Nationality: Swiss. Born: Maria Margarethe Anna Schell in Vienna, Austria, 5 January 1926; sister of the actor Maximilian Schell; became Swiss citizen. Education: Attended a convent school in Colmar, Germany; business school in Switzerland; School of the Theatrical Arts, Zurich. Family: Married 1) the director Horst Hächler, 1957; 2) the stage director Veit Relin, 1966. Career: 1942—film debut in Der Steinbruch ; then acted on Swiss stage; 1946—member of the State Theater of Bern; film contract with Alexander Korda; continued to act on stage: in Faust opposite Albert Bassermann on European tour; 1958—first U.S. film, The Brothers Karamazov ; 1980—in TV mini-series The Martian Chronicles , Inside the Third Reich , 1982, and Der Clan der Anna Voss , 1995. Awards: Best Actress, Cannes Festival, for Die letzte Brücke , 1954; Best Actress, Venice Festival, for Gervaise , 1955; Deutscher Filmpreis Career Award, 1977.
Der Steinbruch (Steiner)
Der Engel mit der Posaune (Hartl) (as Anna Linden); Maresi (Thimig)
Die letzte Nacht (York)
Nach dem Sturm (Ucicky); Es kommt ein Tag ( A Day Will Come ) (Jugert) (as Madeline)
The Magic Box (John Boulting) (as Helena Friese-Greene); The Angel with the Trumpet (Bushell) (as Anna Linden); Angelika ( Affairs of Dr. Holl ; Dr. Holl ) (Hansen) (title role)
So Little Time (Bennett) (as Nicole de Malvines)
The Heart of the Matter (O'Ferrall) (as Helen Rolt); Bis wir uns Wiedersehen (Ucicky) (as Pamela); Tagebuch einer Verliebten ( Diary of a Lover ) (von Baky) (as Barbara Holzmann); Solange du da bist ( As Long as You're Near Me ) (Braun); Der traumende Mund ( Dreaming Lips ) (von Baky) (as Liss)
Die letzte Brücke ( The Last Bridge ) (Käutner) (as Helga Reinbeck); Napoléon (Guitry) (as Marie-Louise of Austria)
Die Ratten ( The Rats ) (Siodmak) (as Pauline Karka); Urgano sul Po ; Herr über Leben und Tod ( No Way Back ) (Vicas); Gervaise (Clément) (title role)
Liebe ( Love ) (Hächler)
Rose Bernd ( The Sins of Rose Bernd ) (Staudte) (title role); Le notti bianche ( White Nights ) (Visconti) (as Natalia); Ungarn in Flammen (as narrator)
The Brothers Karamazov (Richard Brooks) (as Grushenka); Une Vie ( End of Desire ; One Life ) (Astruc) (as Jeanne Dandieu); Der Schinderhannes ( Duel in the Forest ) (Käutner)
The Hanging Tree (Daves) (as Elizabeth Mahler)
Hellas ( As the Sea Rages ) (Hächler) (as Mana); Cimarron (Anthony Mann) (as Sabra Cravet)
Das Reisenrad (von Radvanyi); The Mark (Guy Green) (as Ruth Leighton)
Ich bin auch nur eine Frau ( Only a Woman ; I, Too, Am Only a Woman ) (Weidenmann) (as Lilli Koenig)
L'Assassin connait la musique (Weidermann); Zwei Whisky und ein Sofa ( Rendezvous in Trieste ) (Gräwert)
Who Has Seen the Wind? (Sidney—for TV); Nora oder Ein Puppenheim (Moszkowicz—for TV)
99 mujeres ( 99 Women ; Island of Despair ; Isle of Lost Women ) (Franco) (as Leonie); Le Diable par la queue ( The Devil by the Tail ) (de Broca) (as Diane)
La Provocation (Charpak)
El processo de las brujas ( Throne of Fire ; The Bloody Judge ; Night of the Blood Monster ) (Franco)
Such a Pretty Cloud ; Dans la poussière du soleil ( Lust in the Sun ) (Balducci)
Chamsin (Rilen); Die Pfarrhauskomödie (Rilen)
The Odessa File (Neame) (as Frau Miller); Change (Fischerauer); Marie (Geissendörfer); Die Kurpfuscherin ( The Quack ) (Cremer—for TV)
Das Konzert (Haugk—for TV); Die Heiratsvermittlerin (Matiasek—for TV); Die Abrechnung (Wolfgang Becker—for TV)
Voyage of the Damned (Rosenberg); So oder so ist das Leben (Rilen—for TV); Folies bourgeoises ( The Twist ) (Chabrol) (as Gretel)
Spiel der Verlierer (Hohoff); Teerosen (Rolf Von Sydow—for TV)
Superman (Richard Donner) (as Vond-Ah)
