Wherefore art thou?

Actresses vie for coveted Romy role

America has Marilyn Monroe; Europe has Romy Schneider. Although the German-Austrian actress with French citizenship had her international breakthrough soon after the death of the U.S. screen icon, the same sultry potpourri of beauty, talent, vulnerability, fame and tragedy swirls around both.

Schneider, who died in 1982 in Paris at 43, is now the subject of two biopics set for release next year. A telefilm with the working title "Romy" will star Jessica Schwarz ("Perfume: The Story of a Murderer"), and a French-German co-production from Warner Bros. called "A Woman Like Romy" has cast German popstar-actress Yvonne Catterfeld.

The actresses will have their hands full portraying Schneider — a woman whose roles, loves and outspoken opinions embodied liberated European womanhood in the '70s.

"She played vulnerable figures, but women who had something to say to the world," Schneider biographer Renate Seydel says. "She chose those roles very deliberately."

Born Rosemarie Magdalena Albach-Retty into a family of Viennese actors including German mother Magda Schneider, Romy made her film debut at 15.

A few years later she captivated the continent with her portrayal of teenaged Empress Elisabeth of Austria in the "Sissi" trilogy, with her mother in a supporting role.

Almost two decades later she would star in Luchino Visconti's "Ludwig: The Mad King of Bavaria" as a more mature, embittered Elisabeth, transforming her younger take on the role that she once famously said stuck to her "like oatmeal."

Meanwhile, her drawn-out engagement to Alain Delon, her disdain for Hollywood and her work with such directors as Visconti, Otto Preminger and Orson Welles forged a powerful bond with the French filmgoing public. Eventually she did star in a few U.S. movies, most famous among them being Clive Donner's "What's New Pussycat?"

But it was her prodigious work in European film that cemented her place in history. In 1999, she was voted the "greatest actress of all time" by readers of a French newspaper, and in 2006, she was the top-ranking female in a survey of Germany's all-time favorite actors.

Two divorces, the suicide of her first ex-husband, two children and the continuing onscreen relationship with Delon later, "it was her personal destiny that was most important in creating her myth," Seydel says.

After the accidental death of her 14-year-old son, Schneider began drinking heavily and died less than a year later. Officially, the cause was cardiac arrest. But rumors have persisted for more than 25 years that Schneider committed suicide by combining sleeping pills with alcohol.

Next year's biopics are likely to fan the fires of the Romy myth.