Lilli Palmer

Lilli Palmer (born Lilli Marie Peiser; 24 May 1914 – 27 January 1986) was a German actress and writer. After beginning her career in British films in the 1930s, she would later transition to major Hollywood productions, earning a Golden Globe Award nomination for her performance in But Not for Me (1959).

Lilli Palmer
Palmer in 1946
Lilli Marie Peiser

(1914-05-24)24 May 1914
Posen, German Empire
(now Poznań, Poland)
Died27 January 1986(1986-01-27) (aged 71)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California, U.S.
Years active1936–1986
ChildrenCarey Harrison

Other notable roles include in the comedy The Pleasure of His Company (1961), the Spanish horror film The House That Screamed (1969), and in the miniseries Peter the Great (1986), which earned her another Golden Globe Award nomination. For her career in European films, Palmer won the Volpi Cup, and the Deutscher Filmpreis three times.

Early life

Palmer, who took her surname from an English actress she admired, was one of three daughters born to Alfred Peiser, a German Jewish surgeon, and Rose Lissman (or Lissmann), an Austrian Jewish stage actress in Posen, Prussia, Germany (now Poznań, Poland).[1]

When Lilli was four her family moved to Berlin-Charlottenburg. She was a junior table tennis champion as a young girl.[2] She studied drama in Berlin but her recently negotiated two-year contract with the Frankfurt Playhouse was cancelled after Hitler came to power in 1933 and the family faced grave reminders due to their Jewish heritage. Her elder sister, Irene (1911–1996), became an actress known as Irene Prador, later Mrs Irene Tooth. The youngest sister, Hildegard Julie Peiser (later Mrs Ross; 1919–2008), did not, however, follow her sisters' career choices. Lilli and her sisters fled Berlin to Paris but their father died in 1934 (aged 57) in Berlin. Their mother, Rose, died in 1959 (aged 77) in England.


In France, she appeared in an operetta at the Moulin Rouge, and then to London, where she began her film career. While performing in cabarets, she attracted the attention of British talent scouts and was offered a contract by the Gaumont Film Company. She made her screen debut in Crime Unlimited (1935) and appeared in numerous British films for the next decade.[3]

She married actor Rex Harrison on 25 January 1943,[1] and followed him to Hollywood in 1945. She signed with Warner Brothers and appeared in several films, notably Cloak and Dagger (1946) and Body and Soul (1947).[4]

She periodically appeared in stage plays as well as hosting her own television series in 1951.[5]

Harrison and Palmer appeared together in the hit Broadway play Bell, Book and Candle in the early 1950s and later starred in the film version of The Four Poster (1952), which was based on the award-winning Broadway play of the same name, written by Jan de Hartog. She won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress in 1953 for The Four Poster.[6]

Harrison and Palmer divorced in 1956; they had one son, Carey, born in 1944.[7]

Palmer returned to Germany in 1954, where she played roles in many films and television productions. She also continued to play both leading and supporting parts in the U.S. and abroad. In 1957, she won the Deutscher Filmpreis for Best Actress for her portrayal of Anna Anderson in The Story of Anastasia, called Is Anna Anderson Anastasia? in the UK. In 1958, she played the role of a teacher opposite Romy Schneider in Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in Uniform), the remake of the 1931 film of the same title.[8]

Palmer starred with Fred Astaire and Debbie Reynolds in The Pleasure of His Company in 1961.[9]

She starred opposite William Holden in The Counterfeit Traitor (1962), an espionage thriller based on fact, and opposite Robert Taylor in another true Second World War story, Disney's Miracle of the White Stallions (1963). On the small screen, in 1974 she starred as Manouche Roget in the six-part television drama series The Zoo Gang, about a group of former underground freedom fighters from the Second World War, with Brian Keith, Sir John Mills and Barry Morse.

Palmer published a memoir, Change Lobsters and Dance, in 1975.[7] Reminiscences by Vivian Matalon and Noël Coward (Matalon directed Palmer in the premiere production of Coward's play Suite in Three Keys in 1966; see A Song at Twilight) suggest that Palmer was not always the patient and reasonable person she represented herself as being in this autobiography. She wrote a full-length work of fiction presented as a novel rather than a memoir, The Red Raven in 1978.

