24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

« Previous | 24 Frames Home | Next »

'Last Tango in Paris' actress Maria Schneider had a turbulent life

February 3, 2011 |  2:11 pm


The word that Maria Schneider died Thursday in Paris at the age of 58 resonates with baby boomers. For them she was a pivotal sexual icon of their youth. In 1973, Schneider was the next big thing. The wildest of wild childs who embraced the sexual revolution with open arms. She was the female lead opposite Marlon Brando in Bernardo Bertolucci's X-rated "Last Tango in Paris."  Schneider was so overtly sexual she made Brigitte Bardot look like a nun.

The film made the cover of major magazines for its nudity and frank and often violent sexual scenes between Brando, who earned an Oscar nomination, and the then 20-year-old Schneider. No one looked at a stick of butter quite the same way after one classic scene.

Brando played a recent American widower whose wife had committed suicide; Schneider was the carefree Parisian engaged to marry a pompous young filmmaker (Jean-Pierre Leaud). Brando's Paul and Schneider's Jeanne meet at an apartment for rent, have a quick sexual encounter and decide to meet there again for anonymous encounters -- they know nothing about each other, including each other's  name.

The camera loved Schneider, as did most of the male audience members who went to the hit film, but she wasn't the first choice for the role -- Dominique Sanda was supposed to play the part but had to drop out when she got pregnant.

Schneider next showed up opposite Jack Nicholson in "The Passenger," directed by Michelangelo Antonioni in 1975. But her career languished shortly afterward.

Schneider, who was the illegitimate daughter of French actor Daniel Gelin ("The Man Who Knew Too Much"), had a turbulent life, as did her father, who had battled alcohol and drugs.

A bisexual who came out in 1974, she left the film set of "Caligula" in Rome in 1976 with a woman she said was her lover and checked herself into a mental hospital. She made headlines because of her drug and alcohol problems and suicide attempts during that decade, but apparently turned her life around in the 1980s.

She continued to work but rarely did her films show up in the U.S. One of the few exceptions was the 1996 version of "Jane Eyre." But looking far older than her years, it was hard to believe it was the same actress who had played Jeanne two decades before.

RELATED: Maria Schneider, actress in 'Last Tango in Paris,' dies at 58

-- Susan King

 Photo: Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in "Last Tango in Paris." Credit: Associated Press

ia Schneider, actress in 'Last Tango in Paris,' dies at 58

Comments () | Archives (8)

The comments to this entry are closed.

What did she die of???

Adieu à vous notre cher Maria -

repose en paix et merci pour tout.

She died from being Beaten with the Ugly Stick

RIP Maria, Bertolucci had a gem of a script, if he just worked the emotional side of the plot and left a little more for the film viewer, to work on the raw emotion, and the character development between Brando and Schneider the could have been A classic for Maria too. There was much more going on with Maria, and Brando relationship that could have been told.

RIP Maria and Marlon. The genius of Last Tango will remain with us always. www.marlonbrando.com

I think it's time we looked at the sexual inequality in movies, and how it can affect people. And our culture.

I remember that in the 70's onward, the movies were supposedly getting "sexier". A "sexy movie" meant that the actress was naked. Not the actor.

The camera would be on the actress. Both genders in the audience would watch a supposedly liberated sex scene, regarded as cutting edge. What is so advanced about sex with the woman as object, and exposed; and the man either totally dressed, or with no camera on him at all. It's sex with women only. (And they claim that teenage boys are the big movie audiences! Wonder why!)

This also set a trend that continues to this day--when a couple is cast in a film, it is more often than not an unattractive man with a beautiful woman. (Or girl.)

I find Maria Schneider's story very tragic. Not as much as was covered here, but in some of the other obits (from non-movie industry cities) her story is more explicit about how much she suffered from what happened in "Last Tango" as a 19 year old--throughout her life. How damaging it was for her.

Out of respect, let's stop with the butter jokes. It's pretty horrible.

S'allright; I've switched to mayo.

A curious historical sidebar: in the 1970s there were still women who sported what were called "natural" breasts.


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...




Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: