Life and career
Benjamin Franklin Wedekind was born on July 24, 1864 in Hannover, Germany. His mother was Swiss and became pregnant with him in San Francisco. His father, a German, had a Swiss castle in which Wedekind grew up. Until World War I, when he was forced to obtain a German passport, he was an American citizen and traveled throughout Europe. He lived most of his adult life in Munich, though he had a brief period working in advertising, for the Maggi soup firm, in Switzerland in 1886.
Having worked in business and the circus, Wedekind went on to become an actor and singer. In this capacity he received wide acclaim as the principal star of the satirical cabaret Die elf Scharfrichter (The Eleven Executioners), launched in 1901. Wedekind became an important influence on the tradition of German satirical writing for the theatre, paving the way for the cabaret-song satirists Kurt Tucholsky, Walter Mehring, Joachim Ringelnatz and Erich Kästner among others, who after Wedekind's death would invigorate the culture of the Weimar Republic; "all bitter social critics who used direct, stinging satire as the best means of attack and wrote a large part of their always intelligible light verse to be declaimed or sung". At the age of 34, after serving a nine-month prison sentence for "lèse-majesté" (thanks to the publication in Simplicissimus of some of his satirical poems), Wedekind became a dramaturg (a play-reader and adapter) at the Munich Schauspielhaus.
His sex life was promiscuous and he frequented prostitutes, contracting syphilis. He also enjoyed the pleasure of platonic female company and kept his tendencies toward homosexuality and sadism in check. He had an affair with Frida Uhl who bore him a child. In 1906, he married the Austrian actress Tilly Newes, 22 years his junior and became strictly monogamous. His relationship with his wife was turbulent, with Wedekind prone to jealousy and he felt pressure to maintain strenuous creative and sexual activity in order to please her. They had two daughters, Pamela and Kadidja, but his jealousy led his wife to attempt both separation and suicide.
Near the end of his life, Wedekind underwent an appendectomy and immediately began acting again, leading to a hernia. His doctor refused to operate immediately but Wedekind insisted and complications from the surgery led to his death at the age of 53 on March 9, 1918.
Tilly Wedekind went on to appear in such films as Travelling People and was romantically linked to the author Gottfried Benn. In 1969, at age 83, she published an autobiography in German, Lulu: Die Rolle meines Lebens (Lulu: The Role of My Life).