April 27, 2005

Austrian Actress Maria Schell Dead at 79

Austrian-born actress Maria Schell, a film idol who captivated German-speaking audiences in the 1950s and starred opposite some of Hollywood's legendary leading men, has died, according to a statement released on Wednesday. Schell was 79.

Schell's brother, the internationally known actor Maximilian Schell, issued a statement from Los Angeles saying that the death of his older sister had left him facing "the hardest and most difficult hours of my life."

"She was a great actress and an extraordinary human being," Schell, 74, said. "But most of all she was a friend. I could trust her completely, and she trusted me completely. ...After the war, when it was hard to be happy, she made a lot of people happy or at least made happiness seem possible."

Born in Austria in 1926, Schell's father was a Swiss author and her mother an Austrian actress.

Along with her brothers and sisters, she spent the war years in Switzerland, where she was cast in her first film role at age 16 in "Steibruch" by director Sigfrit Steiner.

Schell, popular for bringing a youthful radiance to her screen roles, rose to international stardom in the 1950s in films such as "The Last Bridge" (Die Letzte Brucke), and "The Brothers Karamazov" where she played opposite Yul Brynner.

She starred with Gary Cooper in the 1959 Western drama "The Hanging Tree" and appeared with actors such as Glenn Ford, Marcello Mastroianni and Marlon Brando in a career that spanned five decades.

Schell's later years were marked by declining health, financial difficulties and seclusion.

She made her last public appearance at the 2002 premiere of "My Sister Maria," a documentary by Maximilian Schell about his sister's life, career and their own relationship.

Maximilian Schell, in Los Angeles to direct an opera, said he had visited his sister a few days before her death.

"Towards the end of her life, she suffered silently and I never heard her complain. I admire her for that," Schell said in his statement. "Her death might have been for her a salvation. But not for me. She is irreplaceable."

Austrian media reports said Maria Schell died on Tuesday at her home in southern Austria, which was also her parents' prewar home.

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