True gi­ant

Os­car-win­ner Max­i­m­il­ian Schell was a for­mi­da­ble force in film and be­yond.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - OBITUARY - By DAVID COLKER

WHEN Max­i­m­il­ian Schell won the Best Ac­tor Os­car in 1962 for his role in Judg­ment At Nurem­berg, he gave a short speech in which he re­called be­ing ques­tioned by a US Cus­toms of­fi­cial.

“He ... (asked) what I was do­ing here, and I said, ‘ I’m go­ing to do a film’,” Schell told the glit­ter­ing crowd in his ac­cented English. “And he said to me, ‘ Good luck, boy’. And I think that was very un­usual for a Cus­toms man. And I can tell him now that I had it.”

Un­doubt­edly, Schell, whose fam­ily fled the Nazis when he was a boy, made his own luck – not only as a cel­e­brated ac­tor who amassed more than 100 film and TV cred­its, but also as a di­rec­tor of films, doc­u­men­taries, plays and opera.

Schell, 83, died of nat­u­ral causes on Satur­day in a hos­pi­tal in Inns­bruck, Aus­tria, ac­cord­ing to his agent. Schell’s wife Iva was with him when he died. They were mar­ried in Au­gust.

Schell’s ca­reer in the United States be­gan with a role as a Nazi of­fi­cer in The Young Li­ons (1958). His English was lim­ited at the time and he had an un­likely tu­tor – Mar­lon Brando, one of the film’s stars, fa­mous for his mum­bling. “Mar­lon was ex­tremely kind to help me with the part,” Schell said in a 1990 in­ter­view.

A year af­ter Young Li­ons, Schell played, for the first time, the most fa­mous role of his ca­reer: at­tor­ney Hans Rolfe in Judg­ment At Nurem­berg.

That was in a tele­vised Play­house 90 ver­sion of the Abby Mann script. When it came time for the star-stud­ded film ver­sion, Schell didn’t seek to again play Rolfe, the fic­tion­alised lawyer who ve­he­mently defends Nazi judges.

“I wanted to do Burt Lancaster’s role as the Nazi judge who doesn’t say much,” Schell said in 2011. But di­rec­tor Stan­ley Kramer in­sisted he reprise his role as the at­tor­ney, and Schell, in the view of some crit­ics, walked away with the film. One of the ac­tors he beat for the Os­car was Spencer Tracy, who also ap­peared in the movie.

Schell played nu­mer­ous high-pro­file screen and stage roles, in­clud­ing a cel­e­brated Ham­let, but Judg­ment At Nurem­berg al­ways re­mained a high­light. “Some of your work you for­get,” he said in 2001. “This one, I didn’t for­get.”

Schell was born in Vi­enna on Dec 8, 1930, to a poet fa­ther and ac­tress mother. In 1938, when the Nazis an­nexed Aus­tria, the fam­ily fled to Switzer­land. Schell stud­ied at the Univer­sity of Basel and had sev­eral stage roles be­fore get­ting his first film parts in the mid-1950s. In Hol­ly­wood, he was cast in sev­eral films about the war, of­ten as a Nazi sol­dier, sym­pa­thiser or re­sister.

He was nom­i­nated for an Os­car for The Man In The Glass Booth (1975) about a wealthy in­dus­tri­al­ist who is kid­napped and put on trial in Is­rael for war crimes. Another nom­i­na­tion came for his small part in Ju­lia (1977), as a man try­ing to ar­range the smug­gling of funds into Ger­many to sup­port the anti-Nazi un­der­ground.

But there were other types of roles. In the comic heist film Top­kapi (1964) he plays a mas­ter crim­i­nal, and he re­united with his friend Brando for The Fresh­man (1990). And there were roles in big-bud­get sci-fi films, such as The Black Hole (1979) and Deep Im­pact (1998).

The hand­ful of films he di­rected were in some cases highly per­sonal. The doc­u­men­tary Mar­lene (1984) is largely about him try­ing to get an ag­ing Mar­lene Di­et­rich – who was also in Judg­ment At Nurem­berg – to ap­pear on cam­era. She re­fuses, but Schell’s mix­ture of their recorded con­ver­sa­tions and archival footage re­sulted in a highly praised film.

Two of Schell’s large-scale opera pro­duc­tions were done by Los An­ge­les Opera. “Di­rect­ing is like meet­ing a woman,” Schell once said. “You don’t know her, but some­thing strikes you and then you just have to go into it. Michelan­gelo said that in ev­ery rock there’s a fig­ure hid­den. All you have to do is carve it out. With care, not haste.”

In ad­di­tion to his wife, Schell’s sur­vivors in­clude his daugh­ter Nas­tassja, from a pre­vi­ous mar­riage to ac­tress Natalia An­dre­ichenko that ended in di­vorce, and a grand­child. — Los An­ge­les Times / McClatchy-Tri­bune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

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