Alexandr Joseph Count Kolowrat-Krakowsky
(January 29, 1886 – December 4, 1927)
Order of Franz Josef
13th Dragoon regiment (1907)
Automobile and motorcycle racer (1904–1923)
Film producer (1910/1914–1927)
Count Alexander Kolowrat-Krakowský, the oldest son of Count Leopold Filip Kolowrat-Krakowský, is without question one of the most distinct and most interesting personalities among the gentlemen Kolowrat.
He was a Czech race car driver, pilot and the founder of the Austrian film industry. He began racing as a student, during which time he also beat the world speed record. He was the co-owner of auto manufacturer Laurin & Klement, which eventually merged with the Skoda company. One of his good friends was Ferdinand Porsche, thanks to whom the legendary light car Sascha was created in 1922. In the later years, he founded the Sascha-Film film studios in Velké Dvorce and Vienna, and was behind the making of several dozen films as producer and director. He also discovered future film star Marlene Dietrich and director Michael Curtiz, who became famous for his film Casablanca.
Count Alexander Joseph "Sasha" was born as the eldest son of Count Leopold Philip Kolowrat-Krakowski in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, USA, where his father had fled after an unfortunate pistol duel in 1876. At the time, Count Leopold shot his opponent, Prince Wilhelm Auersperg. His mother, Baroness Nadine Huppmann-Valbella, was the daughter of a wealthy tobacco tycoon. After lengthy litigation over inheritance of the Tynec family estate, and after the granting of his highness the emperor's pardon, the family returned to their homeland in June 1887, when Sasha was still just a year old. Sasha grew up surrounded by Tynec children, and from 1892 to 1896 he also attended the local elementary school.
After a year of study at the gymnasium in Stříbro, he was accepted, at the age of 10, to the international Roman Catholic Kollegium Kalksburg gymnasium near Vienna. He graduated from the Theresianum in Vienna in 1904. At the request of his father, he entered the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium. He graduated in 1907 and then signed up as a one-year volunteer in the 13th Dragoon Regiment of Prince Evgen of Savoy
Race Car Driver
Even though he was the fourteenth person in the whole of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to pass his pilot exams and one of the first people in Bohemia to buy an airplane, the greatest love of his life became motoring. His early successes even made it into the media, including being featured in magazines such as Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung, Cycling & Motoring and The Motor. From his youth, he was also friends with Václav Klement and Ferdinand Porsche. In later years, he became a shareholder in the car companies Laurin & Klement (he inherited the shares from his father) and Austro Daimler/Motoren AG.
It was already during his student years in high school that the young count fell in love with motorcycles and from the age of 17 he began visiting the Laurin & Klement auto plant, on behalf of which he also later raced. Because his family did not like this sport, he used to hide behind various pseudonyms. He took part in his first race, Prague–Písek, organized by the Czech Motorcycle Club, in 1904 on a Laurin & Klement motorcycle. He stayed with the same brand even for the Coupé Internationale race in Pacov in 1906.
In 1906 Sascha’s father gave him his first car. Despite his father sending him to study cattle breeding in Switzerland in an effort to prevent him from taking part in more races, the young Count did not give up on his passion. While the chaperone assigned by his father sent home postcards prepared in advance, Sascha trained for the race to the peak of Gaillon. Racing under the pseudonym of Doconald, he not only won, but even set a long-enduring record time of 1 minute and 24 seconds. After publication of a photo from the event in the newspaper, Count Leopold came to terms with his son’s hobby and made no further efforts to prevent him from pursuing it. In the same year Sascha then set another record when he achieved an unbelievable, for the time, average speed of 112.3 km/hour on the Brooklands track (Surrey, Great Britain). In November of the following year Sascha became the driver of a Laurin & Klement car with a new eight-cylinder engine, which was sent out by the car manufacturer on a promotional tour from Mlada Boleslav to Paris, with an end goal of the Paris auto show at the Grand Palais.
In 1909 he was a member of the winning Laurin & Klement team on the Vienna – Trieste route, and shortly thereafter won in the race to the peak of Ries in the two-liter class and placed second at Simmering, after his friend Otto Hieronym. In the same year he also participated in the famous competition for the Prince Henry prize, where there were 109 vehicles starting. On the 2,000-km long Berlin - Wroclaw-Tatras-Budapest-Vienna-Salzburg-Munich route, he took second place. He then also achieved the same place one year later in the Zbraslav-Jíloviště race. In subsequent years he also successfully participated in the Saint Petersburg-Sevastopol competition for the Caucasus Cup, in which he was the absolute winner, as well as the star ride in San Sebastian, Spain, and the Tatry-Andrias ride.
Prior to the war, Count Sascha participated in many other races, including the Alpine Race, which he won five times with the Laurin & Klement team, and thus together in 1914 they became permanent holders of what had been up to then been a trophy that changed hands between the winners.
In 1920 a demand of automobile races grew. As a spectator, the Count Alexander visited the Grand Prix in Le Mans and soon after took part in the circuit race Karlovy Vary – Mariánské Lázeně – Sokolov – Karlovy Vary which, in fact, was the first automobile race organized in Bohemia. With his own automobile Laurin & Klement, he won the race in his category of contestants.
Later, the Count financially supported the circuit races in Semmering and in Gugging where he announced the Silver price of the Kolowrats for the winner of the race in the category of cyclecars. The count Alexander, aka “Sasha”, also took part in the first year of the motor vehicle race in Knovíz in 1924. A year later, when this race got the national renown and featured leading Czech racers such as Čeněk and Eliška Junek or Jiří Kristián Lobkowicz, the count Sacha simply couldn’t miss the starting shot.
