04 August 2015

Senta Berger

Beautiful Austrian actress Senta Berger (1941) received many awards for her work in theatre, film and television, including a Golden Globe Award and a Goldene Kamera. She played in several European co-productions and appeared as a sex bomb in some Hollywood movies of the 1960s. Berger also worked as a producer of the internationally acclaimed films directed by her husband, Michael Verhoeven, and she is a bestselling author.

Senta Berger
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin.

Senta Berger and Tom Tryon in The Glory Guys (1965)
Italian postcard. Photo: Dear Film. Publicity still for The Glory Guys (Arnold Laven, 1965) with Tom Tryon.

Senta Berger
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin.

Senta Berger
Autograph card.

Not Just Another European Sex Bomb

Senta Berger was born in Vienna, Austria in 1941 as the daughter of Therese Jany, a teacher, and Josef Berger, a musician. She first appeared on stage at the age of four, where her father accompanied his daughter's singing on the piano. At the age of five she started ballet lessons, but Senta was asked to leave at 14 because she had ‘developed’ too much.

She then took private acting lessons and appeared as an extra in the comedy Du bist die Richtige/You Are The Right One (Erich Engel, Josef von Báky, 1955) starring Curd Jürgens. In 1957, she won her first small role in Die unentschuldigte Stunde/The Unexcused Hour (1957), one of the last films directed by legendary actor-director Willi Forst.

She applied for the Max Reinhardt Seminar, a famous acting school in Vienna, but she was expelled shortly afterwards after accepting a small role in the film The Journey/Die Reise (Anatole Litvak, 1959) without permission. Only 17, she became the youngest member of the Theater in der Josefstadt in Vienna in 1958, and played a role in Luigi Pirandello’s Enrico IV.

Film producer Arthur Brauner offered her a role opposite German superstar Heinz Rühmann in the deft satire Der brave Soldat Schweijk/The Good Soldier Schweijk (Axel von Ambesser, 1960). Brauner signed her a contract for several films, and cast her in Schlagerfilms like O sole mio (Paul Martin, 1960) and Adieu, Lebewohl, Goodbye (1961).

She soon got tired of them, but Maria Brauner, the producer’s wife, helped her to get a part next to O.W. Fischer and Eva Bartok in the thrillers Es muß nicht immer Kaviar sein/Operation Caviar (Geza von Radvanyi, 1961) and Diesmal muß es Kaviar sein/This time it has to be caviar (Geza von Radvanyi, 1961). These spy thrillers, based on the novels by Johannes Mario Simmel, meant her breakthrough.

Berger became a staple in European co-productions like Sherlock Holmes und das Halsband des Todes/Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (Terence Fisher, Frank Winterstein, 1962) starring Christopher Lee, and Kali-Yug, la Dea della Vendetta/Vengeance of Kali (Mario Camerini, 1963) with Lex Barker.

On invitation of Richard Widmark, with whom she had appeared in the cold war adventure film The Secret Ways (Phil Karlson, 1961), she went to Hollywood. There she appeared in the anti-war drama The Victors (Carl Foreman, 1963) and in The Waltz King (Steve Previn, 1963), a two-parter in the TV series Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. Though an actress of more than average talent, Berger was regarded as just another European sex bomb by most Hollywood publicity flacks. She was offered a five-year-contract by a major Hollywood studio, but she decided to return to Germany.

Senta Berger
German postcard by Friedrich-W. Sander-Verlag, Minden/Westf. (Kolibri Foto-karte), no. 2347.

Senta Berger
Italian postcard by Rotalcolor, Milano, no. 251.

Senta Berger
German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag, Minden/Westf., no. 1813. Photo: A. Grimm / Gloria Film. Publicity still for Frauenarzt Dr. Sibelius/Dr. Sibelius (Rudolf Jugert, 1962).

Rousing Entertainment

During the shooting of the comedy Jacky und Jenny/Jacky and Jenny (Victor Vicas, 1964), Senta Berger met Michael Verhoeven, son of the German film director Paul Verhoeven (not the Dutch Paul Verhoeven). They started their own film production company Sentana-Filmproduktion in 1965 and married the following year.

