Monday, February 3, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman & Maximilian Schell: In Memoriam

By Ed Garea

Two defining actors of their generation, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Maximilian Schell, died within 24 hours of each other, one through natural causes and the other through a drug overdose. Both added greatly to the film environment of their times.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, 46, was found dead in an apartment in the West Village of New York on Sunday morning of an apparent drug overdose.

A friend, who was concerned at not being able to reach him, discovered his body around 11:30 a.m., according to law enforcement officials.

At the scene, police found a syringe in his left forearm, with at least two plastic envelopes with what appeared to be heroin nearby. Five empty plastic envelopes were also found in a nearby trash bin.

Hoffman won the Academy Award in 2006 for Best Actor for his role in the film Capote, in which he portrayed the author Truman Capote during Capote's research for his book In Cold Blood.

Hoffman was nominated for the Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actor category three times: for The Master (2012), Doubt (2008), Charlie Wilson’s War (2007).  He also was featured in a role in the popular The Hunger Games.

According to Variety, Hoffman had completed a detox program for substance abuse, including snorting heroin, last May. His struggle with alcohol and drugs began as a young man, and in a 2006 interview with the CBS program 60 Minutes, Heffman declared that he had been sober since the age of 22.

Hoffman was a prolific actor, having worked in films for the last two decades; films that often called for him to undertake a physical transformation. Besides appearing in films, he was also active on Broadway, earning two Tony nominations: one in 2000 for Best Actor (Play) for a revival of Sam Shephard’s “True West,” and as Best Actor (Featured Role – Play) in 2003 for a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”   

He was also the Co-Artistic Director of the LAByrinth Theater Company in New York, for which he directed Stephen Adly Guirgis’ "Our Lady of 121st Street" and “Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train.” In addition, he directed Rebecca Gilman’s "The Glory of Living" at the Manhattan Class Company.

Hoffman was born in the Rochester, New York, suburb of Fairport on July 23, 1967. His interest and involvement in high school theatrics led him to New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where he graduated with a B.F.A. degree in Drama in 1989.

His feature film debut came in 1991 in an indie production called Triple Bogey on a Par Five Hole (as Phil Hoffman), with his first role in a major release coming the next year in My New Gun. His breakthrough role came in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 production of Boogie Nights. Besides his Oscar wins and nominations, his other notable films included Twister (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Magnolia (2000), Almost Famous (2000), State and Main (2000), Red Dragon (2002), and Cold Mountain (2003).

Hoffman leaves behind three young children, a son and two daughters, with his partner, Mimi O’Donnell, a costume designer.

Maximilian Schell, probably the most successful German-speaking actor in English-language films since the silent days of Emil Jannings, died on early Saturday at the age of 83 in a hospital in Innsbruck, Austria, of natural causes (pneumonia). Schell's wife, Iva, who he married in August, was at his bedside when he passed.

Like Hoffman, Schell was a multi-faceted talent. Not only was he a celebrated actor with more than 100 film and TV credits, but he also achieved fame as a director of films, documentaries, plays and opera.

Schell was born in Vienna, Austria, on December 8, 1930, but his parents could read the handwriting on the wall concerning Austria’s future and fled to Zurich, Switzerland, where young Maxililian was raised. He attended the University of Basel, and began acting on the stage in 1952 and made his film debut in 1955 in the West German production of Kinder, Mutter und ein General (“Children, Mother and a General”).

His Hollywood debut came in 1958 in the World War II film,The Young Lions. The irony of his hiring is that the producers wanted his sister, Maria Schell, instead, but because of an unfortunate mix-up in communications, hired him instead. The producers were impressed with his work as Capt. Hardenberg, the friend of German soldier Marlon Brando. It was Brando who tutored Schell in English on the set, and so Schell gained fluency in both English and Brando’s native tongue, Mumble. 

He next gained notice in the role of the German defense attorney in the 1959 “Playhouse 90” production of Judgment at Nuremberg. This led to his being cast in the same role for Stanley Kramer’s Hollywood remake, for which he won a Golden Globe, the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor, and most importantly, the 1961 Academy Award for Best Actor, beating out fellow nominee Spencer Tracy. In addition he earned a 1962 BAFTA nomination as Best Actor for his work in the film.

He would gain two more Oscar nominations for acting: in 1976 as Best Actor for the Man in the Glass Booth (1975, with an accompanying Golden Globe nomination), and in 1978 as Best Supporting Actor for Julia (1977), for which he was also nominated for a Golden Globe and by the New York Film Critics Circle for Best Supporting Actor. He was twice been nominated for an Emmy for his TV work: in 1992 for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Special for Miss Rose White, and the following year as Best Supporting Actor for his turn as Lenin in the HBO film, Stalin, and won the 1993 Golden Globe for best performance by an actor in a supporting role in a series, mini-series or made-for-TV movie for the film.  

Other notable films, in addition to those named above, were Topkapi (1964), The Castle (1968), The Odessa File (1974), director Sam Peckinpah’s war drama,Cross of Iron (1977), The Black Hole (1979), The Freshman (1979), where he was reunited with old friend Marlon Brando, and Deep Impact (1998).

As a director, his 1974 film, The Pedestrian, which he also wrote and starred in, was nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film, and won a Golden Globe in the same category. His 1984 documentary about Marlene Dietrich, Marlene, was nominated in the Best Documentary category. Another notable documentary was My Sister Maria (2002), a mixture of documentary and staged footage about the career of his sister, Maria Schell, and his relationship with her.

And if all this weren’t enough, Schell was an accomplished pianist and conductor. His love for opera led him to produce and direct several, including Richard Wagner’s “Lohengrin,” and Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavilier” for the L.A. Opera. He also spent time as a guest professor at the University of Southern California and received an honorary doctorate from Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in Chicago.

In addition to his wife, Iva, Schell's survivors include a daughter, Nastassja, from a previous marriage to actress Natalia Andreichenko that ended in divorce, and a grandchild.

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