Mai (Elisabeth) Zetterling - Actors and Actresses

Nationality: Swedish. Born: Västeras, 24 May 1925. Education: Attended Ordtuery Theatre School, 1941; Royal Dramatic Theatre, Stockholm, 1942. Family: Married 1) the ballet dancer Tutte Lemkow (divorced), two sons: Etienne and Louis; 2) the writer David Hughes (divorced). Career: 1942–44—in repertory with the Royal Dramatic Theatre; 1944—film debut in Alf Sjöberg's Frenzy ; 1947—English-language film debut in Basil Dearden's Frieda ; 1948—London stage debut in Ibsen's Wild Duck; 1954—Hollywood film debut in Norman Panama's Knock on Wood ; 1960—turned director with the BBC documentary The Polite Invasion. Awards: Best Short Film Award, Venice Film Festival, for The War Game , 1963. Died: Of cancer, in London, England, 15 March 1994.

Films as Actress:


Lasse-Maja (Olsson)


Jag drapte (Molander)


Hets ( Torment ; Frenzy ) (Sjöberg) (as Bertha Olsson); Prins Gustaf (Bauman)


Iris och Lojtnantshjarta ( Iris and the Lieutenant ) (Sjöberg) (as Iris); Driver dagg faller Regn ( Sunshine Follows Rain )


Frieda (Dearden) (title role)


Musik i moerker ( Music in Darkness ; Night Is My Future ) (Bergman) (as Ingrid); The Bad Lord Byron (Macdonald) (as Teresa Guiccioli); The Girl in the Painting ( Portrait from Life ) (Fisher) (as Hildegarde)


Quartet (Annakin and others) (as Jeanne); The Romantic Age ( Naughty Arlette ) (Greville) (as Arlette)


Blackmailed (Marc Allégret) (as Carol Edwards); The Lost People (Knowles) (as Lili)


Hell Is Sold Out (Anderson) (as Valerie Martin)


The Tall Headlines ( The Frightened Bride ) (Young) (as Doris Richardson); The Ringer ( The Gaunt Stranger ) (Hamilton) (as Lisa)


Desperate Moment (Bennett) (as Anna de Burgh)


Dance Little Lady (Guest) (as Nina Gordon); Knock on Wood (Panama) (as Ilse Nordstrom)


A Prize of Gold (Robson) (as Maria)


Abandon Ship! ( Seven Waves Away ) (Sale) (as Julie)


The Truth about Women (Box) (as Julie); Lek pa regnbagen (Kjellgren)


Jet Storm (Endfield) (as Carol Tilley)


Faces in the Dark (Eady) (as Christiane Hammond); Piccadilly Third Stop (Rilla) (as Christine Pready)


Offbeat (Owen) (as Ruth Lombard)


The Man Who Finally Died (Lawrence) (as Lisa); Only Two Can Play (Gilliat) (as Elizabeth Gruffydd Williams); The Main Attraction (Petrie) (as Gina)


The Bay of St. Michael (Ainsworth) (as Helene Bretton)


The Vine Bridge (Nykvist)


Calling the Shots (Cole—doc) (appearance)


The Witches (Roeg) (as Helga); Hidden Agenda (Loach) (as Moa)


Morfars Resa ( Grandfather's Journey ) (Staffan Lamm) (as Elin Fromm)

Films as Director:


The Polite Invasion (doc—for TV)


Lords of Little Egypt (doc—for TV); The War Game (short) (+ pr)


The Prosperity Race (doc—for TV)


The Do-It-Yourself Democracy (doc—for TV)


Alskande par ( Loving Couples ) (co-d with David Hughes, + co-sc)


Nattlek ( Night Games ) (+ co-sc)


Doktor Glas (co-d with David Hughes)


Flickorna ( The Girls ) (co-d with David Hughes)


Vincent the Dutchman (doc) (co-d with David Hughes, + pr)


"The Strongest" ep. of Visions of Eight (co-d with David Hughes)


We har manje namn ( We Have Many Names ) (+ ro, sc, ed)


Stockholm (for TV) (+ ro)


The Rain's Hat (for TV) (+ ed)


Love (for TV) (co-d, + co-sc)


Scrubbers (+ co-sc)


Amorosa (+ sc, co-ed)


Sunday Pursuit



Shadow of the Sun (short stories), New York, 1975.