Berger continued to develop her international career and played with such stars as Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, and Yul Brynner. She appeared in numerous Euro-spy films such as the Italian crime comedy Operazione San Gennaro/Operation San Gennaro (Dino Risi, 1966), the British comedy Our Man in Marrakech (Don Sharp, 1966) with Tony Randall, and the French thriller Peau d’Espion/To Commit a Murder (Edouard Molinaro, 1967) with Louis Jourdan.

One of her best known Hollywood movies is the Western Major Dundee (Sam Peckinpah, 1965) with Charlton Heston. At the Celluloid Heroes blog Paul McElligott writes: “Major Dundee is one of Sam Peckinpah’s early works, a highly stylized Western that fits perfectly the outsized performances of its stars, Charlton Heston and Richard Harris. Neither the story, the dialogue or the acting can be called realistic, but it is what it claims to be, a rousing entertainment.”

In Cast a Giant Shadow (Melville Shavelson, 1966) with Kirk Douglas, she played the role of Magda, a soldier in the Israeli army during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948. That same year she was also a German schoolteacher involved in neo-Nazi activity opposite Max von Sydow and George Segal in the spy film The Quiller Memorandum (Michael Anderson, 1966).

A curio is the short film Vienna (1967) directed by Orson Welles. In the film Welles is wandering through Vienna, remembering The Third Man and then, aided by Berger and Mickey Rooney, he suddenly stumbles into a spy satire which is, according to the IMDb reviewer, “simply hilariously funny”. In 1967, Berger acted also in the pilot for the American television TV series It Takes a Thief (1968) starring Robert Wagner. She reprised her role in the series in 1969, in an episode in which her character was killed off.

Senta Berger
German postcard by Ufa, Berlin-Tempelhof, no. 5086. Retail price: 25 Pfg. Photo: Terb Agency.

Senta Berger
German postcard by ISV, no. H 127.

Senta Berger
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin. Photo: publicity still for The Ambushers (Henry Levin, 1967).

Senta Berger
East-German postcard by VEB-Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 3045, 1968. Photo: G.B. Poletto and Peter Basch.

Being Taken Seriously

In 1970 Senta Berger appeared in the Italian caveman spoof Quando le Donne Avevano la Coda/When Women Had Tails (Pasquale Festa Campanile, 1970), which was a surprising box-office hit in Italy. Her participation in this banal sex-comedy lead Hal Erickson at AllMovie to the conclusion that “by 1970, Senta Berger evidently gave up any hopes of being taken seriously.”

That year though, she also starred for the first time in a film produced by her own company and directed by her husband, Wer im Glashaus liebt/He Who Loves in a Glass House (Michael Verhoeven, 1970). Two years later she featured in Volker Schlöndorff’s Die Moral der Ruth Halbfass/Morals of Ruth Halbfass (Volker Schlöndorff, 1972) followed by the leading role in Der scharlachrote Buchstabe/The Scarlet Letter (Wim Wenders, 1973).

And in Italy she appeared in several films for high quality directors such as Roma Bene (Carlo Lizzani, 1971), L'Amante dell'orsa maggiore/The Smugglers (Valentino Orsini, 1972), Bisturi: La Mafia Bianca/Hospitals: The White Mafia (Luigi Zampa, 1973) and the Giallo L'Uomo Senza Memoria/Puzzle (Duccio Tessari, 1974) opposite Luc Merenda.

Following the birth of her two sons, Simon (1972) and Luca (1979), Berger returned to theatre work. She played at the famous Burgtheater in Vienna, at the Thaliatheater in Hamburg and at the Schillertheater in Berlin. Between 1974 and 1982, she played the Buhlschaft in the play Jedermann (Everyman) at the Salzburg Festival with Curd Jürgens and later Maximilian Schell in the title role. She also co-starred with Schell and James Coburn in the war film Cross of Iron (Sam Peckinpah, 1977).

Senta Berger
German postcard by Krüger/Ufa, no. 902/128. Photo: Terb Agency/Ufa.

