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Fritz Muliar was born Friedrich Ludwig Stand in Vienna, Austria, to unmarried parents. His biological father, an army officer, later became a Nazi, while his mother, Leopoldine Stand, was a committed leftist. In 1924, she married Mischa Muliar, a Russian-born Jewish jeweler who gave Fritz his surname.

At age 16, Fritz finished high school and began to study acting at the Vienna Conservatory. His first cabaret performances took place in 1937. However, after the Nazi Anschluss (annexation) of Austria the following year, his career was restricted, and he went to work as a salesman for a baby products company to support himself. In 1940, near the start of World War II, he was drafted into the Germany Army. The authorities discovered his pro-Austrian freedom activities, and he was sentenced to death; however, the sentence was commuted into a five-year prison term, of which he served seven months and then was sent to a penal unit on the Eastern Front.

After the war, he returned to Austria to become a hugely popular radio, theater, and film actor and director, including as a humorist and interpreter of Jewish/Yiddish jokes for the German-speaking world.
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