Personal life

Palmer's first marriage was to Rex Harrison in 1943. They divorced in 1957.

Palmer was married to Argentine actor Carlos Thompson from 1957 until her death in Los Angeles from abdominal cancer[10] in 1986 at the age of 71. She was survived by her husband, son, sisters, and her ex-husband.

Palmer is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California. The ashes of her first husband, Rex Harrison, were scattered on her grave.




Year Title Role Notes
1933Rivaux de la piste
1935Crime UnlimitedNatacha
1936Wolf's ClothingLydia
1936The First OffenceJeannette
1936Secret AgentLilli
1937Good Morning, BoysYvette
1937The Great BarrierLou
1937Command PerformanceSusan
1938CrackerjackBaroness Von Haltz
1939A Girl Must LiveClytie Devine
1939Blind FollyValerie
1940Sunset in ViennaGelda Sponek
1940The Door with Seven LocksJune LansdowneAlso known as: Chamber of Horrors
1942Thunder RockMelanie Kurtz
1943The Gentle SexErna Debruski
1944English Without TearsBrigid KnudsenAlso known as: Her Man Gilbey
1945The Rake's ProgressRikki KrausnerAlso known as: Notorious Gentleman
1946Beware of PityBaroness Edith de Kekesfalva
1946Cloak and DaggerGina
1947Body and SoulPeg Born
1948My Girl TisaTisa Kepes
1948No Minor VicesApril Ashwell
1949Wicked CityTania
1951The Long Dark HallMary Groome
1952The Four PosterAbby Edwards
1953Main Street to BroadwayLilli Palmer
1956Devil in SilkMelanie
1956The Taming of the Shrew KatherinaTV movie
1956The Story of AnastasiaAnna Anderson
1956Between Time and EternityNina Bohlen
1957The Night of the StormMarianne Eichler
1957The Glass TowerKatja Fleming
1958A Woman Who Knows What She WantsJulia Klöhn, Lehrerin & Angela Cavallini, ihre Großmutter
1958The Lovers of MontparnasseBeatrice HastingsAlso known as: Modigliani of Montparnasse
1958Girls in UniformElisabeth von BernburgAlso known as: Mädchen in Uniform
1958Life TogetherOdette de StarenbergAlso known as: La Vie à deux
1959But Not for MeKathryn Ward
1960Mrs. Warren's ProfessionMrs. Kitty Warren
1960Conspiracy of HeartsMother Katharine
1961The Pleasure of His CompanyKatharine Dougherty
1961The Last of Mrs. CheyneyFrau Cheney
1962Finden Sie, daß Constanze sich richtig verhält?Constanze Calonder
1962LeviathanMotherAlso known as: Dark Journey
1962The Counterfeit TraitorFrau Marianne Möllendorf
1962Le rendez-vous de minuitEva / Anne Leuven
1962Adorable JuliaJulia Lambert
1962L'amore difficileHildeAlso known as: Sex Can Be Difficult, (segment "Il serpente")
1963Miracle of the White StallionsVedena Podhajsky
1963Torpedo BayLygia da Silva
1963Das große LiebesspielSchauspielerin
1964Le Grain de sableAnna-Maria di Scorza
1965Operation CrossbowFrieda
1965The Amorous Adventures of Moll FlandersDutchy
1965God's ThunderMarie BrassacAlso known as: Le Tonnerre de Dieu
1966Zwei Girls vom Roten SternOlga NikolaijewnaAlso known as: An Affair of States
1966Der Kongreß amüsiert sichPrincess MetternichAlso known as: Congress of Love
1966Le Voyage du pèreIsabelle QuantinAlso known as: Father's Trip
1967The Dance of DeathAlice
1967Jack of DiamondsHerself
1967The Diary of Anne FrankEdith FrankTV movie
1968SebastianElsa Shahn
1968Oedipus the KingJocasta
1968Nobody Runs ForeverSheila Quentin
1969Hard ContractAdrianne
1969De SadeMademoiselle de Montreuil
1969The House That ScreamedSeñora FourneauAlso known as: La residencia
1970Only the CoolHelen
1970Hauser's MemoryAnna HauserTV movie
1971Murders in the Rue MorgueMrs. Charron
1972What the Peeper SawDr. Viorne
1975Lotte in WeimarLotte
1978The Boys from BrazilEsther Lieberman
1980WeekendSchauspielerin Judith BlissTV movie
1980KinderMotherTV movie
1982High Society LimitedHilde
1982Imaginary FriendsEllen PitbladoTV movie
1985The Holcroft CovenantAlthene Holcroft
2018The Other Side of the WindZarah Valeska(final film role)


