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Natalie Wood Liv Ullmann
Romy Schneider - Goddesses of the Silver Screen
1434    Dibyendu Banerjee    15/02/2021

Romy Schneider, a darling of European cinema from the 1950s until the 1980s, was born Rosemarie Magdalena Albach on 23 September 1938 inNazi-era Vienna, six months after the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Adolf Hitler. She was born into a family of actors that included her paternal grandmother Rosa Albach-Retty, her Austrian father Wolf Albach-Retty, and her German mother actor Magda Schneider.

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Four weeks after her birth, she was brought to the German state of Bavaria, where she and later her younger brother grew up under the care of their maternal grandparents Franz Xaver and Maria Schneider on the estate, Mariengrund. However, in her first year of her life, Romy was under the care of a governess as both her parents were mostly away due to their acting commitments. They separated in 1943 and were finally divorced in 1945, after which Magda took the custody of Romy and her brother. Eventually, the mother supervised the young girl’s career, often overseen by her stepfather, who allegedly had an unhealthy interest in her.

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In September 1944, little Romy was admitted to the elementary school of Schonau, and after that, was enrolled to attend from July 1949, the girl’s residential private secondary school in Elsbethen near Salzburg. While in the school in her budding years, she discovered her intense passion for acting and often appeared on the stage, participating in the theatrical performances at the residential school.

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She knew that she was destined to become an actress and wrote in her diary on 10 June 1952 that if things were in her hands she would become an actress immediately. After ten years of schooling, she left the residential school with the school-leaving certificate on 12 July 1953, and it was intended that she would study at Cologne Academy of Fine and Applied Arts as she had shown talent for painting and drawing in her school.

romy schneider

But destiny took her elsewhere and at the age of 15, she appeared in her first film When the White Lilacs Bloom Again (1953), alongside her mother, credited as Romy Schneider-Albach. However, she appeared as Romy Schneider for the first time in Victoria in Dover (1954), playing a young Victoria who decides to leave London for a few days, just before her scheduled marriage to Prince Albert, meets a handsome man while staying in a little tavern in Denver and falls in love head over heels with him.

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The much-wanted breakthrough came within a year when the 17-year-old Romy portrayed the young Bavarian princess crowned as Empress Elisabeth of Austria in the romantic biopic Sissi (1955) which skyrocketed her success. She also appeared in two of its sequels, Sissi – The Young Empress (1956), and Sissi – Fateful Years of an Empress (1957), all with Karlheinz Bohm, and the two became close friends. Later, Karlheinz Bohm starred several movies of the cult director Rainer Fassbinder. During that time, despite her busy schedule she also appeared in The Girl and the Legend (1957), and Monpti (1957).

romy schneider
With Alain Delon

However, despite her fantastic success in the Sissi films, she was feeling pigeonholed in her playing the stereotyped naïve, and innocent characters and turned down the offer of millions to work on a fourth Sissi film, as she did want to be a princess anymore. In that state of mind, the 20-year-old Romy Schneider starred in Christine (1958), a remake of the 1933 German film Liebelei, a passionate love story between Christine and Franz Lobheiner, currently seeing a married Baroness.Romy appeared as Christine in the film, which was played by her mother in the German version. During the making of the film, Romy fell in love with her French co-star Alain Delon that lasted five years. They announced their engagement in Switzerland in 1959 and eventually moved together to Paris, much to the displeasure of her large German fan. However, they never married, their mutual careers kept them apart, and in 1963, Romy received a breakup letter from her French fiancé. They met again on the set of La Piscine (1969), displaying a strong bond.

