03 May 2014

Maria Schell

Pretty, wide-eyed Austrian leading lady Maria Schell (1926-2005) became one of the first film idols to the European post-war generation. With her ‘smile under tears’ she appeared in dozens of German and Austrian popular films, but she also starred in British, French, Italian, and Hollywood productions.

Maria Schell
German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag G.m.b.H., Minden/Westf., no. F 27. Retail price: 25 Pfg. Photo: Ringpress / Vogelmann.

Maria Schell
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 74. Photo: Ufa / Vogelmann.

Maria Schell
German postcard by Ufa (Universum-Film Aktiengesellschaft), Berlin-Tempelhof, no. CK-75. Retail price: 30 Pfg. Photo: Columbia Film.

Maria Schell
French postcard by Editions du Globe, Paris, no. 24. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Maria Schell
German postcard by UFA, no. CK-225. Retail price: 30 Pfg. Photo: Sam Lévin / UFA. Collection: Egbert Barten.


Margarete Schell was born in Vienna in 1926 as the daughter of the Swiss author Ferdinand Hermann Schell and Austrian actress Margarete Schell Noé. She was the older sister of the actors Immy, Carl, and Maximilian Schell.

Her family had to escape from the Nazi regime in 1938, and she received a dramatic training in Zurich, Switzerland. To pay her studies she worked as a secretary.

Billed as Gritli Schell, she made her screen debut at 16 in the Swiss-filmed drama Steibruch (Sigfrit Steiner, 1942).

It would be six years before she'd appear before the cameras again in Der Engel Mit der Posaune (Karl Hartl, 1948). This Austro-German production was simultaneously filmed in an English-language version, The Angel With the Trumpet (Anthony Bushell, 1950), which brought her to the attention of international filmgoers.

In the 1950s Maria often played the sweet and innocent Mädchen in numerous Austrian and German films. She starred opposite Dieter Borsche in popular melodramas like Es kommt ein Tag/A Day Will Come (Rudolf Jugert, 1950) and Dr. Holl (Rolf Hansen, 1951).

With O.W. Fischer she formed one of the 'Dream Couples of the German cinema' in romantic melodramas like Bis wir uns wiedersehen/Till We Meet Again (Gustav Ucicky, 1952), Der träumende Mund/Dreaming Lips (Josef von Báky, 1953), and Solange Du da bist/As Long As You're Near Me (Rolf Hansen, 1953).

She also starred in British productions like The Magic Box (John Boulting, 1951) with Robert Donat, and The Heart of the Matter (George More O'Ferrall, 1953) opposite Trevor Howard.

Maria Schell
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. D 185. Photo: Associated British Pathé.

Maria Schell
German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag, Minden/Westf., no. 831. Photo: NDF / Schorchtfilm.

Maria Schell
German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag, Minden/Westf., no. 1970. Photo: CCC Film / Herzog-film / Grimm. Publicity still for Liebe/Love (Horst Hächler, 1956).

Maria Schell
German postcard by Kunst und Bild, no F 7. Photo: CCC-Film / Herzog-Film / Grimm. Publicity still for Liebe/Love (Horst Hächler, 1956).

Maria Schell
German postcard by Ufa, Berlin-Tempelhof, no. FK 3063. Photo: Arthur Grimm / CCC-Film / Herzog-Film.

Maria Schell
German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin, no. A 038. Photo: Fama-Film / National.

Maria Schell
German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag, Minden/Westf., no. 2230. Photo: Columbia. Publicity still for Gervaise (René Clément, 1956).

Maria Schell, Horst Hächler
German card by WS-Druck, Wanne-Eickel, no. F 69. Photo: Ringpress. Maria Schell and director/writer/producer Horst Hächler were married from 1957 till 1965. They met during the production of Die Letzte Brücke/The Last Bridge (Helmut Käutner, 1954), for which he was the assistant director. Maria Schell played in two films directed by her husband, Liebe/Love (1957) and Raubfischer in Hellas/As the Sea Rages (1959). Their son, Oliver Hächler, is now known as the actor Oliver Schell.

Best Roles

In 1954, Maria Schell won a Cannes Film Festival award for her dramatic portrayal of a German nurse imprisoned in wartime Yugoslavia in Die letzte Brücke/The Last Bridge (Helmut Käutner, 1954).

Two years later, she claimed a Venice Film Festival prize for her role in Gervaise (René Clément, 1956). In this adaptation of Emile Zola’s L’Assommoir she played one of her best roles as a hardworking laundress surrounded by drunks.

Other important films were Robert Siodmak’s thriller Die Ratten/The Rats (1955), and Luchino Visconti’s romantic Fyodor Dostoyevski adaptation Le Notti bianche/White Nights (1957), with Schell as the young and innocent girl in love with Jean Marais but loved by Marcello Mastroianni.

Hollywood called and Maria Schell was contracted to star as Grushenka opposite Yul Brynner in The Brothers Karamazov (Richard Brooks, 1958), a messy adaptation of another classic novel by Dostoyevsky.

This was followed by roles in the Gary Cooper Western The Hanging Tree (Delmer Daves, 1959), the remake of Edna Ferber's Cimarron (Anthony Mann, 1961), and The Mark (Guy Green, 1961), opposite Academy Award nominee Stuart Whitman.

