Some actors toil away for years in their home countries without ever scoring much international acclaim. Maximilian Schell managed it on only his second Hollywood job, winning an Oscar in the process. The much-loved Austrian actor died this weekend at the age of 83.
Born in Vienna to an actress mother and a poet/playwright father, Schell’s early life was dominated by danger as his father, on the Nazi blacklist, fled with his family to Zurich. Schell, who became a Swiss citizen, showed early signs of following in his mother and siblings’ footsteps, appearing in a stage production of William Tell as a child.
While he studied philosophy and art history at the Universities of Zurich and Munich, drama continued to dominate his attention and he worked in various parts of Europe following his studies.
Following a succession of roles on various stages, he made his Broadway debut in Ira Levin’s Interlock in 1954. Film and television soon beckoned, and he appeared in a couple of German movies before his move to Hollywood filmmaking with 1958’s The Young Lions, learning his lines phonetically but still making his mark alongside Marlon Brando.
He’s most famous, perhaps, for his role in 1961’s Judgement At Nuremberg, where he played defence lawyer Hans Rolfe for director Stanley Kramer and beat co-star Spencer Tracy to the Oscar that year. It was a role he knew well, having played Rolfe in a Playhouse 90 episode in 1959.
Schell enjoyed a long, rewarding career, showing his skills as a pianist and conductor alongside his acting work, and appearing in such varied films as Five Finger Exercise, The Reluctant Saint, Topkapi, The Odessa File, Cross Of Iron and Krakatoa: East Of Java.
He won a second Oscar nomination for 1975’s The Man In The Glass Booth and a third for 1976’s Julia. Schell was also a director, making First Love, The Pedestrian (which was nominated for Best Foreign Film by the Academy) and End Of The Game. Genre fans will know him best as driven scientist Dr. Hans Reinhardt in The Black Hole.
He’s survived by his daughter, Natassja Schell. Our thoughts are with his family.