06 March 2015

Susan Denberg

German-born Austrian Susan Denberg (1944) was a Bluebell dancer and Playboy Playmate before she had a brief acting career in the 1960s. One of her few roles was as Peter Cushing’s beautiful new creation in the Hammer horror Frankenstein Created Woman (1967).

Susan Denberg
German postcard by ISV, Sort. 19/6.

Hammer film's Susan Denberg
Susan Denberg. Source: Vlad Quigley (Flickr).

Star Trek

Susan Denberg was born Dietlinde Ortrun Zechner in Bad Polzin, Germany (now Polczyn-Zdrój, Poland) in 1944. She was the eldest of three children of Austrian-German parents, and grew up with her two brothers, Reinhard and Ulrich, in Klagenfurt in Austria. Her father operated several electrical shops there.

At 18, she travelled to England to work as an au-pair. In 1963 she met a dancer of the Bluebell Girls and did an audition in Paris. She was hired for the chorus line and in 1964 and 1965, she performed in the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas. There she met and married Latino singer Tony Scotti in 1965.

She deserted the Bluebells for a movie career in Hollywood, and landed a co-starring role as a German girl on the TV series 12 O'Clock High (1964-1967). This ABC drama set during World War II was the television version of the Oscar winning classic Twelve O'Clock High (Henry King, 1949) starring Gregory Peck.

The following year, Zechner made her feature film debut with a supporting role in An American Dream (Robert Gist, 1966). This trashy melodrama, based on a Norman Mailer novel, starred Stuart Whitman and Janet Leigh.

While working on this film, Warner Bros. held a nationwide contest to find Dietlinde a new screen name. They offered a $500 award to whoever came up with the best one. There were 5,000 entries, including ‘Norma Mailer’, but all were ultimately rejected. She herself came up with Susan Denberg.

Susan was featured Playmate of the Month for Playboy magazine's August 1966 issue. In her profile, Denberg stated that she had ambitions to become an actress. Denberg was later one of the finalists for the title of 1967s Playmate of the Year, though the title ultimately went to Lisa Baker.

Denberg's best known screen appearance was in the Star Trek episode Mudd’s Women (Harvey Hart, 1966). She played one of the three mysterious and stunningly beautiful women of the title, who have an odd effect on all the male crew of the Starship Enterprise (except Spock, who looks on bemused), causing involuntary arousal.

Susan Denberg
Spanish postcard by Editorial Filkasol.

Frankenstein Created Woman - "Frankenstein Crea La Femme"  Original 1967 French Grande Movie Poster
Original French film poster for Frankenstein Created Woman (1967). Source: Vintage Movie Posters (Flickr).

Close To Something Sublime

Susan Denberg moved to England to play in Hammer's cult science fiction/horror film Frankenstein Created Woman (Terence Fisher, 1967). It is the fourth film in Hammer's Frankenstein series with Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein and Denberg as his new creation. Where Hammer's previous Frankenstein films were concerned with the physical aspects of the Baron's work, the interest here is in the metaphysical dimensions of life, such as the question of the soul, and its relationship to the body.

Frankenstein Created Woman is one of the most critically acclaimed Hammer films. Nick Faust at IMDb: “Within the confines of a Hammer movie's melodrama, Fisher, a classical stylist and at times a superb artist, often created magic. This is one of those times. The performances are all equally compelling. Cushing gives the Baron more texture here than in any of the other films, I think. Thorley Walters is a good foil, and his befuddled affection and respect for the Baron makes some of this really rather touching. Arthur Grant's photography has never been better. I urge viewers to watch the film with an open mind. This is not the usual horror film; it's more a fantasy, a fairy tale.”

Martin Scorsese picked the film as part of a 1987 National Film Theatre season of his favourite films, saying "If I single this one out it's because here they actually isolate the soul... The implied metaphysics are close to something sublime." However, Denberg's voice in the film was dubbed as her Austrian accent was considered too strong.

Denberg had become immersed in the drugs and sex life style of the 1960s. She divorced Tony Scotti in 1968. He later married singer/actress Sylvie Vartan.

She left show business and returned to Austria. Newspapers reported at the time that Denberg was suicidal and stayed in mental homes. During the 1970s she also performed in Viennese nightclubs.

Nowadays, Susan Denberg lives in Klagenfurt, Austria, under her real name, Dietlinde Zechner.

Trailer for Frankenstein Created Woman (1967). Source: Steven Duret (YouTube).

Sources: Ted Newsom (IMDb), Memory Alpha (IMDb), Nick Faust (IMDb), Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen, Wikipedia (English and German) and IMDb.

1 comment:

Bunched Undies said...

One of Mudd's Women, no wonder it's one of my favorite episodes :)