Bird of Passage (novel), New York, 1976.

Ice Island (novel), New York, 1979.

Rain's Hat (children's book), New York, 1979.

All Those Tomorrows (autobiography), London, 1985.

By ZETTERLING: articles—

"Some Notes on Acting," in Sight and Sound (London), October/ December 1951.

Interview in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April 1966.

"Mai Zetterling at the Olympic Games," interview in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), November 1972.


Bjorkman, Stig, Film in Sweden, the New Directors , London, 1979.

Heck-Rabi, Louise, Women Filmmakers: A Critical Reception , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1984.

On ZETTERLING: articles—

"Meeting with Mai Zetterling," in Cahiers du Cinéma in English (New York), December 1966.

Pyros, J., "Notes on Women Directors," in Take One (Montreal), November/December 1970.

McGregor, C., "Mai Is behind the Camera Now," in New York Times , 30 April 1972.

Elley, Derek, "Hiding It under a Bushel: Free Fall," in Films and Filming (London), April 1974.

Jordahl, A., and H. Lahger, "Mai Zetterling," in Chaplin (Stockholm), no. 3, 1992.

Obituary in New York Times , 19 March 1994.

Obituary in Variety (New York), 28 March 1994.

* * *

This Swedish actress turned controversial filmmaker combined the earthy sexiness of Ingrid Bergman with, as one critic noted, "a Dietrich-like suggestion of a steel vertebrae."

Zetterling was 19 when she made her screen debut as a prostitute in the international hit Frenzy , respectively directed and written by two of her country's major talents, Alf Sjöberg and Ingmar Bergman, the latter just beginning his long and distinguished career. She later appeared for Bergman himself in his 1948 film Night Is My Future , playing a Lolita-ish maid, though by this time she possessed greater international renown than he did, having made her English-language film debut as a German war bride in the British drama Frieda and her theatrical debut on London's West End in a revival of Ibsen's Wild Duck .

Following in the footsteps of two other Swedish expatriates, Greta Garbo, then in retirement, and Ingrid Bergman, then persona non grata due to her scandalous relationship with Roberto Rossellini, Zetterling was lured to Hollywood to take their place. After making her American film debut as the love interest of star Danny Kaye in the 1954 espionage spoof Knock on Wood , however, she abruptly turned her back on Hollywood and left, never to return. In her autobiography, she writes that she was always too serious about her craft ever to do jobs just for the money. "For that I had a reputation as a freak in Hollywood, but I can't say I ever regretted [never going back]."

Settling in London, she remained active in the British cinema for the next decade, and appeared in two more American films as well, Mark Robson's crime caper A Prize of Gold and Richard Sale's taut tale of survival at sea, Abandon Ship! , based on a true story and starring Tyrone Power. The former was shot in Germany, the latter on a British soundstage. Subsequently, she appeared opposite a miscast Pat Boone in the lust and sawdust circus drama The Main Attraction and in the thriller The Man Who Finally Died , both made in Britain in 1962. She had one of her best roles the same year as a high society dame romanced by Peter Sellers in the comedy Only Two Can Play , based on a satiric novel by Kingsley Amis.

Disheartened by the quality of most of the films she was being offered, Zetterling turned her back on acting after the routine action thriller The Bay of St. Michael and became a director, starting with several documentaries made for the BBC and the award-winning 1963 short The War Game (not to be confused with the 1967 Peter Watkins "ban the bomb" film of the same name). Returning to Sweden, she launched her feature directing career with Loving Couples , which was heavily censored in the United States and elsewhere due to its sexual explicitness. She directed one of her last films, Amorosa , in 1986, having turned her attention to writing short stories and novels, as well as a frank autobiography called All Those Tomorrows .

—John McCarty

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