Oscar winner Maximilian Schell has passed away in Austria

Maximilian Schell in his Oscar winning performance as a defense lawyer in 'Judgement at Nuremberg'
Maximilian Schell in his Oscar winning performance as a defense lawyer in ‘Judgement at Nuremberg’

Academy Award winning actor Maximilian Schell has died at the age of 83.  Reports are that he was suffering from a sudden serious illness, possibly pneumonia.

Star of both screen and stage, Schell made his debut in German films before coming to the United States to act on Broadway in the play “Interlock.”  That led to his first role in a U. S. film, The Young Lions, which featured an all-star cast that included Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Dean Martin and Lee Van Cleef.

Joan Crawford presenting Maximilian Schell with the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Lead Role in 1962
Joan Crawford presenting Maximilian Schell with the Academy Award for Best Actor

His first Oscar nomination and only win came in the 1961 big screen version of Judgment at Nuremberg, where he played German defense attorney “Hans Rolfe.”  He was actually reprising the role from a live television production of the same story that had aired in 1959.  He and two-time Primetime Emmy winner Werner Klemperer were the only actors to reprise their parts from the Playhouse 90 production on CBS.  Acting ran in his family as his father was a playwright, poet and novelist, while his mother ran an acting school.  His older sister Maria Schell also earned a living from acting.

Maximilian Schell was an actor of incredible range.  He portrayed Nazis and Jews brilliantly, along with a variety of other character types.  He would be nominated two more times for Best Actor, for playing a Jewish survivor of the Nazi concentration camps who may or may not actually be an SS officer in The Man in the Glass Booth; and for his work in Julia, a 1977 film based on playwright Lillian Hellman’s memoir “Pentimento.”

Maximilian Schell and Tea Leoni in 'Deep Impact'
Maximilian Schell and Tea Leoni in ‘Deep Impact’

He continued to act well into his 70s, in films like The Black Hole, The Chosen, The Freshman and A Far Off Place.  He also became a filmmaker himself, making documentary films about his sister Maria and about legendary German film star Marlene Dietrich.   In 1997 he did a film with the late Brad Renfro where he portrayed the Hungarian immigrant father of Renfro’s character, Telling Lies in America.  The following year he was in the disaster film Deep Impact this time as the father of Tea Leoni’s character.

Schell was married twice and was a good enough piano player to be called “remarkably good” by conductor Leonard Bernstein.


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