The role of the Joker is arguably one of the most illustrious in both the comic book world and in modern cinema. His appearance is instantly recognizable; from the frenzied, ominous and everlasting smirk, to the pale, wrinkled skin. Mixed with his messed up persona, Batman's arch nemesis is one of the best fictional villains ever created.
That creation was the lovechild of DC's Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson. It was Finger who pinpointed the original inspiration, the Joker before the Joker: Conrad Veidt. But who is Conrad Veidt?
'The Man Who Laughs'
This is Conrad Veidt. Quite a dashing gentlemen, isn't he? He was a German actor, mainly appearing in the 1920s in silent movies. One of his most famous films was 1928's The Man Who Laughs. In the movie, based on a Victor Hugo novel, Veidt plays the eternally grinning Gwynplaine.
It was this portrayal that Finger found fascinating, and it's not hard to see why. There's something morbidly magnetizing about Veidt's character; it's hard to take your eyes off of him. Check out Gwynplaine's dramatic unveiling in the clip from the original movie below.
You know that light, tingly feeling? Those are the hairs on the back of you neck standing on end, due to the utterly disturbing mixture of the Man Who Laughs's rabid grin and the eerily vintage aura old movies emanate.
Gwynplaine is the son of a noblemen, who happens to insult the King. As punishment, his father is sentenced to death, and Gwynplaine is operated on so his mouth is fixed in a permanent grin so that he can "laugh forever at his fool of a father."
At least the film has a happy ending. The blind woman see's "only the real Gwynplaine" and embraces him. Or, perhaps she just decided to grin and bare it.
"Here's the Joker"
Speaking in 1994, Batman co-creator Bob Kane confirmed the basis upon which the Joker was built. He said:
"Bill Finger had a book with a photograph of Conrad Veidt and showed it to me and said, 'Here's the Joker'"
And so, a legacy was born. Aside from the comics, Cesar Romero was the first live action version of the villain, followed by Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton's Batman (1989).
It was Heath Ledger's manically devoted portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008) that thrust the role onto a twisted, gothic pedestal. The hardcore method acting and sheer dedication Ledger gave to the role was well documented – even remaining in character when writing diary entries.
Jared Leto is the latest in line to play the role in 2016's upcoming Suicide Squad. Rumors are rife about Leto's method acting; he often stays in character on set. But all of this is thanks to that one man, The Man Who Laughs.