After 1920, he also financially supported Laurin & Klement manufacturing, which after the war was unable to return to civilian production. In the following years, the Count tried to save the carmaker and was looking for a partner with whom he could get the factory back on its feet. As he was unable find the partner, in 1925 Laurin & Klement merged with Skoda factory. He then financed the development and production of the lightweight Sascha sports car at the Austro Daimler-Motoren AG, where he had been not only a shareholder but also a board member since 1921, even against the will of the company’s director.
During his several journeys to the US, the Count also visited Ford's factories. Sascha's dream was to make available an affordable popular car, like the one Ford was offering. He shared his acquired knowledge and ideas with his friend Ferdinand Porsche, the design engineer of the Austro Daimler-Motoren AG automobile plant. In spite of all the efforts and negotiations, for example, with Citroën, Sascha’s dream of a small folk car was not fulfilled.
International Ride of Saša Kolowrat
To commemorate the memory of Count Alexander, every year a meet of historic vehicles is held, with a tour around the castle of Přimda and a visit to neighboring cities in Bavaria. The one-hundred kilometer ride is organized by the Auto Moto Veteran Club Černý les and is held under the patronage of the Kolowrat-Krakowský family.
The second half of his life was dedicated to photography, which he discovered during his time in the army, thanks to Oskar Berk, one of the best photography laboratory technicians in the monarchy, and two years later, he dedicated himself to film as well. His successes earned him first the nickname Count Kilowatt, and Der Kinograf.
The film industry had already enchanted Count Alexander in 1909, when he first met with French filmmaker Charles Pathé. After the death of his father in 1910 he took over the property in Bohemia, founded film studios at the chateau in Velké Dvorce. His filmmaking team at first consisted of his friends, such as Josef Zeitlinger, Emanuel Kabath and Ludwig Schaschek, and later also Karel Freund, Hans Theyer and Lambert Pöcher. The Count himself at first also devoted himself to directing and cinematography, but from 1914 only to production, and on occasion art direction.
In 1911 his team created the first Austrian professionally shot documentary “Ore Mining in Styria, Erzberg”. The film attracted much public interest and the reviews were positive. Other works during this time included reports on the wedding of Archduke Karel and Zita von Bourbon-Parma, the christening of the Tegethoff warship, a car trip through the Austrian Alps and several travel films on the beauties of Dalmatia, the Dolomites, Kreuzenstein Castle, Lago di Garda and Vienna.
Due to the poor lighting of the studios in the Velke Dvorce, several of the first feature films and comedies from 1912, were not released. In the same year, a fire broke out at the chateau, which was caused due to the processing of extremely flammable nitrocellulose. The studios were then moved to Vienna, where Sascha-Filmfabrik (later Sascha-Film and Sascha Filmindustrie) production company was founded. The main feature of this year was the feature film Emperor Joseph II, which for the first time enchanted both audiences and critics. The following year, three eight-minute movies appeared in the cinemas, the globally successful film Millionaire Uncle with Alexandre Girardi in the lead role, and two advertising films.
During the First World War, Sascha, together with his brother Bedřich, was assigned to the military automobile unit. In 1914 he then received imperial approval to shoot wartime newsreels and promotional and instructional films. The weekly newsreels became popular with the public, and resulted in Sascha being transferred to the war press center a year later, bringing with him several of his former co-workers. During his time back in Vienna during the war, he produced not only war films, but also entertaining films that helped the public escape from cruel reality. In 1916 he also shot news footage of the state funeral of Emperor Franz Josef I. Within three days and night, 255 copies of this report were made, which was an incredibly high number for the time.
In March 1916 the Count purchased a large metal structure of an airplane hangar, which he had moved from Düsseldorf to Vienna. Thus, the first, fully professional film studio in the Austro-Hungarian empire was created. In the same year, Sasha met with the father of German cinematography, Oskar Messter. Together, they founded Sascha-Messter Film, which in the years 1917-8 produced over 60 silent entertainments on film. In 1918, Sasha's capital was bought by Universum-Film AG On September 10, 1918, the merger of Sascha-Film and Phillipp & Pressburger resulted in the company Sascha Filmindustrie AG. The registered capital of the new company was 400,000,000 crowns. Later, the production and distribution company acquired the Collegia company, which had a chain of movie theaters in Vienna, Belgrade, Bucharest, Budapest, Warsaw and Prague. A year later, Sascha and Pressburger founded the Herz Film Corporation distribution company, with which they gained representation for distribution of Paramount Pictures films, even outside of Austria.
Count Sasha was responsible for the creation of several dozen films, four of which he even directed himself. He discovered several film stars, including the director of the film Casablanca, Michael Curtiz, a director of Hungarian origin, Alexander Korda, and actresses Marlene Dietrich, Anna Ondráková and Lucy Doraine. He also introduced the first comedic duo of Cocl & Seff to European film, performed by Rudolf Walter and Josef Holub, who performed together in films until 1922. The Count paid actors and artists above standard rates - in 1915, when the regular monthly compensation for a leading role was 150 crowns, he paid 200 crowns, and in 1918 he was paying 400 crowns. A monument was erected in his honor at the site of the Sascha-Filmindustrie studios in Vienna, and one of the streets in Favoriten neighborhood is named Kolowratgasse.
Count Alexander, who was always only referred to as Sascha, married on April 30, 1923, at the St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. His marriage to Princess Sofia Nikolayevna Trubecka, daughter of General Nikolay Andreyevich, Prince of Trubecki and Isolina Heinrichovna Moreno, remained childless, however.
Still in the same year, Count Sasha suffered injuries when his car crashed in the Alps. When he was taken to Simmering Hospital, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Only four years later, in December 1927, he lost the battle with cancer and died at the age of 42. His remains were laid to rest in the family tomb in Týnec.