A reporter's lifetime story

BY PHILIPP LACKNER

At the age of 77, Ludwig "Luigi" Heinrich is still on the road around the world - and writes his interviews with stars from film and showbiz. He has been delivering his stories to the Kleine Zeitung for almost five decades. Here is his own story.

He takes them out of his backpack like his greatest treasure. Ludwig "Luigi" Heinrich carefully pulls them out of envelopes and puts them on the mighty table in the Styria Media Center Graz room in Austria: photos from his life, from his long, exciting career as a journalist. It takes a while until everything is spread out on the tabletop, because there are dozens of photos and everything has to be arranged correctly. "Here," says the 77-year-old Viennese briefly and finally tips on a black-and-white photo from the early 70s. On it you can see him holding a knife to Alfred Hitchcock's throat. 

He shocked the master of suspense
In the interview with the star director Heinrich had spontaneously asked him if he could not imitate Janet Leigh's horror gesture in "Psycho", the actress died in the legendary shower murder scene the cruel film death. The master of the thriller played along. And since then the recording with the honourable Brit has been one of the favourite memories of the celebrity journalist, film critic and interview partner of the showbiz stars. Just like conversations with Tom Hanks, Michael Douglas, Tom Jones or Romy Schneider. 

An amazing memory
A meeting with Luigi Heinrich is therefore not only an honour, it is an experience. Because he tells an anecdote to every photo - and he has plenty of it in his repertoire. He may have become fuller than in the golden era of cinema, the hair white, short and thin, but the mischievous, his charm, which you can see in the shots of decades ago, he has preserved all that, in his facial expressions, in his words. And one can only marvel at his memory: for every photo there is a wealth of names and for every name there is a story in which a punch line must never be missing.

No sound recordings, everything in the block
For 57 years Ludwig "Luigi" Heinrich has been writing about the glamour of the film world, about Hollywood stars and European, but also about Austrian entertainment greats. He never has a recording device with him during interviews, he always notes everything down in his notebook and translates it neatly into manuscripts. Just like he did when he was 20 when he started working for the "Express" in Vienna. "It was a leap into the cold water, I had to layout two pages every day, organize pictures and write stories," he remembers. There he learned to work quickly. "The most important time of my life," he says.

47 years of service for the Kleine Zeitung 
When the Socialist Party bought the paper, it went downhill. He sighs, "They showed us how to ruin a newspaper quickly." But the "Luigi" continued. Why Luigi? "At that time Italy was very popular, a friend said I somehow looked like an Italian and from then on I was Luigi." Through a commitment to the Oberösterreichische Nachrichten it came to contact with Fritz Csoklich, the long-time editor-in-chief of the Kleine Zeitung, for whom Heinrich has now been writing as a freelancer since 47. He pauses briefly at the name Csoklich. "A person with the highest quality of character, at a time when there was still another spirit in the newspaper business".

Anecdotes over anecdotes
Back then, when you could meet people like Tom Jones relatively relaxed for an interview in a London club. Heinrich still remembers the interior of the restaurant: It was paneled in a strong red. In the middle of it sat the "Tiger" and spoke about his life before him as a star. "Many had thought he had been a miner in Wales, but he disagreed: He only worked as a bricklayer," says Heinrich, who tells a similar story about Harrison Ford, with whom he was allowed to chat for an hour and a half. "Before his film career he was not a bricklayer, but a carpenter, and set up Sergio Mendes's recording studio."  With James Bond Sean Connery he talked about football ("he could list the names of all Austrian national players"), with Michael Douglas about his alcohol problem, with Tom Hanks about his difficult life as a divorced child. "He told me that his father never had his life under control and that he had died two years before his greatest success, Forrest Gump." He had met Hanks several times, most recently in Florence. "One of the most humble stars I know." 

Why Placido Domingo can no longer bend a finger
In the vast majority of cases, the biggest remained simple and normal. Again a grin scurries through his face: "Only those from the middle class are usually exhausting and unpleasant." With some stars he stood together on the soccer field for fun, for example with opera star Placido Domingo. He well remembers a game in Salzburg's Anif, where the tenor was in goal and football star Hans Krankl was supposed to use a penalty: "Krankl always took it all totally seriously and shot it pretty hard - Domingo wanted to fend off the shot, since then he can't bend one of his fingers properly anymore". 

Stars like singer Peter Alexander, actor Oskar Werner, for whom he once did press work, or chansonist Charles Aznavour - they all knew him, and he knew them all too well. He laughs: "I have reported on Udo Jürgens so many times that people thought he would bribe me." 

The most beautiful additional income
Today, as a "pensioner," as he calls himself ironically, he may be a little shorter, but not really much. Although he no longer plans to travel overseas as often for work, he does. He had just interviewed the new Mary Poppins actress Emily Blunt there. Heinrich: "It's nice to be able to earn something in addition in this way, isn't it?

Photos: private