Who was Rosemarie Magdalena Albach-Retty?
Rosemarie Magdalena Albach-Retty was born on September 23, 1938 in Vienna into an old family of artistes and actors. Her paternal grandmother Rosa Albach-Retty was a stage actress and an icon of her time, her father, handsome Wolf Albach-Retty, would be well nigh forgotten now weren't it for his exceptional daughter. Her mother was Magda Schneider, another actress and a star in many of the partly notable, partly notorious, films during the Thousand Years between 1933 - 1945.
After her divorce from Albach-Retty in 1945, Magda Schneider took care of her daughter. Four years, from 1949 to 1953, Romy was educated in an exclusive and very much Catholic boarding school under the supervision of the "Englische Fräulein" (English Sisters). Romy had made her film debut already in 1953, aged 15, with "Wenn der weiße Flieder wieder blüht" and taken her mother's name as screen name. Magda supervised her career, often appearing alongside her daughter.
Romy and Magda in "Sissi".
Young Romy's career was also overseen by her then stepfather Hans-Herbert Blatzheim whom Magda had married in 1953, a well-known and wealthy restaurateur, who, so Romy Schneider later indicated, had an unhealthy interest in her. When her first husband Harry Meyen sorted out her finances, it turned out that Blatzheim owed her SF 1,251418.15, part of which she got back after her stepfather's death.
In the film "Mädchenjahre einer Königin" (Ernst Marischka, 1954) about the girl- and early womanhood of Queen Victoria of England, Romy Schneider portrayed for the first time a royal. Her breakthrough to stardom, however, came with her interpretation of the young Princess Elisabeth in Bavaria -- later Empress Elisabeth of Austria -- in the romantic biopic "Sissi" (1955) and its two sequels 1956 and 1957.
Sickened by the syrupy image the "Sissi" genre had bestowed upon her, Schneider leapt at the chance of starring in the sombre "Christine" (1958), a remake of Max Ophüls' 1933 film "Liebelei" based upon a play by Arthur Schnitzler. Interestingly, in the original version of the film, Romy's mother, the rather homely Magda, had proved, as far as I know for the one and only time, that she could act. It was during the filming of "Christine" that Romy fell in love with French actor "bad guy" Alain Delon, who co-starred in the movie. Schneider became engaged to him in 1959, and the couple moved, to the chagrin of Romy's German audience, to Paris.
This was the start of her international film career, her escape from "football-mom" Magda Schneider and "Daddy" (as he was known) Blatzheim and the "sweet young thang" image that had become the only way her Germano-Austrian audience was willing to accept her. She had no easy start abroad, though. She once said something to the effect that to the Germans she was a traitor to the fatherland and to the French somebody who climbs mountains in ethnic costume and brogues.
Her ensuing career, however, took her far and even to Hollywood ("Good Neighbor Sam", a 1964 comedy with Jack Lemmon, and the 1965 movie "What's New, Pussycat" with Woody Allen). Mainly, however, she stayed in France, working with film directors such as Orson Welles ("Le Procès" of 1963, based upon Franz Kafka's "The Trial") and Luchino Visconti ("Ludwig", a 1972 film about the life of King Ludwig II of Bavaria in which she played a much maturer Elisabeth of Austria again). "Sissi sticks to me just like oatmeal", she once said.
Schneider's private life was a chain of failed relationships. Dumped by Delon in 1963, she married (1966) and divorced (1975) Harry Meyen, a renowned German stage actor, who committed suicide in 1979. In 1966 their son, David-Christopher had been born. 1975 she married Daniel Biasini, her private secretary. They separated in 1981.
Her daughter by this marriage, Sarah Magdalena Biasini (b. July 14, 1977), although blonde, stunningly resembles Romy, and even shows a tiny fraction of her mother's charme.
Even after the breakup of their relationship, Schneider continued starring in films with Delon ("La Piscine", 1969). Of her other films, the haunting, macabre (and, dare I say it: degenerate) "Le trio infernal" (1974) and "Les choses de la vie" (1969), both with Michel Piccoli, are of particular importance. I loved her in "Max et les ferrailleurs" (France 1971) another film with her favourite co-star Michel Piccoli who, as a policeman and ever the seducer, traps her, a hooker, into inadvertently betraying her petty criminal cronies.
A street walker with a heart of gold and an air of innocence, something only Romy was able to get across.
Her last film was "La Passante du Sans-Souci" (The Passerby, 1982).
A heavy smoker all her life, Schneider also took to drinking in her later years, especially after the death of her son David. David was found impaled on a fence at his stepfather's parents' house which he had attempted to climb on July 5, 1981. After the removal of a kidney, Romy was not supposed to drink alcohol anymore. However, she did. Less than a year after the death of David, she was found dead in her flat in Paris, aged only 43. It turned out that she had taken a strong combination of alcohol and sleeping pills that night, but no post-mortem was performed and she was officially declared as having died of cardiac arrest. She was so overindebted, that nobody accepted her inheritance.
Romy was talented, beautiful and weak and gullible and vulnerable. Compared to her, even legendary Hollywood divas appear one-dimensional, wooden and cold, like Grace Kelly, or blowzy and common, like Liz Taylor. And as to her own generation -- WAS there really ever anybody worth comparing? What French actress could ever even remotely reach her?
But what fascinates me most about her is that even now, after almost fifty years have past since its premiere and having seen it for the nth time, one still longs to see the image of that beautiful child who, in spite of all the historical inaccuracy and saccharine was never, never kitschy herself.
As Mattussek and Beier put it in their recent DER SPIEGEL article: "That was Romy Schneider for the German cinema: a golden cloud that faded away. But every time one of her films is shown, the cloud builds anew. And puffs out again."
Hand me over the "Sissi" trilogy on DVD and I will watch it on any rainy Sunday afternoon again (and again) without becoming bored! And yes, all you "good taste" conscious Neuer Deutscher Film or Nouvelle Vague afficionados, BITE ME!
Rosemarie Magdalena Albach-Retty died 25 years ago today. Romy Schneider, forever young and beautiful, will live on for a long time.
This entry includes information from a Wikipedia article and a recent article in the 21/07 print-edition of DER SPIEGEL (see left), "Die Königin der Schmerzen" by Matthias Matussek and Lars-Olav Beier. "Königin der Schmerzen" (Queen of Pains) is a pun, somewhat tastelessly and not at all in line with the content of the article, based on the label stuck on Princess Diana, "Königin der Herzen" (Queen of Hearts).
For more information and pictures go to "Das Romy Schneider Archiv".
(Entry from May 29, 2007)