Then she returned to Germany for the family drama Das Riesenrad/The Giant Ferris Wheel (Géza von Radványi, 1961), again with O. W. Fischer.

O.W. Fischer, Maria Schell
With O. W. Fischer.
German postcard by WS-Druck, Wanne-Eickel, nr. F 44. Photo: Klaus Collignon.

Dieter Borsche, Maria Schell
With Dieter Borsche. German postcard by F.J. Rüdel, Filmpostkartenverlag, Hamburg-Bergedorf, no. 560. Photo: Filmaufbau Schorchfilm. Publicity still for Es komt ein Tag/A Day Will Come (Rudolf Jugert, 1950).

Maria Schell, Franco Andrei
With Franco Andrei. German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag, no. I 103. Photo: Sohler / Magna / London-Film. Publicity still for Tagebuch einer Verliebten/The Diary of a Married Woman (Josef von Báky, 1953).

Jean Marais and Maria Schell in Le notti bianche
With Jean Marais. Photocard. Publicity still for Le notti bianche/ White Nights (Luchino Visconti, 1957).

Maria Schell
German postcard by Ufa. Photo: Rank. Still from Le notti bianche/White Nights (Luchino Visconti, 1957).

Maria Schell
German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag G.m.b.H., Minden/Westf., no. 2754. Photo: Rank-Film. Publicity still for Le notti bianche/White Nights (Luchino Visconti, 1957).


In 1963, dissatisfied with the diminishing value of the characters she was called upon to play, Maria Schell retired.

But in 1969 she made a come-back with the witty French comedy Le Diable par la queue/The Devil By The Tail (Philippe de Broca, 1969) opposite Yves Montand.

Then followed two horror films by cult director Jesus Franco, Der Heisse Tod/ 99 Women (1969), and Il Trono di fuoco/Throne of the Blood Monster (1970), starring Christopher Lee.

Among her later assignments were Voyage of the Damned (Stuart Rosenberg, 1976), Superman: The Movie (Richard Donner, 1978), Schöner Gigolo, armer Gigolo/Just A Gigolo (David Hemmings, 1978) with David Bowie and Marlene Dietrich.

On TV she portrayed the mother of Nazi-architect Albert Speer (Rutger Hauer) in Inside the Third Reich (Marvin J. Chomsky, 1992). She also played Mother Maria in the TV sequel to Lilies of the Field called Christmas Lilies of the Field (Ralph Nelson, 1982), and she did guest appearances in popular crime series like Der Kommissar (1969-1975) starring Erik Ode, Kojak (1976) starring Telly Savalas, Derrick (1977-1978), and Tatort (1975-1996).

Besides being a film star; Maria Schell appeared in plays in Zurich, Basel, Vienna, Berlin, Munich, at the Salzburg Festival, and she went on provincial tours from 1963.

Among the plays she performed were such classics as Shakespeare's Hamlet, Goethe's Faust, and such modern classics as Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.

With her brother Maximilian Schell Maria only appeared in one film, the thriller The Odessa File (Ronald Neame, 1974).

In 2002 Maximilian made a documentary about her called Meine Schwester, Maria/My Sister, Maria, in which he documented how her mental health deteriorated along with her finances during her later years.

In 2005 Maria Schell died at age 79 of heart failure in her sleep. She was twice married, first to film director Horst Hächler and later to another film director, Veit Relin.

She was the mother of actor Oliver Schell, and of actress Marie-Therese Relin, who is married to Bavarian playwright Franz Xaver Kroetz, and has three children.

In 1974 Maria Schell was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Germany's Cross of Merit), and in 1977 the Filmband in Gold for her impressive contributions to the German cinema.

Maria Schell
German postcard by Franz Josef Rüdel Filmpostkartenverlag, Hamburg-Bergedorf, no. FT 21. Photo: Bavaria / Schorcht / Gabriele. Publicity photo for Rose Bernd (Wolfgang Staudte, 1957).

Maria Schell
Dutch postcard by Uitg. Takken, Utrecht, no. 3752. Photo: M.G.M.

Maria Schell
German postcard by Ufa (Universum-Film Aktiengesellschaft), Berlin-Tempelhof, no. CK 420. Retail price: 30 Pfg. Photo: Arthur Grimm / Ufa.

Maria Schell
German postcard by WS Druck, Wanne-Eickel, no. F 68. Photo: Joe Niczky.

Scene from The Hanging Tree with Gary Cooper and Maria Schell. Source: Psychodad 1860 (YouTube).

Scene from Le Notti Bianche with Maria Schell and Marcello Mastroianni. Source: Nataniel Costard (YouTube).

Maria Schell: The actress that can smile while crying. Video tribute by Yamsala (YouTube).

Sources: Stephanie D'Heil (Steffie-line), Guy Bellinger (IMDb), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Wikipedia, AbsoluteFacts.nl, and IMDb.


Alice Dickens said...

I love this stuff. Better if it has hats


aka Alice

Bob of Holland said...

Yes, indeed. What she does with scarfs is also nice. And we would love to be at this party on the upper postcard. Cheers, Bob.