The Seven-Per-Cent Solution

My Great Uncle Was Freud’s Butcher

Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud

A few weeks ago, a press release from Variety grabbed my attention:

LONDON — “Downton Abbey” producer Carnival Films and “The X-Files” writer Frank Spotnitz are developing a crime series centered on Sigmund Freud, “Freud: The Secret Casebook.”

Spotnitz and Nicholas Meyer will pen the series, in which the founder of psychoanalysis is portrayed as the first criminal profiler. The series will combine murder mystery with a portrayal of Freud’s “tangled and provocative personal life.”

I wasn’t just excited because anything produced by the talents involved in “Downton Abbey” and “The X-Files” is bound to be must-see TV. No, I have a personal stake in this show, some little-known background that I believe would greatly enhance the series.

You see, my great uncle was Sigmund Freud’s butcher.

Say again?

No question. My mother’s story of escape from Vienna, forced to leave her parents behind to their eventual death at the Nazis’ hands, was tragic. She rarely talked about the past; it was too painful. But every now and then she would drop a tidbit about the happier days before the war—including the fact that one of her uncles catered to the meaty tastes of the Freud family.

It was only recently, however, that I learned the name of this uncle, Siegmund Kornmehl, and discovered that, for 47 years, his main butcher shop shared an address with Freud, 19 Berggasse. Both Sigmunds were forced to leave Vienna in 1938, Freud to London, my great uncle and his wife, Helen, to Palestine. In 2001, some 30 years after Vienna created a museum out of Freud’s old living quarters and consulting room, Siegmund Kornmehl’s former butcher shop was turned into the museum’s art gallery.

The Butcher of Bergasse

I’m not comparing my uncle to, say, Sweeney Todd. From everything I’ve learned through genealogical research, Siegmund and Helen Kornmehl—along with the rest of my mother’s family–were very respectable.

But having a butcher shop downstairs would add resonance to a Freud detective story, don’t you think? There would be cleavers and meat grinders near the premises of the profiler for criminals to get their hands on. And while Freud, who qualified as a physician before he started digging into the depths of the human mind, might be expected to know about human anatomy, there’s nothing like an actual butcher to add a touch of the grisly—not to mention gristly—to the story.

Besides, Freud needs a foil and an information source, a man of the people who might be expected to get the local gossip from the street that the famous Herr Professor couldn’t get. Who better than a purveyor of sausage?

Anyway, the series is clearly taking a bit of poetic license. In case you were wondering about the reference to Freud’s “tangled and provocative personal life,” I suspect this is an allusion to the central premise of the sensationalist book, “Freud’s Mistress,” by Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman, i.e., that Freud had an affair with his sister-in-law, Mina Bernays, who lived with the Freud family. I’m not convinced; see Did Freud Sleep with His Sister-in-Law?

Freud's Butcher

A Brief History of Freud Impersonators

More important to most people than the question of whether or not my great uncle will put in an appearance in the new series—and, hey, if Johnny Depp agrees to play him, I wouldn’t mind it if he was portrayed as a serial killer– is the question of which actor will take the lead role.

Since he became part of my family story, I’ve been reading up on Freud. I’m now convinced that Freud was not the intense, brooding character played by Montgomery Clift in John Huston’s 1962 “Freud,” especially in the early years that this film covers, nor the cold stick-in-the mud of Viggo Mortensen in “A Dangerous Method,” parrying with Jung for the affections of the over-the-top Keira Knightly.

No, the actor who nails Freud’s personality, to me, is Alan Arkin in “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution.” Along with being smart, he’s warm, with a touch of humor.

There have been a couple of good Freuds in the theater. I really liked Martin Rayner in the off-Broadway “Freud’s Last Session” (I don’t think I would enjoy Judd Hirsch, the current occupant of the role, nearly as much). I’ve also heard that Anthony Sher was great as Freud in the farce “Hysteria” in London. And there was the BBC’s “Freud,” a little-known–and impossible to get hold of–1984 mini-series starring David Suchet in the title role. I’m sure he was excellent.

Who Will Play Freud Today?

But every era demands a new Freud, and we need a definitive one for the 21st century. Who will the creators of “The Secret Casebook” cast as Freud—in his vital years, I’m assuming (see “tangled and provocative personal life”). I wouldn’t mind seeing Daniel Day-Lewis in the role. I’m sure he would do his research and channel the many facets of Freud’s personality. But he might not want to spend as much time inside the head of the world’s premier headshrinker as a TV series would require.

Which of today’s actors would you pick to play Freud in his prime? Chime in below. 


2 responses to “My Great Uncle Was Freud’s Butcher”

  1. Vera Marie Badertscher Avatar

    Oh, surely, they must include at least a scene in the butcher shop. Now, I’m not saying Johnny Depp would make a good Sigmund Kornmehl, but it is fun speculating.

  2. #FrankSpotnitz and #NicolasMeyer are writing a new series called “Freud: The Secret Casebook”

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