Elisabeth Bergner

Elisabeth Bergner (22 August 1897 – 12 May 1986) was an Austrian-British actress. Primarily a stage actress, her career flourished in Berlin and Paris, before she moved to London to work in films. Her signature role was Gemma Jones in Escape Me Never, a play written for her by Margaret Kennedy.[2] She played Gemma first in London, and then in the Broadway debut and a film version, for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. In 1943, Bergner returned to Broadway in the play The Two Mrs. Carrolls, for which she won the Distinguished Performance Medal from the Drama League.[3]

Elisabeth Bergner
Elisabeth Bergner, 1935
Elisabeth Ettel

(1897-08-22)22 August 1897
Died12 May 1986(1986-05-12) (aged 88)
London, England
Years active1924–1984
Spouse(s)Paul Czinner (1933–1972) (his death)[1]

Life and career

She was born Elisabeth Ettel in Drohobych, Austro-Hungarian Empire (present-day Ukraine) to Anna Rosa (née Wagner) and Emil Ettel, a merchant. She grew up in a secular Jewish home. The Hebrew she heard in her childhood was associated with Yom Kippur and Pesach, and on her visits to Israel, she apologized for not knowing the language.[4][5][6]

She first acted on stage at age 14, and appeared in Innsbruck a year later. In Vienna at age 16, she toured Austrian and German provinces with a Shakespearean company. She worked as an artist's model, posing for sculptor Wilhelm Lehmbruck, who fell in love with her. She eventually moved to Munich and later Berlin.[7]

In 1923, she made her film debut in Der Evangelimann. With the rise of Nazism, Bergner moved to London with director Paul Czinner, and they married in 1933. Her stage work in London included The Boy David (1936) by J. M. Barrie, his last play, which he wrote especially for her, and Escape Me Never by Margaret Kennedy. Catherine the Great was banned in Germany because of the government's racial policies, reported Time on 26 March 1934.[7]

She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for Escape Me Never (1935). She repeated her stage role of Rosalind, opposite Laurence Olivier's Orlando, in the 1936 film As You Like It, the first sound film version of Shakespeare's play, and the first sound film of any Shakespeare play filmed in England. Bergner had previously only played the role on the German stage, and several critics found that her accent got in the way of their enjoyment of the film, which was not a success. She returned intermittently to the stage, for instance in the title role of John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi in 1946.

Bergner temporarily returned to Germany in 1954, where she acted in movies and on the stage; the Berlin district of Steglitz named a city park after her. In 1973, she starred in the Academy Award-nominated and Golden Globe-winner for Best Foreign-Language Foreign Film of 1974, Der Fußgänger (English title: The Pedestrian). In 1980, Austria awarded her the Cross of Merit for Science and Art, and in 1982, she won the Eleonora Duse Prize Asolo.[7]


She later moved to London, where she died aged 85 from cancer.[8] She was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on 15 May 1986. Her ashes lie in the West Cloister and have an oval memorial tablet.[7]

All About Eve

According to The New York Times obituary for writer Mary Orr, Bergner told Orr about an experience that provided her with the inspiration for the short story that gave birth to the character of Eve Harrington. “The Wisdom of Eve" appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1946. The play based on that story was the basis for Joseph L. Mankiewicz's classic film, All About Eve. The episode occurred when Bergner was performing in the play The Two Mrs. Carrolls. Bergner took pity on a “waif-like” young woman who stood outside the theater for days on end. She gave her a job as her secretary, and the young actress tried to "take over" Bergner's life.[9]

In the movie, Eve’s plans are thwarted by powerful theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), a character created for the film, whose knowledge puts her completely in his power. In the short story, she ends up with everything she wanted, including the narrator’s husband.[9]

Literary references

The character of Dora Martin in the novel Mephisto by Klaus Mann is reportedly based on her.[10]


  • Anne Jespersen: Toedliche Wahrheit oder raffinierte Taeuschung. "Die Frauen in den Filmen Elisabeth Bergners" in Michael Omasta, Brigitte Mayr, Christian Cargnelli (eds.): Carl Mayer, Scenarist: Ein Script von ihm war schon ein Film – "A script by Carl Mayer was already a film". Synema, Vienna 2003; ISBN 3-901644-10-5 (in German)/(in English)

Selected filmography

See also


  1. "Elisabeth Bergner". Nndb.com. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  2. Playbill bio 1943 accessed 12/13/2016
  3. Inc, Nielsen Business Media (13 May 1944). "Billboard". Nielsen Business Media, Inc. Retrieved 2 December 2017 via Google Books.
  4. Elisabeth Ettel background, books.google.ca; accessed March 6, 2015.
  5. Bergner profile, books.google.ca; accessed March 6, 2015.
  6. Profile, Haaretz.com; accessed March 6, 2015.
  7. Profile, jwa.org; accessed March 6, 2015.
  8. "Elisabeth Bergner, an Actress in Plays and Films, Dies at 85". May 13, 1986. Retrieved October 6, 2019 via NYTimes.com.
  9. Fox, Margalit (2006-10-06). "Mary Orr, 95, an Author Who Inspired 'All About Eve', Is Dead". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-10-07.
  10. Mephisto Archived 2015-04-03 at the Wayback Machine, Rowohlt.de; accessed 18 May 2015.(in German)

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