Maximilian Schell will undoubtedly go down as the most successful non-anglophone foreign actor in the history of American cinema. From his English-language debut alongside Marlon Brando in The Young Lions to his final French-language film yet to be released entitled Les Brigands, few very could claim to be as prolific as the Austrian-born actor. Maximilian Schell was 83 when he passed away following a sudden illness.
Born on December 30, 1930, in Vienna, Austria, his mother, Margarethe, was an actress who ran an acting school, while his father, Hermann Ferdinand Schell, was a Swiss novelist, poet, playwright and pharmacy owner. Maximilian was bit by the acting bug at an early age, despite his father’s concerns. In 1938, the Schell family left Vienna in order to get away from Hitler after Nazi Germany annexed Austria. Maximilian Schell began acting on the stage at the University of Basel in 1952 and devoted his life to the art form from there on out.
Maximilian Schell made his feature debut in the 1955 German anti-war film Children, Mothers and a General. Schell would bounce between the stage and the screen quite often throughout his career. One of Schell’s most famous stage performances is that of the eponymous prince in Hamlet. The performance ranks along with Lawrence Olivier’s as the one of the most definitive the Shakespearian prince has ever had.
In 1959, Maximilian Schell played his most famous role as a German defence attorney in a Playhouse 90 live TV production of Judgment At Nuremberg. Schell would go onto be cast in the Hollywood adaptation one year later starring Spencer Tracy. Schell won the Academy award for best actor in 1961 for his performance in Judgment At Nuremberg beating out co-star Tracy. The Austrian actor would be nominated for an Academy award two more times in his career. The first came in 1976 for his role in The Man In The Glass Booth and again in 1978 for his supporting role in Julia. In 1993, Maximilian Schell won the Golden Globe for best supporting performance by an actor in a series, mini-series or made-for-TV movie for his role as Lenin in the mini-series, Stalin. Schell’s last English-language film before he passed away at 83 was Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom in 2008.
Maximilian Schell also spent a fair amount of time behind the camera. In 1970, Schell made his feature film debut with First Love. The Austrian’s next film, The Pedestrian, which he produced, wrote, directed and starred in, was nominated for the best foreign language film by the Academy in 1973. Schell made a documentary entitled Marlene in 1984. The documentary was suppose to feature a then 83 year old Marlene Dietrich being interviewed inside her home but after filming was completed, she revoked the rights for Schell to use her appearance. Schell used the audio along with only silhouettes of Marlene from the interview and compiled it using old film of clips of the actress. The documentary was nominated by the Academy as one of the best of the year upon release. In 2002, Schell completed work on his most intimate film, My Sister Maria. The documentary chronicled the life and career of his sister Maria Schell including her debilitating health due to illness.
The Austrian born actor has left an undoubtable impression upon Hollywood and aboard during his career. Passed away at 83, Maximilian Schell leaves behind a wife and daughter and a legacy few could match.
By Benjamin Murray
The Globe And Mail