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Maximilian Schell, who won a best actor Oscar for his towering performance as the German defense attorney in Judgment at Nuremberg, has died at the age of 83. He also received Oscar nominations for The Man in The Glass Booth (1975) and Julia (1977).
Schell’s agent, Patricia Baumbauer, said Saturday he died overnight at a hospital in Innsbruck, Austria, following a “sudden and serious illness,” the Austria Press Agency reported.
The multitalented Schell received two Academy Award nominations for Best Foreign Film: In 1970, he received that nod for his production of First Love (Erste Liebe), his maiden writing-directing effort; in 1974, for The Pedestrian (Der Fussganger). Schell won a Golden Globe for The Pedestrian.
In 1992, Schell added a Golden Globe for his supporting performance in the HBO miniseries Stalin.
It was only his second Hollywood role, as defense attorney Hans Rolfe in Stanley Kramer‘s classic Judgment at Nuremberg, that earned him wide international acclaim. Schell’s impassioned but unsuccessful defense of four Nazi judges on trial for sentencing innocent victims to death won him the 1962 Academy Award for best actor. Schell had first played Rolfe in a 1959 episode of the television program Playhouse 90.
Inordinately talented, Schell also performed as a concert pianist, including performances with the Berlin Philharmonic and Vienna Symphony. A conductor on occasion, Schell also performed under the baton of Leonard Bernstein.
In recent years, he suffered from acute pancreatitis, collapsing at the Baltic Pearl Film Festival in August 2000.
Despite leading-man looks, Schell eschewed star-driven, mainstream projects. Known to take on heady projects as well as creative risks, he produced an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Castle, and he wrote, directed and produced an adaptation of Ivan Turgenev’s First Love. He received the Actor of the Millennium” award at the Baltic Peral Film Festival in Latvia in 2000.
The son of Swiss playwright Hermann Ferdinand Schell and Austrian stage actress Noe von Nordberg, Schell was born in Vienna on Dec. 8, 1930, and raised in Switzerland after his family fled Germany’s annexation of his homeland. Schell followed in the acting footsteps of his older sister Maria and brother Carl, making his stage debut in 1952.
He then appeared in a number of German films before relocating to Hollywood in 1958. He also made an engrossing documentary on Marlene Dietrich, who had played an S.S. officer’s widow in Judgment at Nuremberg. However, Dietrich backed out on participating in the documentary at the last minute; nevertheless, Schell created a captivating portrait of her, utilizing audio interviews over an array of clips and images.
Schell’s European background made him an ideal player for a number of movies about World War II. He co-starred in a number of them, most prominently A Bridge Too Far, which centered on the logical complications of an Allied airdrop behind Nazi lines. Along with James Coburn, he starred in Sam Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron.
Schell also co-starred in such fare as the caper-thriller Topkapi and Counterpoint, where he played a Nazi S.S. commander. He co-starred with his actress sister Maria in the Frederick Forsyth thriller The Odessa File.
Schell’s European manner and accent worked well when he was cast in such international thriller-mysteries as Getting Away With Murder (1976), which also starred Jon Voight, Jacqueline Bisset and Donald Sutherland. Along with John Houseman, Schell imbued evil elegance onto the J. Lee Thompson crime caper, St. Ives (1976), which starred Charles Bronson.
He also performed in his share of popular, generic entertainments, including Players, a romantic potboiler centered around the world of tennis, starring the Love Story-hot Ali McGraw and the late Dean-Paul Martin. Undeniably, Schell brought a sheen of respectability to generic projects, including John Carpenter’s Vampires, and Deep Impact, as well as a 1968 TV version of Heidi. He also directed and co-starred in the TV movie Candles in the Dark (1993).
In 1990, Schell gave a smartly nutty turn in the gangster-comedy The Freshman, which starred Marlon Brando. More recently, he appeared in such idiosyncratic fare as Festival in Cannes (2001), a comedy that intertwined the stories of three women at the Cannes Film Festival.
In a 2002 documentary entitled My Sister Maria, Schell portrayed his loving relationship with his sister, who died in 2005.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this article.
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Portia de Rossi
James Gordon Meek