The Silent Night Dies Hard: Franz Gruber vs. Hans Gruber

Merry late Christmas, and if you don't celebrate, happy Tuesday! The other day, Disney shared with us a video of the Voices of Liberty singing Joy to the World, and today they're back with a rendition of Silent Night. So sit back, grab a cup of egg nog, and enjoy!

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Editor's note: As BC's resident 19th century history nerd, I was about to tack on just a tiny little bit here about the history of Silent Night when OMG how did I never before notice the similarity between the name of Silent Night composer Franz Gruber and the name of Die Hard antagonist Hans Gruber. Hans and Franz. Two Christmas Eve traditions that were meant to go together, surely? Can that possibly be a coincidence?

The Silent Night Dies Hard: Franz Gruber vs. Hans Gruber
Portrait of Franz Xaver Gruber by Sebastian Stief, 1889

The internet quickly confirms that I'm approximately the last person on Earth to realize this fascinating factoid. But before I accept that mild humiliation, I'm determined to adhere to internet law and see if I can disprove the matter on some technicality.

Let's see… interestingly enough, in the original Roderick Thorp novel Nothing Lasts Forever, the book upon which Die Hard is based, the character is named Anton Gruber.

However, here's where it takes an interesting turn.  The book Die Hard: An Oral Historycontains Exhibit A:

They went to Arnold [Schwarzenegger]. They went to Sly, who turned it down. They went to Richard Gere—turned it down. They went to James Caan—turned it down. They went to Burt Reynolds, and all of these people rejected it because, remember, this is 1987. You had all these Rambo movies. We've had Commando, Predator, and in the wake of all of these, the hero, they said, was like a pussy. The reaction? "This guy's no hero." Right? In desperation, they went to Bruce Willis.

Exhibit B is the notion that Hans and Franz began as a spoof on Arnold Schwarzenegger, for an SNL sketch, also in 1987:

This sketch was one of the most popular on SNL, and the characters and their catchphrases entered American pop culture. When Schwarzenegger entered politics, he referred to the sketches himself, using the phrases "girlie men" and "pump you up." He even used the "girlie men" term during the 1988 Presidential election. Accompanying then Vice President George H.W. Bush, he attacked Bush's Democratic opponents by saying to the crowd: "They all look like a bunch of girlie men, right?" He used the phrase again to attack California state legislators in speeches during his election campaign for governor of California.

Exhibit C is Die Hard screenwriter Steven E. de Souza's rather gaudy list of credits, which contains any number of classics we all quote from all the time without thinking about it, and also includes classic Schwarzenegger vehicles Commando and Running Man. I can really, really see de Souza making this historical connection while working up this script with Schwarzenegger in mind, and then changing Anton Gruber to Hans Gruber so that Arnold could drop a Hans and Franz one-liner in the film. I can almost hear Arnold saying it now.

So, right before I pushed publish on this post last night, I asked de Souza about this matter on Twitter and decided it was worth punting the post out of Christmas Day to give him a little time to confirm or deny. He's wisely enjoying a peaceful holiday, I imagine, but I hope we'll get to the bottom of this some day.

Post-Christmas Postscript: Bah, humbug. Steven E. de Souza has responded to my inquiry and revealed the truth of this Christmas legend at long last. I got my internet technicality after all, but like old Ebenezer Scrooge himself, by the time I completed my holiday journey, the Ghost of Christmas Past had taught me the true meaning of Die Hard.


The real villains behind Hans Gruber are the studio lawyers. Not the villains I expected, but perhaps the ones I deserve.  Yipee Ki-Yay.

That having concluded our holiday tale, my sincere apologies to both the Voices of Liberty and my dear friend Lauren Sisselman for hijacking their Christmas post. But this is what the spirit of Die Hard is about, I hope you'll all agree, so perhaps we'll do it all again with another Christmas classic next year.

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About Baltimore Lauren

I like pinball machines, Archie Comics, and bad movies. Sometimes I write about old books for the heck of it. Follow me on Twitter: @BaltimoreLauren
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