Die erste Polka (Emmerich) (as Valeska); Schöner Gigolo— armer Gigolo ( Just a Gigolo ) (Hemmings) (as Mutti); Christmas Lilies of the Field (Ralph Nelson—for TV); Der Wald (Ten Haaf—for TV); Moral (Wilhelm—for TV)
Der Thronfolger (Döpke—for TV); Liebe bleibt nicht ohne Schmerzen (Bohrer)
La Passante du Sans-Souci ( La Passante ) (Ruoffio) (as Anna Helwig); Frau Jenny Triebel (Franz Josef Wild—for TV); Inside the Third Reich (Chomsky—for TV) (as Mrs. Speer)
Der Besuch der alten Dame (Ammann—for TV) (as Claire Zachanassian)
Der Trauschein (Kishon—for TV)
Samson and Delilah (Philips—for TV); Koenig Drosselbart ( Kral drozdi brada ) (Beck and Luther)
1919 (Brody) (as Sophie Rubin)
Le Dernier mot (Behat) (as Maria Wagner)
Der Clan der Anna Voss (Ballmann—mini for TV) (as Anna Voss)
Tatort-Heilig Blut (Griesmayr—for TV) (as Aebtissin)
Die Kostbarkeit des Augerblicks, Gedanken Erinnerungen , Munich, 1985.
In Seventeen Interviews , by Edwin Miller, New York, 1970.
Spaich, Herbert, Maria Schell: Ihre Filme—ihre Leben , Munich, 1986.
"The Golden Look" (cover story), in Time (New York), 30 December 1957.
Current Biography 1961 , New York, 1961.
Spelman, F., "The Explosive Schell Family," in Show (Hollywood), January 1963.
Stars (Mariembourg), Autumn 1994.
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Throughout the 1950s, Maria Schell dazzled rows of moviegoers in Europe and Great Britain with a series of extraordinarily moving performances. German audiences, who were especially enamored of her intense portrayals of unjustly suffering women, voted Schell their favorite actress in 1951, 1952, 1954, 1955, and 1956. Critical tongues likewise wagged approbation, frequently citing Schell's instinctual talent as an actress, the emotional range of her acting, and her goldstruck beauty. Recognizing that her presence in a film could help assure its commercial and often critical success, filmmakers throughout Europe cast Schell in nearly 25 films before 1960. Her role as a central character would also cancel the need for dubbing as Schell spoke five languages.
After her critical successes in Die letzte Brücke and Gervaise , MGM acknowledged Schell's abilities and the healthy box-office receipts of her films by inviting her to appear in The Brothers Karamazov as Grushenka, a coveted role for which Marilyn Monroe had originally been considered. Schell's arrival in Hollywood provoked both enthusiastic speculations on her becoming the newest international screen star, and favorable comparisons with Ingrid Bergman who had captured Hollywood in the 1940s. But, a brief series of miscastings, including her performance as Grushenka, revealed the potential weakness of box-office casting and soured Schell's three years in Hollywood. The miscastings only highlighted her shortcomings and misused her strengths. As Grushenka, Schell reduced the complexity of Dostoevsky's character to a frustrating ambiguity, replete with a nervous giggle. For MGM's remake of Cimarron , Schell undermined the role of Sabra Cavet through a number of inexplicable acts such as repeatedly flashing the famous Schell smile while in childbirth.
Critical response to Schell had so deteriorated by the early 1960s that, despite her strong performance in Le notti bianche , Bosley Crowther would write in a review of the film, "Miss Schell is enough to blunt one's perceptivity to the poetry and meaning of the [film's] theme." The additional waning of her popularity with the moviegoing public induced Schell in 1963 to leave film and work full-time in the theater, where she had begun her career as an actress. Schell returned to motion pictures in 1968, once again as an international performer, to play a diversity of roles, including a cameo appearance in Superman .
—Nancy Jane Richards