There have been many suggestions for the role of Old Shatterhand including such well-known action film actors as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. It has even been suggested that the Spaghetti Western actors Clint Eastwood or Terrence Hill would make a perfect Old Shatterhand. Kevin Costner, Owen Wilson, Brad Pitt and even Leonardo DiCaprio have also been suggested …
Who then should play the role of this fictional hero of so many of Karl May’s narratives? What are his qualities? What did he look like?
What we do know from the opening chapter of the Winnetou tale is that the hero is young, well educated, probably in his early twenties and a greenhorn willing to try anything and everything.
We also discover that he is of German heritage, that he comes from a poor family, and that he has strength despite his outward appearance. The latter is best illustrated in Karl May’s own words:
“Halloo!” he shouted, jumping up. “What’s that then? He handles the gun like a light walking stick, yet it’s the heaviest weapon I know. Do you really have such strength?”
Instead of answering I took him by the bottom of his buttoned up jacket and belt buckle and lifted him up with my right hand.
It has also been suggested that Old Shatterhand must be blond and blue eyed … because he is of German heritage. There can be no doubt that Karl May is of German heritage and it is clear that Charles (the English equivalent of Karl), as the hero is called, hales from Germany. But is he blond and blue eyed or did this image only manifest itself after the movies of the 1960’s were screened wherein the late blond and blue eyed actor Lex Barker played the part of Old Shatterhand?
If one consults the Oriental Odyssey, where the Old Shatterhand hero is known as Kara ben Nemsi, one discovers that Karl is dark haired as the following paragraphs indicate:
“It will depend how much of such ammunition can be had here. Besides, one has to be crafty when faced with such violent people. When it comes to me, I will deceive these scoundrels.”
“How so, Sihdi?”
“Tomorrow I will have blond hair and a blond beard …”
“How will you do that?”
“There is a plant, the leaves of which, when boiled in soapy water, can lighten the color of the darkest hair. Such leaves are available in the apothecary.”
So much for the hero being blond and blue eyed …
Who then would be best suited to play the role of Old Shatterhand?