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Meier, Karl (1897-1974)  
 
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Swiss actor, cabaret performer, and stage director Karl Meier was, under the pseudonym "Rolf," editor-in-chief of the gay cultural periodical Der Kreis from 1943 until its demise in 1967. In this capacity Meier made an important contribution to gay liberation and culture, both in Europe and elsewhere.

Meier was born Rudolf Carl Rheiner on March 16, 1897 in St. Gallen, Switzerland. He was an illegitimate son of Elisabeth Rheiner, who later married an Italian and disappeared from view. He was raised by a childless couple, Thomas and Wilhelmine Meier, who formally adopted him on April 10, 1912.

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Meier's adoptive parents wanted him to go into business, but from an early age he yearned to pursue a career as an actor. By 1917 he had found a position in Zurich that allowed him to train as an actor on the side.

From 1920 until 1924, Meier appeared on several Swiss stages, in both plays and operettas. In the period 1924 to 1932, he engaged in several tours of Germany, but never appeared on stage in the capital city. He was later grateful for the provincial work, since on these tours he learned all the various jobs that needed to be done in a theater. In 1932, he returned to Switzerland, and steadily took on more important roles than he had previously. He also began to direct and to design sets.

The cabaret "Cornichon" opened in Zurich in May 1934, and resoundingly flopped. But in September, when Meier was added to the ensemble, the cabaret was an overnight hit. Meier remained with Cornichon for thirteen years, taking part in probably 4,000 performances. One of his younger colleagues there was the pianist and composer Nico Kaufmann (1916-1996), who had been a student and lover of acclaimed American pianist Vladimir Horowitz.

The end of World War II brought a turning point in Meier's life. He resigned from Cornichon to continue his career as an actor on various stages. He was especially popular on radio and in the children's theater in Zurich. He also appeared in minor roles in movies and television. For example, he played the railroad watchman in the classic Swiss film Hinter den sieben Gleisen (Beyond the seven tracks, 1959), a comedy directed by Kurt Früh (now available on DVD, in Swiss German with German subtitles), and he was in a television production of the stage play Bomber für Japan (Bombers for Japan, 1938) by Werner Johannes Guggenheim. He was especially successful as a director of amateur productions. In 1960 he directed a play based on a poem by the Swiss writer Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, which required 220 amateur actors. He afterwards received a 35-minute standing ovation.

Although Meier never appeared professionally in Berlin, he did visit the city and came into contact, not only with the homosexual subculture there, but also with Adolf Brand (1874-1945), editor of Der Eigene. Begun in 1896 under the influence of the egoist philosopher Max Stirner (as reflected in the title, "Der Eigene," or "The self-owner"), it was openly homosexual from 1898 and may be considered the first gay journal in the world. Meier contributed an article, a poem, and two reviews to Der Eigene. The 1929 article "Rummel oder Kampf" (Row or fight) shows that he was already a determined and self-confident homosexual, with a strong sense of justice.

In May 1934 Meier began contributing articles to the Schweizerisches Freundschafts-Banner (Swiss Banner of Friendship) in Zurich, a homosexual liberation journal that had begun in 1932. The Swiss Federal Assembly had already recommended reforming the penal code to allow same-sex relations between men 20 years of age and older, but this reform was not adopted until a plebiscite was held in 1939. In the years when the revision of the penal code was under discussion, Meier's articles for this journal fit in well with the militant tone taken by Anna Vock, a longtime activist for the homosexual cause, who was its editor from 1934.

In 1943, Meier, as "Rolf," became editor of the journal, which was now directed only toward men, and changed its name to Der Kreis (The Circle). The revision of the Swiss penal code, which had been adopted by plebiscite in 1939, came into effect in 1942. With the decriminalization of homosexual acts in Switzerland, Der Kreis became less militant and concentrated more on culture than on politics. Under Meier's guidance it also became trilingual. It had become bilingual in 1941, when French articles appeared; in 1952, contributions in English began to be published. From that point onward, its title was Der Kreis--Le Cercle--The Circle.

Although Meier's association with Der Kreis was well known, the name Karl Meier never appeared in the pages of Der Kreis. As editor, he always used the name Rolf. For literary and other contributions to the journal, he sometimes used the pseudonyms Rudolf Rheiner, Gaston Dubois, and Karl Pfenninger.

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