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Elke Sommer
Elke Sommer 1965.JPG
Sommer in 1965
Elke Schletz

(1940-11-05) 5 November 1940 (age 83)
Occupation Actress, singer
Years active 1959–present
Joe Hyams
(m. 1964; div. 1993)
Wolf Walther
(m. 1993)
Parent(s) Baron Peter von Schletz
Renata Topp

Elke Sommer (German: [ˈɛl.kə ˈzɔ.mɐ]; née 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).

Early life

Sommer was born in Berlin to Baron Peter von Schletz, a Lutheran minister, and his wife Renata, née 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 moved to Hollywood in the early 1960s. Sommer became one of the more popular pin-up girls of the time.

The 1960s

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.

Silvia Pinal & Elke Sommer (cropped)
Sommer (right) with Mexican actress Silvia Pinal in the Italian film Men and Noblemen (1959)

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.

The 1970s

Sommer's films during the 1970s included the thriller Zeppelin, in which she co-starred with Michael York, and a 1974 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.

Later work

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.

Personal life

Elke Sommer (cropped)
Sommer in 2018

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.

Selected filmography

  • The Friend of the Jaguar (1959) – Grete
  • Men and Noblemen (1959) – Caterina
  • Ragazzi del Juke-Box (1959) – Giulia Cesari
  • The Death Ship (1959) – Mylene, ein Französisches Mädchen
  • The Day the Rains Came (1959) – Ellen
  • La Pica sul Pacifico (1959) – Rossana
  • Stage Fright (1960) – Evelyne
  • Howlers in the Dock (1960) – Giulia Giommarelli
  • Heaven, Love and Twine (1960) – Eva
  • The Warrior Empress (1960)
  • Femmine di lusso (1960) – Greta
  • Und sowas nennt sich Leben [de] (1961) – Britta
  • Daniella by Night (1961) – Daniella
  • Don't Bother to Knock (1961) – Ingrid
  • Beloved Impostor (1961) – Barbara Shadwell
  • Auf Wiedersehen (1961) – Suzy Dalton
  • Café Oriental (1962) – Sylvia
  • Das Mädchen und der Staatsanwalt (1962) – Renate Hecker
  • Un chien dans un jeu de quilles (1962) – Ariane
  • Bahía de Palma (1962) – Olga
  • The Phone Rings Every Night (1962) – Tochter Mabel Meyer
  • Les Bricoleurs (1963) – Brigitte
  • Ostrva (1963) – Eva
  • The Victors (1963) – Helga Metzger
  • ...denn die Musik und die Liebe in Tirol (1963)
  • The Prize (1963) – Inger Lisa Andersson
  • A Shot in the Dark (1964) – Maria Gambrelli
  • Among Vultures (1964) – Annie Dillman
  • Le bambole (1965, UK title: Four Kinds of Love) – Ulla (segment "Il Trattato di Eugenetica")
  • The Art of Love (1965) – Nikki Dunnay
  • The Money Trap (1965) – Lisa Baron
  • Hotel der toten Gäste (1965) – Herself
  • The Oscar (1966) – Kay Bergdahl
  • Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (1966) – Didi
  • The Venetian Affair (1966) – Sandra Fane
  • The Peking Medallion (1967, a.k.a. The Corrupt Ones) – Lilly Mancini
  • Deadlier Than the Male (1967) – Irma Eckman
  • The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz (1968) – Paula Schultz
  • They Came to Rob Las Vegas (1968) – Ann Bennett
  • The Wrecking Crew (1969) – Linka Karensky
  • The Invincible Six (1970) – Zari
  • Percy (1971) – Helga
  • Zeppelin (1971) – Erika Altschul
  • Probe (1972, TV movie) – Heideline 'Uli' Ullman
  • Baron Blood (1972) – Eva Arnold
  • Trip to Vienna (1973) – Toni Simon
  • The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (1973) Herself - Guest
  • Lisa and the Devil (1973) – Lisa Reiner / Elena
  • One or the Other of Us (1974) – Miezi
  • Percy's Progress (1974) – Clarissa
  • Ten Little Indians (1974, also known as And Then There Were None) – Vera Clyde
  • Carry On Behind (1975) – Professor Anna Vooshka
  • The Net (1975) – Christa Sonntag
  • The Swiss Conspiracy (1976) – Rita Jensen
  • Meet Him and Die (1976) – Perrone's Secretary
  • One Away (1976) – Elsa
  • I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses (1978, also known as Drop Dead Dearest) – Magdalene Kruschen
  • The Prisoner of Zenda (1979) – The Countess
  • Stunt Seven (1979, TV movie) – Rebecca Wayne
  • The Double McGuffin (1979) – Madame Kura
  • The Treasure Seekers (1979) – Ursula
  • A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (1979) – Miss Pelham
  • Top of the Hill (1980, TV movie) – Eva Heggener
  • Exit Sunset Boulevard (1980) – Frau Lachmann
  • The Man in Pyjamas (1981) – Frau Lachmann
  • Inside the Third Reich (1982, TV movie) – Magda Goebbels
  • Lily in Love (1984) – Alicia Braun
  • No One Cries Forever [de] (1984) – Lou Parker
  • Jenny's War (1985, TV series) – Eva Gruenberg
  • The Exciting World Of Speed And Beauty (syndicated; 1980s) - Herself
  • Peter the Great (1986, TV mini-series) – Charlotte
  • St. Elsewhere (1986, TV series) – Natasha
  • Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986, TV movie) – Isabel Von Hohenstauffen
  • Death Stone (1987) – Kris Patterson
  • Adventures Beyond Belief (1988, TV series) – Headmistress Bruno von Kleff
  • Himmelsheim (1988) – Helga Münzel
  • Severed Ties (1992) – Helena Harrison
  • Counterstrike (1992, TV series) – Anita Duvalier
  • Happy Holiday (1993, TV series) – Isabella Scattini
  • Destiny Ridge (1993, TV series) – Anna
  • Florian III (1994, TV series) – Sonja Carpenter
  • Life Is a Bluff (1996) – Jutta
  • Double Game with Anne – Gotta have it (1998)
  • Gisbert (1999, TV series)
  • Doppeltes Spiel mit Anne (1999) – Frau Lorenz
  • Flashback [de] (2000) – Frau Lust
  • Nicht mit uns (2000, TV movie) – Andrea Paretti
  • Reblaus (2005, TV movie) – Maria Rüppel
  • Ewig rauschen die Gelder (2005, TV movie) – Frau von Korff
  • Life Is Too Long [de] (2010) – Alfi Seliger's mother
  • A Thousand Kisses (2017, animated short) – Nette (voice)

See also

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