romy schneider

Nevertheless, Romy Schneider’s career soon took off in Paris as she shed the naïve girl typecast and played complex and often provocative roles. She was acclaimed for playing a seductress in the cult film The Trial (1962), an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s novel directed by Orson Welles. She was introduced to the reputed Italian film director Luchino Visconti by Alain Delon, and under his direction, played in a segment titled The Job in the film Boccaccio 70 (1962). Later, under the direction of Visconti, she also played a mature Elisabeth of Austria in Ludwig (1973). Romy Schneider had her moment of Hollywood fame, when she appeared in a comedy alongside Jack Lemmon in Goodnight Sam (1964), and shared the screen with Peter O’Toole, Peter Sellers, and Woody Allen in What’s New Pussycat? (1965).

romy schneider

At the height of her career, Romy Schneider met the German actor and director Harry Meyen in April 1965, at the opening night of a restaurant in Berlin, and soon they fell in love. At that time Meyen was a married man, but finally, he divorced his wife to marry five months pregnant Schneider in July 1966 in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Romy gave birth to a boy, David Christopher Meyen, in December, who unfortunately died in 1981. Schneider and Meyen were separated in 1973, and their divorce was finalized two years later, in 1975.

romy schneider

During the 1970s, Schneider continued to work in French movies, notably in five films directed by Claude Saulet that included The Things of Life (Les choses de la vie 1970), which made her a diva in France. Her other films with the director included a thriller, Max and the Junkman (Max et les ferrailleurs 1971), and Caesar and Rosalie (1972). Her other successful films during the period included Le Train (1973), where she played a German-Jewish refugee in World War II, The Infernal Trio (Le Trio infernal 1974), Claude Chabrol’s thriller Innocents with Dirty Hands (Innocents aux mains sales 1975), and The Old Gun (Les vieux fusil 1975). However, she earned her first Caesar Award for Best Actress (France’s equivalent of the Oscar) for portraying the role of Nadine Chevalier, an actress in cheap soft-core movies, in the gritty That Most Important Thing; Love (L’important c’est d’aimer 1974), directed by the reputed and controversial Andezej Zulawaski. She won the same award again for her performance in A Simple Story (Une histoire simple 1978), her last film with Claude Saulet, in which she appeared as Marie, a 38-year old divorced woman who has a lover, but decides to leave him, abort his child, and return to her ex-husband.

romy schneider

During the filming of Zulawaski’s film, Romy Schneider had a short stint of romance with her co-star, the famous singer Jacques Dutrone, which lasted for the duration of the shooting. In fact, it was said of her that with each shoot, she could not help but fall in love with a new guy. In 1975, she was married for the second time to a Franco-Italian journalist, Daniel Biasini, with whom she had a daughter, Sarah Magdalena. Later, Biasini became her private secretary, but their marriage did not last long, and they were divorced in 1981.

Schneider got another nomination for the Best Actress in the Caesar Award for her role in Womanlight (Clair de femme 1979), directed by Costa-Gavras. In the same year, she also appeared in Bloodline (1979), a thriller based on a novel by Sidney Sheldon. She played a dying woman in Death Watch (La mort en direct 1980), while a man with a camera implanted in his brain was hired by a television producer to secretly record her condition, without her knowledge, for telecasting a morbid live show.

romy schneider

The shooting for her last film The Passerby (La Passante du Sans-Souci 1982) was postponed as she broke her leg. Although it began in May 1981, it was interrupted again after some weeks as Romy Schneider had to undertake an urgent kidney operation. After that, in July 1981, her son David sadly lost his life at the age of 14 when attempting to climb the spiked fence at his stepfather’s parent’s home, he punctured his femoral artery. That was a great shock for the mother, and after the incident, Schneider began drinking alcohol excessively. Under the circumstances, the Insurance Companies refused to cover Schneider on the pretext that she could commit suicide. At that stage, Jacques Rouffio, the director of the film, convinced the producer to take the risk and complete the film without insurance coverage for her. The filming was completed, but Romy Schneider survived only a few months after the premiere. She was found dead in her Paris apartment on 29 May 1982, and although it was suggested she committed suicide caused by an overdose of sleeping pills, she was declared to have died from cardiac arrest

Natalie Wood Liv Ullmann
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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