Blonde German-born actress Elke Sommer was the daughter of a Lutheran minister who died when she was 14. At 17, Sommer was working as a nursemaid in London, an "au pair" situation that enabled her to learn English. She attended college in Germany planning to be a diplomatic translator, but was sidetracked into a modeling career, which led to her German movie debut in Das Totenschiff (1959). While on tour in Italy, Sommer caught the eye of a producer who gave her an important role in Femmine di Lusso (1959) -- and, in the process, Sommer was able to master yet another language. Along with several other European actresses, Sommer received her first international break in The Victors (1963); the fact that she shot her scenes twice -- once in the nude -- was good for plenty of press coverage in the U.S. She followed this film by appearing opposite Paul Newman in The Prize (1963) and Peter Seller in A Shot in the Dark (1964). During this period, Sommer met her future husband, writer Joe Hyams, while he was interviewing her for a magazine article. Her subsequent film career had as many valleys as hills, but Sommer remained popular on the international show business scene -- especially TV talk shows, thanks to her fluency in seven languages. Elke Sommer's latest appearances included a guest shot in the American TV series St. Elsewhere and a supporting part in the 1992 film Severed Ties.
photo credit: Frederick M. Brown/Stringer / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images
by Hal Erickson biography