MARIA SCHELL – A UNIQUE FACE

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The famous Austrian actress Maria Schell distinguished herself throughout her remarkable career for her highly emotional acting, with which she often lent her face to women who were both vulnerable and strong-willed at the same time. So much so that she was nicknamed by her colleague Oskar Werner Seelchen – little soul.

The girl with sad eyes

Her sad eyes and sad smile have remained in the hearts of many. Because, in fact, the famous Austrian actress Maria Schell distinguished herself throughout her admirable career for her highly emotional acting, with which she often lent her face to women who were both vulnerable and strong-willed at the same time. So much so that she was nicknamed by her colleague Oskar Werner Seelchen – little soul.

Born in Vienna on January, 15 1926, Maria was a child of art: her father, Hermann Ferdinand Schell, was a Swiss-born writer, while her mother, Margarethe Noé von Nordberg, was also an actress. And while her brother Maximilian is probably the most famous member of her family, she also had two other siblings: Carl and Immy.

After a generally quiet and happy childhood spent in Vienna, the Schell family had to move to Zurich following the Anschluss in 1938. However, at this particular moment in history, economic difficulties soon made themselves felt, to the point that Maria’s parents had to send their children to relatives’ homes. Maria thus went to live for a while in Colmar, where she could learn French, which would be very useful to her during her career. Unfortunately, towards the end of the summer of 1939, Maria Schell decided to spend a week at her parents’ home in Switzerland and, just as she was staying with them, the World War II broke out, forcing her to remain in Switzerland.

During the war, however, her studies continued. Initially, Maria did not think of pursuing a career in film; instead, she began studying economics. Yet it was not long before someone noticed her pretty face and offered her to take part in a film. Maria Schell’s career in film, then, began during the war and specifically in 1942, when director Sigfrit Steiner wanted her in his Steinbruch. Young Maria Schell, however, was still inexperienced, as far as acting itself was concerned, and was therefore not totally convincing in this film (credited here under the name Gritli Schell). Not too bad, however. Because, in fact, she immediately began to study seriously and by 1948 she was ready to return to the big screen and finally get her career off the ground. In this year, in fact, the actress took part in the excellent The Angel with the Trumpet, directed by Karl Hartl, as well as a film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Ernst Lothar. And in this film, for the first time she even got a quite important role.

From then on, Maria’s career was all on the rise. And if many people remember her in Gervaise (directed by René Clement in 1956) or in Luchino Visconti’s masterpiece White Nights (1957), based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s short story of the same name and in which she starred with Marcello Mastroianni, her successes also include Robert Siodmak’s Die Ratten (1955), The Brothers Karamazov (directed in 1957 by Richard Brooks and for which it was Yul Brynner who proposed her as a member of the cast), Richard Donner’s Superman (1978) and even The Passerby, directed by Jacques Rouffio in 1982 and the last film in which also her countrywoman Romy Schneider took part.

Maria Schell’s success was almost immediate. And she became world famous even before her brother Maximilian, with whom, however, she remained very close throughout her life. An intense life, full of achievements and also accompanied by two marriages (both of which ended, unfortunately, in divorce): the first with director Horst Hächler – by whom she had her son Oliver – and the second with director Veit Relin, by whom her daughter Marie Theres Kroetz-Relin, also an actress, was born.

Yet, by the mid-1980s, Maria withdrew from acting: her health was slowly beginning to worsen. Victim of several strokes, Maria attempted suicide in 1991. Fortunately, the attempt failed and, after a period of hospitalisation, she finally returned to her native Austria, moving to Pratenegg in Carinthia, where she died of complications from pneumonia on April the 26th 2005. Only three years earlier, her brother Maximilian had dedicated to her the documentary My Sister Maria (original title: Meine Schwester Maria). On the occasion of its premiere, Maria Schell made her last public appearance. Yet, even though several years have now passed since her death, her image is still alive in everyone’s memory. Another of the many excellences from Austria who have made their mark all over the world.

Info: the page of Maria Schell on iMDb