Senta Berger and Ron Ely
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Filmvertrieb, Berlin, no. 137/76, 1976. Photo: publicity still for MitGift/Killing Me Softly (Michael Verhoeven, 1976) with Ron Ely.

Senta Berger
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin, no. 582.

Smart, Sexy and Honest

In 1985, Senta Berger started a comeback in front of German-speaking TV audiences in the popular, ironic mini-series Kir Royal (Helmut Dietl,1985-1986), about a Munich gossip reporter and the city’s legendary high society circles. Further serial hits followed, like Die schnelle Gerdi/The Fast Gerti (Michael Verhoeven, 1989), where she played a Munich cab driver. In the same year, she also started a career as a singer of Chansons.

Berger continued to work in Italy and appeared opposite Marcello Mastroianni in Le Due Vite di Mattia Pascal/The Two Lives of Mattia Pascal (Mario Monicelli, 1985), based on a Luigi Pirandello story.

Berger and Verhoeven produced acclaimed and internationally successful films including Die weiße Rose/The White Rose (Michael Verhoeven, 1982) and Das schreckliche Mädchen/The Terrible Girl (Michael Verhoeven, 1990), both starring Lena Stolze.

During the 1990s Berger was mostly seen as smart, sexy and honest women on TV. In 1991 she played an acclaimed role in the marriage drama Sie und Er/She and He (Frank Beyer, 1991). Series followed like Lilli Lottofee (Michael Verhoeven, 1992) and Ärzte/Doctors (1994-1996). Then she played parts in Sandra Nettelbeck‘s film debut Mammamia (1998), Bin ich schön?/Am I Beautiful (Doris Dörrie, 1998) and the TV film Trennungsfieber/Divorce Fever (Manfred Stelzer, 2000).

Since February 2003, Berger has been president of the German Film Academy, which seeks to advance the new generation of actors and actresses in Germany and Europe. The Academy will decide the assignment of the German Film Awards in the future. 2005 saw her in the cinemas in Einmal so wie ich will/For Once As I Want It (Vivian Naefe, 2005) opposite Götz George, as a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage. She finds love on holiday, but turns her back on the relationship.

In the spring of 2006, Berger's autobiography was published in Germany: Ich habe ja gewußt, daß ich fliegen kann (I Knew That I Could Fly). It became a bestseller. Among her memories of Hollywood are a less-than-subtle attempt by Darryl Zanuck to get her on his casting couch, and being called ‘You German pig’ on her first day on the set of Major Dundee by a gaffer whose wife had lost her family in Auschwitz.

Senta Berger is still married to Michael Verhoeven and their sons Simon and Luca Verhoeven are both actors now. She lives in Grünwald near Munich, Germany. Recently she worked for the screen in the TV mini-series Four Seasons (Giles Foster, 2008) with Tom Conti and Michael York, the film Ruhm/Fame (Isabel Kleefeld, 2011) and the comedy Altersglühen - Speed Dating für Senioren/Old glow - Speeddating for Seniors (Jan Georg Schütte, 2014) with Mario Adorf.

Trailer for The Quiller Memorandum (1966). Source: Night of the Trailers (YouTube).

Trailer for L'Uomo Senza Memoria/Puzzle (1974). Source: xploited cinema (YouTube).

Trailer for Altersglühen - Speed Dating für Senioren/Old glow - Speeddating for Seniors (2014). Source: ZYXDvD (YouTube).

Sources: Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Paul McElligott (Celluloid Heroes), Lenin Imports, The Wild Eye, Wikipedia and IMDb.


Bunched Undies said...

Howdy Pardner!

You were wrote up
In Bunchie’s Blogger Round-Up!


Yee Haw!!

Mirko di Wallenberg said...

The last postcard is to my knowledge not Senta Berger but Joan Collins!

Bob of Holland said...

Hi Mirko,

You could be right. My only source is the Acin postcard which states on the flipside that it is Senta Berger. And I could not find this picture elsewhere.

Joan and Senta did have some resemblance during the 1970's and both wore many white hats at the time.

Thanks for the comment and greetings form Amsterdam,