Born and raised in Vienna, Austria, Lilia Skala would become a star on two continents. In pre-World War II Austria she starred in famed Max Reinhardt's stage troupe, and in post-war America she would become a notable matronly, award-worthy character star on Broadway and in films. Forced to flee her Nazi-occupied homeland with her Jewish husband and two young sons in the late 1930s, Lilia and her family managed to escape (at different times) to England. In 1939, practically penniless, they immigrated to the US, where she sought menial labor in New York's garment district.
Lilia quickly learned English and worked her way back to an acting career, this time as a sweet, delightful, thick-accented Academy Award, Golden Globe and Emmy nominee. She broke through the Broadway barrier in 1941 with "Letters to Lucerne", followed by a featured role in the musical "Call Me Madam" with Ethel Merman. In the 1950s she did an extensive tour in "The Diary of Anne Frank" as Mrs. Frank, and performed in a German-language production of Kurt Weill's "The Threepenny Opera." Lilia became a familiar benevolent face on TV in several early soap operas, including "Claudia: The Story of a Marriage" (1952).
She won her widest claim to fame, however, as the elderly chapel-building Mother Superior opposite Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field (1963), for which she won both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. That led to more character actress work in films, most notably as the dog-carrying Jewish lady in the star-studded Ship of Fools (1965) and as Jennifer Beals' elderly German friend in Flashdance (1983). On TV she played Eva Gabor's Hungarian mother in "Green Acres" (1965) and earned an Emmy nomination for her work in the popular miniseries Eleanor and Franklin (1976) (TV)). Lilia died at the ripe old age of 98.
|Erik Skala||(1922 - ?) (his death) 2 children|
At the time of her Oscar nomination for "Lilies of the Field," Skala was working at the Lost and Found desk of New York's Transit Authority, and was only able to attend the ceremonies when United Artists agreed to pay her fare. Within a year, Skala was supporting herself as an actress.
Since 2001, actress and granddaughter Libby Skala has been performing in a one-woman show "Lilia!" based on the fascinating, eventful life of her actress/grandmother Lilia. Libby offers portrayals of both her grandmother and herself in these series of conversations.
She holds the distinction of being Austria's very first female architect.
A performance in a lesser-known George Bernard Shaw play put Lilia in danger of arrest for its mocking of the ruling elite, a vague satire of Hitler.
During the Nazi invasion of the late 1930s, Lilia's Jewish husband was arrested at one point and placed in a Viennese detention center. He was rescued by Lilia when she went to the prison and bribed the prison guards to let him go with a gold cigarette box. Her husband managed to escape over the border that same evening but was forced to leave behind Lilia and their two young sons. Lilia and her children eventually managed to escape themselves and later joined their husband and father in England. The entire family immigrated to the U.S. in 1939.
She was not shown in the "Memorial Tribute" at the 67th Annual Academy Awards ceremony in 1995, although she died in December 1994 and had been nominated for an Oscar in 1964 for her role in "Lilies on the Field".
She was Austria's first woman architect before giving it up to become an actress.
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