Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Neal
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: RidiculouslyExtraordinary. Posted by Ryan Neal
Last Tango in Paris
Currently Known For:
1969 - 2008
March 27, 1952
Last Tango in Paris
“When I read Last Tango in Paris, I didn’t see anything that worried me. I was 20. I didn’t want to be a star much less a scandalous actress—simply to be in cinema. Later, I realized I’d been completely manipulated…” Maria-Hélène Schneider came into this world on March 27, 1952, in Paris, France as the daughter of a French actor and model. Her father, Daniel Gélin, never acknowledged Schneider as his daughter, so the youngster was raised by her mother in a town near the French-German border. “I wanted to paint, and I studied Latin and Greek,” Schneider later said of her childhood. “I was a good student. I wanted to make excavations and illustrations for children’s books because it is an artistic craft. My mother was a librarian.”Advertisements:
Schneider’s interest in film blossomed as a teen and she often went to the theatre four times a week. Her life at home became more troublesome as she recalled, “Then there was May 1968 and while my brother became bourgeois, a physician, and demonstrated with red flags, I cried because I could not study. I had quite a violent conflict with my mother, so I left home at fifteen and a half. I earned my living by selling drawings and illustrations for restaurant menus. I have also been a young model for jeans.”
Shortly after she left home, Schneider made her stage acting debut and earned a modest living between acting and modeling. She met and befriended Brigitte Bardot who was horrified to learn Schneider was homeless and invited her to move into her house. Bardot introduced her to many key players in the film industry including a young Warren Beatty who helped Schneider get her foot in the door at the William Morris Agency.
Schneider caught her first break in 1970 when she joined Alain Delon in Madly (1970). She spent the next few years honing her talents in films like Hellé (1972), The Old Maid (1972), Dear Parents (1973), and Dance of Love (1973). Then, at the age of 19, she gained international fame when she landed a starring role in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972). The film’s sexually explicit nature turned heads as Schneider bared it all opposite Marlon Brando. “I almost refused to do Last Tango in Paris,” Schneider said. “I had an offer to star in another film with Alain Delon, but my agency, William Morris, said, ‘It’s a leading role with Marlon Brando—you can’t refuse.’ I was so young and relatively inexperienced, and I didn’t understand all of the film’s sexual content. I had a bit of a bad feeling about it all.”
That bad feeling proved to be true as Schneider learned more about Bertolucci. “He was fat and sweaty and very manipulative, both of Marlon and myself, and would do certain things to get a reaction from me,” she said. Bertolucci kept Schneider in the dark about one of the most graphic scenes of the film. He only told her about the scene moments before filming. “I should have called my agent or had my lawyer come to the set because you can’t force someone to do something that isn’t in the script, but at the time, I didn’t know that. Marlon said to me: ‘Maria, don’t worry, it’s just a movie,’ but during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn’t real, I was crying real tears. I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little r**ed, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn’t console me or apologize. Thankfully, there was just one take.”
Later Work and Legacy
Following her work in Last Tango in Paris (1972), Schneider was determined to improve conditions for women in the film industry but struggled with her overnight fame as she turned to drugs. Despite this, she pushed forward and joined Jack Nicholson in The Passenger (1975) and added in credits in Wanted: Babysitter (1975) and Violanta (1976). She abandoned the set of Caligula (1976) because of its p***ographic content and retreated to her native France where her life spiraled out of control.
“I was rock n’ roll. About drugs, we did not know at the time, it was so dangerous,” she said. “There was an idea to change society and especially a thirst for novelty… I have lost seven years of my life and I regret it bitterly. I started using drugs when I became famous. I did not like the celebrity and especially the image full of innuendo, naughty, that people had of me after Last Tango. In addition, I had no family behind me, who protect you… I suffered abuse. People who come up to tell you unpleasant things on planes. I was tracked down and I felt hounded.”
Schneider’s life improved in the 1980s as she returned in A Woman Like Eve (1979), Memoirs of a French Wh*re (1979), Merry-Go-Round (1981), and Peacetime in Paris (1981). She focused more on her advocacy and was determined to make a difference for women in the industry. “I’m still struggling for the image of women in film and I’m still working, not as much as I would like to because, for a woman in her late forties, it’s hard to find work,” she said. “Not only in France. I had a chat with Anjelica Huston last year. We spoke about the same problem, you know. I don’t know where it comes from. The writers, the producers, or the directors. But I think it’s a pity even for the public. We get a response to see a mature woman in film. We see many, many macho men in film. An actress like Meryl Streep doesn’t work as much as Robert De Niro.”
Despite her best efforts, Schneider struggled. She appeared in Bunker Palace Hotel (1989), The Conviction (!991), Savage Nights (1992), and Jane Eyre (1996). Her final film role came in A French Gigolo (2008). “It’s not so easy for actresses over 50,” she said, “and the irony is that when a woman gets old enough to have something interesting to say, people don’t want to hear her speak.”
By the new millennium, Schneider retreated to France where, on February 3, 2011, she lost her battle with breast cancer at the age of 58. Today, her legacy lives on in her early work and the memoir, Tu T’appelais Maria Schneider (2018).