German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/373. Photo: Bernard of Hollywood.
Austrian actress Maria Perschy (1938-2004) was the sexy leading lady of many European films of the late 1950s before she made a short career in Hollywood in films by John Huston and Howard Hawks. In the 1970s she appeared in Spanish and Italian low-budget horror films and she became a cult figure.
Herta-Maria Perschy was born in 1938 in Eisenstadt, Burgenland, Austria. She moved to Vienna at the age of 17 to study acting at the Max Reinhardt Seminar. After completing her education, she made her film debut with a small role in Roter Mohn/Red Poppy (1956, Franz Antel). She was offered a contract at the Bavaria Filmstudios in Germany. Her first major success came with Nasser Asphalt/Wet Asphalt (1958, Frank Wisbar). In this film noir about the dangers of tabloid reporting she starred opposite the young Horst Buchholz. Soon this success was followed by films like Der Schwarze Blitz/The Black Lightning (1958, Hans Grimm) with former ski champion Toni Sailer, Die Landärztin vom Tegernsee/Lady Country Doctor (1958, Paul May), with Marianne Koch, Natürlich die Autofahrer/Of Course the Drivers (1959, Erich Engels) with comedian Heinz Erhardt, and Der Held meiner Träume/The Hero of My Dreams (1960, Arthur Maria Rabenalt) with Carlos Thompson. Another commercial success was the clichéd drama Lebensborn/Fountain of Life (1960, Werner Klingler), loosely based on the super-race propagation plan by Nazi Heinrich Himmler, which recruited men and women for their fair skin, blond hair, and blue eyes alone. These specially selected Aryans were ordered to breed, for the Fatherland.
Her acting career would eventually take Maria Perschy to France, Italy, Great Britain and Hollywood. Among her European films were Il Moralista/The Moralist (1959, Giorgio Bianchi), I Piaceri del sabato notte/Call-Girls (1960, Daniele D’Anza) with Pierre Brice, Un Amore a Roma/Love In Rome (1960, Dino Risi) with Mylène Demongeot, and The Password Is Courage (1962, Andrew L. Stone) starring Dirk Bogarde. Her most notable American roles were Magda in Freud (1962, John Huston), a biopic of the pioneering psychotherapist played by Montgomery Clift, and the ‘sexpot’ Easy in the Rock Hudson comedy Man’s Favorite Sport? (1964, Howard Hawks). She also appeared with Cliff Robertson in the routine WWII film Squadron 633 (1964, Walter Grauman) and the South-African adventure African Gold (1965, David Millin). She lived in Spain and played in Hollywood ánd in European productions, both films and tv-series. In Germany she appeared in the Edgar Wallace Krimi Der Henker von London/The Mad Executioners (1963, Edwin Zbonek) with Hansjörg Felmy, as partner of Horst Frank in the Thriller Weiße Fracht für Hongkong/Mystery of the Red Jungle (1964, Helmut Ashley, Giorgio Stegani) and in the Sci-Fi adventure Der Chef wünscht keine Zeugen/No Survivors, Please (1964, Hans Albin, Peter Berneis). Later followed adventure films and westerns like Die Banditen vom Rio Grande/The Bandits of the Rio Grande (1965, Helmuth M. Backhaus), Kommissar X – Jagd auf Unbekannt/Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill (1966, Gianfranco Parolini), Mister Dynamit – morgen küsst Euch der Tod/ Die Slowly, You’ll Enjoy It More (1967, Franz Josef Gottlieb) with Lex Barker, and The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969, Jesus Franco), featuring Christopher Lee. Her last big film success in Germany was the comedy Dr. med. Fabian – Lachen ist die beste Medizin/Dr. Fabian: Laughing Is the Best Medicine (1969, Harald Reinl) in which she starred opposite Hans-Joachim Kulenkampff. In those years she had longtime relationships with actor Joachim Hansen – her co-star of Lebensborn – and later with skier Roger Staub.
While shooting in Spain in 1971, Perschy suffered a burn injury from an accident that required several operations before she could resume her career. In Italy and Spain she appeared in many low-grade horror films, including El Buque Maldito/ Ghost Ships of the Blind Dead (1974, Amando De Ossorio) and the Spanish rip-off of The Exorcist, Exorcismo (1974, Paul Naschy aka Jacinto Molina) which made her a kind of cult figure. Perschy returned in 1976 to her native Austria. From 1977 on she lived in Los Angeles and was married to a writer. By then her career in America petered out. She only appeared briefly in shows like Hawaii Five-O (1978) and General Hospital (1977). Her husband committed suicide in 1983 and she returned again to Austria in 1985. She continued to perform in stage plays and tv series like the popular Krimi Tatort (1998) and Rosamunde Pilcher (1998). Her last feature films were the low-budget shocker Vultures (1983, Paul Leder) and the romantic comedy Eine Frau namens Harry/Harry and Harriet (1990, Cyril Frankel). In 2004 Maria Perschy died of cancer in Vienna. She had one daughter.
Sources: Stephanie d’Heil (Steffi-line), Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide), Wikipedia and IMDb.
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