Elke von Schletz
5 November 1940
(m. 1964; div. 1993)
|Parent(s)||Baron Peter von Schletz|
Elke Sommer (German: [ˈɛl.kə ˈzɔ.mɐ] (listen); born Elke Baronin von Schletz, 5 November 1940) is a German actress. She appeared in numerous films in her heyday throughout the 1960s and 1970s, including roles in The Pink Panther sequel A Shot in the Dark (1964), the Bob Hope comedy Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (1966), Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (1974), and the British Carry On series in Carry On Behind (1975).
Sommer was born in Berlin to Baron Peter von Schletz, a Lutheran minister, and his wife Renata, nee Topp. During the Second World War (in 1942), the family was evacuated to Niederndorf, a village near Erlangen, a small university town in Franconia, where she attended a university-preparatory high school. Her father died when she was 14 years old. She passed her college entrance exam. After this, she moved to the UK to work as an au pair (to now actress Vicki Michelle from among other radio, films and TV including BBC sitcom Allo Allo) in order to earn a living and to perfect her English. There, she also received some training as an interpreter.
Sommer was spotted by film director Vittorio De Sica while on holiday in Italy, and she began appearing in films there in 1958. Also that year, she changed her surname from Schletz to Sommer. She soon became a sex symbol and moved to Hollywood in the early 1960s. Sommer became one of the more popular pin-up girls of the time, posing for pictorials in the September 1964 and December 1967 issues of Playboy magazine.
Sommer became one of the top film actresses of the 1960s. She made 99 film and television appearances from 1959 to 2005, including A Shot in the Dark (1964) with Peter Sellers, The Art of Love (1965) with James Garner and Dick Van Dyke, The Oscar (1966) with Stephen Boyd, Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (1966) with Bob Hope, the Bulldog Drummond extravaganza Deadlier Than the Male (1966), The Wrecking Crew (1968) with Dean Martin, and The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz (1968); in each of these films she was the leading lady.
In 1964, she won a Golden Globe award as Most Promising Newcomer Actress for The Prize, a film in which she co-starred with Paul Newman and Edward G. Robinson.
A frequent guest on television, Sommer sang and participated in comedy sketches on episodes of The Dean Martin Show and on Bob Hope specials, made 10 appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and was a panelist on the Hollywood Squares game show many times between 1973 and 1980, when Peter Marshall was its host.
Sommer's films during the 1970s included the thriller Zeppelin, in which she co-starred with Michael York, and a remake of Agatha Christie's murder mystery Ten Little Indians. In 1972, she starred in two Italian horror films directed by Mario Bava: Baron Blood and Lisa and the Devil. The latter was re-edited (with 1975 footage inserted) to make a different film titled House of Exorcism. Sommer went back to Italy to act in additional scenes for Lisa and the Devil, which its producer inserted into the film to convert it to House of Exorcism against the wishes of the director.
In 1975, Peter Rogers cast her in the British comedy Carry On Behind as the Russian Professor Vrooshka. She became the Carry On films' joint highest-paid performer, at £30,000; this was an honour that she shared with Phil Silvers (who starred in Follow That Camel).
Most of her movie work during the decade came in European films. After the 1979 comedy The Prisoner of Zenda, which reunited her with Sellers, the actress did virtually no more acting in Hollywood films, concentrating more on her artwork.
Sommer also performed as a singer, recording and releasing several albums.
In the 1980s, Sommer hosted a syndicated programme titled The Exciting World of Speed and Beauty.
After the 1990s, Sommer concentrated more on painting than on acting. As an actress, she had worked in half a dozen countries learning the languages (she speaks seven languages) and storing images which she has expressed on canvas. Her artwork shows a strong influence from Marc Chagall.
Sommer was embroiled in a long-running feud with Zsa Zsa Gabor that began in 1984 when both appeared on Circus of the Stars. This had escalated into a multimillion-dollar libel suit by 1993, resulting in Sommer being awarded $3.3 million in damages from Gabor and her husband, Frederick von Anhalt, for defaming her in interviews published in a pair of German publications in 1990.
In 2001, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars was dedicated to her.
Sommer also provided the voice of Yzma in the German version of The Emperor's New Groove.
In 1964, Sommer married Hollywood columnist Joe Hyams (1923–2008), who was 17 years her senior, in Las Vegas.
They later divorced, and she met Wolf Walther, eight years her junior and the managing director of a luxury hotel, Essex House in New York City. They were married on 29 August 1993 in Franconia. In a 2014 interview, Sommer described how she and Walther met:
I was in New York City starring in Tamara and had to stay there for four months. So, I had to find an apartment but they were excruciatingly expensive, tiny and loud. As I knew the managing director of the Essex House, I wanted to talk to him about renting a room but the hotel had a new managing director, a man by the name of Wolf Walther. So we met. For him, it was love at first sight. For me, it took a little longer, but not much longer. As you may know, Tamara is a play in which the audience follows the actor of their choice, and as you may also know, my husband is 6'5" and hard to miss. I saw him every night in the audience, following me. Every night. And that was the beginning of the greatest love story of my life, still unfolding and getting better by the day.
As of May 2017, Sommer was living in Los Angeles, California.