Born 1926 in Vienna, Austrian-Swiss actress Maria Schell premiered in Steiner’s 1942 film Steibruch and took acting lessons for several theatre engagements. After World War II, she was cast in her first leading role in the 1948 film The Angel with the Trumpet. She starred in such films as The Magic Box, Dr. Holl (1951), So Little Time (1952), The Heart of the Matter (1953). Her emotional acting earned her the nickname Seelchen (“little soul”), coined by her colleague Oskar Werner.
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In 1954, Schell was awarded the Cannes Best Actress Award for her performance in Helmut Käutner’s war drama The Last Bridge, and in 1956, she won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for Gervaise.
The 1956 film Gervaise directed by René Clément was also a nominee for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Schell also starred with Gary Cooper in The Hanging Tree (1959), and with Glenn Ford in Cimarron (1960). Other famous movie parts included Le notti bianche (1957), Rose Bernd (1957), and Superman (1978).
In 1976, Schell starred in a Kojak episode, and also had three guest appearances in the German television series Der Kommissar and two in Derrick, in the episodes “Yellow He” (1977) and “Klavierkonzert” (1978). Schell appeared on stage, including an acclaimed performance in the 1976 Broadway play Poor Murderer by Pavel Kohout and the leading role in Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s play The Visit with the Schauspielhaus Zürich ensemble.
Maria Schell’s last years were overshadowed by her ill health. She attempted suicide in 1991, and suffered repeated strokes. Her final public appearance was at the premiere of her brother Maximilian’s documentary film My Sister Maria (2002); both were awarded the Bambi Award for their work. She died in 2005, aged 79.
Take a look at the vintage photos to see the beauty of young Maria Schell in the 1950s and 1960s.