surehand I. Teil. Other famous names connected with the Winnetou adventures were Klaus Kinski, Charles Aznavour, and Terence Hill under his real name Mario Girotti. The American-frontier sagas, produced by Germans and partly filmed in Yugoslavia, inspired also Italian producers to invest in Westerns, which led to such film as Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966), all directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood.

German Federal Republic, 1987, Winnetou

DDR, 1987.03.01, Radebeul. Karl May

German Federal Republic, 1962.06.20, Bad Segeberg. Karl May's Games

German Federal Republic, 1987.02.12, Bonn. Indians

German Federal Republic, 1987.02.25, Bamberg. Museum of Karl May

German Federal Republic, 1987.10.08, Bad Segeberg. Karl May's Games

German Federal Republic, 1992.02.25, Hohenstein-Ernsthal. Karl May

German Federal Republic, 2001.06.30, Bad Segeberg. Indian

German Federal Republic, 2006, Karl May Museum

Germany, 1938.05.15, Radebeul. Museum of Karl May

Germany, 1938.08.16, Rathen. Karl May's Games

Germany, 1939.05.16, Radebeul. Museum of Karl May

Germany, 1939.08.18, Rathen. Karl May

Germany, 1940.06.2108.31, Berlin. Karl May's Game

Germany, 1942.11.01, Radebeul. Museum of Karl May

German Federal Republic, 1992, Karl May

Germany, 1938, Karl May's Game


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