Between “Sissi” and “Sans-Souci”: memories of Romy Schneider

May 29 marks the 40th anniversary of the early death of German-French actress Romy Schneider (1938-1982). As “Sissi” she became famous as a teenager – she tried to emancipate herself from the role throughout her life. In France, she finally managed the transition from the “sweet Viennese girl” to the “femme fatale”.

But still: to this day, Ernst Marischka’s (1893-1963) “Sissi” trilogy, in which she can be seen as Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898), is an integral part of the Christmas television program in many families. “Sissi” (1955), “Sissi – The Young Empress” (1956) and “Sissi – Fateful Years of an Empress” (1957) have become cult films.

But from the beginning…
Romy Schneider was born on September 23, 1938 as Rosemarie Magdalena Albach-Retty in Vienna. Her parents were the Augsburg actress Magda Schneider (1909-1996) and the Austrian actor Wolf Albach-Retty (1906-1967). Her younger brother Wolf-Dieter Albach-Retty was born in 1940. Her parents’ marriage lasted from 1937 to 1945 – between the separation and divorce of the two, little Romy had just started school.

Romy Schneider, who was only 1.61 meters tall and petite, knew early on that she wanted to follow in her parents’ footsteps. In her diary on June 10, 1952, she wrote: “If I had my way, I would become an actress immediately.” Just one year later she stood in front of the camera for the first time alongside her mother Magda Schneider for the homeland film “When the white lilac blooms again”. From then on she used the stage name Romy Schneider.

The young artist celebrated her early career highlight only a little later with the aforementioned success of the “Sissi” films. Here, too, Magda and Romy, who was only 16 at the start of filming, could be seen as mother and daughter.

The new life in Paris

The young actress refused a fourth “Sissi” film. Instead, when she was 20, she moved to Paris with the then unknown French actor Alain Delon (86) in the fall of 1958. The two met while filming “Christine” (1958). They became engaged in the spring of 1959 but never married.

Instead, a painful split followed in 1963. Romy Schneider, who was shooting in Hollywood at the time, learned from the press that Alain Delon, who was now a world star, had another wife. When Schneider returned to Paris, he had long since moved out of their shared abode – and soon married.

Romy Schneider also entered into the bond of marriage. In 1965 she met the Hamburg director and actor Harry Meyen (1924-1979). The two became a couple, moved to Berlin and married in July 1966. At the end of the year their son David Christopher Meyen (1966-1981) was born.

In the 1970s, Romy Schneider mainly shot in France and managed to establish herself there as a character actress. Schneider and Meyen separated in 1973 and divorced in 1975. At that time, Schneider was already in a relationship with her French private secretary, Daniel Biasini (73). The two married at the end of 1975. In the summer of 1977 their daughter Sarah Magdalena Biasini (44), now also an actress, was born. Schneider and Biasini divorced in May 1981.

The great stroke of fate

In July 1981, Romy Schneider’s then 14-year-old son David had a fatal accident while climbing over a fence with metal spikes in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, northwest of Paris. The big stroke of fate in her life.

Despite the loss, Schneider appeared shortly thereafter in October 1981 for the shooting of the film “The Walker from Sans-Souci”. The actress should not live to see the German theatrical release of her last film. On the morning of May 29, 1982, her partner at the time, film producer Laurent Pétin (72), found her slumped lifeless at her desk. The official cause of death: heart failure. What really led to her death at the age of only 43 will probably remain a mystery forever.

Schneider was buried in the Boissy-sans-Avoir cemetery. Alain Delon organized the funeral and made sure that Schneider’s son was reburied in his mother’s grave. Schneider’s daughter Sarah Biasini was just four years old when her mother died – she has hardly any memories. In her author debut “The Beauty of Heaven” (2021), the now 44-year-old admits: “Whenever I think of her, it’s painful. It reminds me of the emptiness in me because she’s no longer there.”

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