Year Title Role Notes
1938StarlightEpisode: "Richard Hearne"
1938S-s-s-h! The Wife!The WifeShort
1949SuspenseJuliaEpisode: "The Comic Strip Murder"
1950The Philco-Goodyear Television PlayhouseMolly CollicuttEpisode: "The Uncertain Molly Collicutt"
1952Lux Video TheatreNancyEpisode: "Three Hours Between Planes"
1952OmnibusAnne BoleynEpisode: "The Trial of Anne Boleyn"
1953The United States Steel HourMrs. Chrystal WeatherbyEpisode: "The Man in Possession"
1954Four Star PlayhouseStacy LawrenceEpisode: "Lady of the Orchids"
1972–1979Eine Frau bleibt eine FrauVarious5 episodes
1974The Zoo GangManouche 'The Leopard' Roget6 episodes
1974DerrickMartha Balke / Johanna JensenEpisode: "Johanna"
1984The Love BoatLilly Marlowe2 episodes
1986Peter the GreatNatalyaMiniseries

Radio appearances

1946Suspense"Philomel Cottage"[16]
1952Theatre Guild on the AirAn Ideal Husband[17]
1953Star PlayhouseNo Time for Comedy[18]
1953Star PlayhouseTwentieth Century[19]


  1. Luft, Herbert C. (5 August 1960). "On the Screen". Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle. p. 3. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 18 May 2015 via
  2. "Lili Palmer, actress: Still understated at 70". Toledo Blade. 26 May 1984. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
  3. Bergfelder & Cargnelli 2008, p. 176.
  4. "Body and Soul (1947)". Turner Classic Movies Database. Archived from the original on 29 March 2017. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
  5. Kleiman, Dena (29 January 1986). "Lilli Palmer, actress on TV, stage and screen for 50 years". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 29 March 2017. Retrieved 22 December 2016.
  6. "Venice Film Festival: History 1932–2018 – Coppa Volpi for best actors since 1935"
  7. Folkart, Burt (29 January 1986). "Lilli Palmer, Actress and Best-Selling Author, Dies". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 29 March 2017. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  8. "Maedchen in Uniform". Turner Classic Movies Database. Archived from the original on 29 March 2017. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  9. "The Pleasure of His Company". Turner Classic Movies Database. Archived from the original on 29 March 2017. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  10. "Lilli Palmer". Jewish Women's Archive. Archived from the original on 20 June 2016. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  11. Moliterno, p. 352.
  12. "Deutscher Filmpreis-Lilli Palmer". Deutscher Film Preis (in German). Archived from the original on 25 December 2016. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  13. "Lilli Palmer". Golden Globes. Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Archived from the original on 29 March 2017. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  14. {{cite book|title=Unser Fernsehen, 1952–1979: Geschichte und Geschichten des Mediums, der Menschen, der Sender und Sendungen|author=Kniewel, Peter|publisher=Springer|year=1979|url=–67%7Cvia=Google Books|
  15. Folkart, Burt. "Lilli Palmer". Los Angeles Times. Hollywood Star Walk. Archived from the original on 29 March 2017. Retrieved 22 December 2016.
  16. "Philomel Cottage". 16 April 2012. Retrieved 5 September 2019.
  17. Kirby, Walter (30 March 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". Decatur Daily Review. p. 46. Retrieved 18 May 2015 via
  18. Kirby, Walter (18 October 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". Decatur Daily Review. p. 48. Retrieved 6 July 2015 via
  19. Kirby, Walter (22 November 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". Decatur Daily Review. p. 46 via


Further reading

  • McClintock, Walter (1951). Current biography yearbook: 1951. New York: H. W. Wilson.
  • Palmer, Lilli. Change Lobsters and Dance: An Autobiography. New York: Macmillan, 1975. ISBN 978-0-02-594610-1
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