Lilia Skala (née Sofer; 28 November 1896 – 18 December 1994) was an Austrian-American architect and actress.[1] She is perhaps best known for her role in the film Lilies of the Field (1963), for which she received critical acclaim and an Academy Award nomination. During her career, Skala was also nominated for two Golden Globe Awards and a Primetime Emmy Award.

Lilia Skala
Lilia Skala.jpg
Skala in 1969
Lilia Sofer

(1896-11-28)28 November 1896
Died18 December 1994(1994-12-18) (aged 98)
Bay Shore, New York, U.S.
Resting placeLakeview Cemetery
New Canaan, Connecticut, U.S.
EducationTU Dresden
Years active1931–1990
Louis Erich Skala
(m. 1922; died 1980)

Before Skala decided to be an actress, she practiced architecture as a profession. She was one of the first women architects in Austria and was the first female member of the Austrian Association of Engineers and Architects. She graduated from the University of Dresden Summa cum Laude;[2] the institution is now known as the Technical University of Dresden, located in Germany.

Her legendary life was the subject of the eponymous one-woman play Lilia!, written and performed by her granddaughter Libby Skala.[3]

Early life and educationEdit

Skala was born Lilia Sofer in Vienna. Her mother, Katharina Skala, was Roman Catholic, and her father, Julius Sofer, was Jewish and worked as a manufacturer's representative for the Waldes Koh-i-noor Company.[4][5] She was one of the first women to graduate in architecture and engineering from the University of Dresden, then practiced architecture professionally in Vienna.[6]

In the late 1930s, she was forced to flee her Nazi-occupied homeland with her husband, Louis Erich Skala, and their two young sons.[5][7] (Lilia and Erich adopted the non-Jewish sounding surname of Lilia's mother.) Skala and her husband managed to escape (at different times) from Austria and eventually settled in the United States.[7]


According to a short memoir by Skala's son Peter, Skala developed an interest in theatre when she was 14 or 15 years old. However, Skala's parents were conservative and preferred Skala to pursue a career that was more "respectable". At that time, women were not allowed to study at The University of Vienna, so Skala's parents had to send her to the TU of Dresden in Germany. Although there is not sufficient information regarding why Skala choose architecture as her specific area of study, we do know that she excelled in a field that is traditionally dominated by men and graduated Summa cum Laude. Skala returned to Vienna and continued to practice architecture after the completion of her undergraduate degree. [8]

Skala never ceased searching for beauty, whether it was in architecture, or performance arts. About a year after the birth of her son, Peter Skala, she enrolled in acting lessons and rediscovered her long-lost passion for theatre.[8] As her creative talents unfurled, Skala began to appear in countless television shows and serials from 1952 to 1985, such as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1965. As Grand Duchess Sophie, Skala kept company on Broadway with Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam, not too many years after toiling in a Queens, New York zipper factory as a non-English-speaking refugee from Austria.[7] She played Lisa Douglas’s mother, the Countess, on Green Acres in the 1960s.

She was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her most famous role as the Mother Superior in 1963's Lilies of the Field. Skala also appeared in Ship of Fools (1965), Charly (1968), Deadly Hero (1976), Eleanor and Franklin (1976), Roseland (1977), Heartland (1979) Flashdance (1983), and House of Games (1987).[9]

Death and legacyEdit

Skala died in 1994 in Bay Shore, New York of natural causes at age 98. A collection of architectural drawings that she had made as an architecture student at the University of Dresden from 1915 to 1920 was donated to the International Archives of Women in Architecture by her sons, Peter and Martin Skala.[10] The collection is part of Skala's belongings when she fled the Nazis in 1939.[11]

Personal lifeEdit

Skala was a Christian Scientist.[12] She was introduced to the religion in Vienna in the 1920s.[13]


Year Title Role Notes
1931 Purpur und Waschblau Leonore von Cadour - Hofdame der Fürstin
1931 Man braucht kein Geld Uncredited
1933 Madame wünscht keine Kinder Uncredited
1936 Mädchenpensionat Fräulein Hell
1936 Flores de Nice
1937 Unentschuldigte Stunde
1953 Call Me Madam Grand Duchess Sophie
1963 Lilies of the Field Mother Maria
1965 Ship of Fools Frau Hutten
1967 Caprice Madame Piasco
1968 Charly Dr. Anna Straus
1976 Deadly Hero Mrs. Broderick
1977 Roseland Rosa (The Peabody)
1979 Heartland Mrs. Landauer
1981 The End of August Mlle. Reisz
1983 Flashdance Hanna Long
1983 Testament Fania
1987 House of Games Dr. Littauer
1990 Men of Respect Lucia


  1. ^ Rechcigl, Miloslav. Notable American Women with Czechoslovak Roots: A Bibliography, Bio-Bibliographies, Historiography and Genealogy.
  2. ^ "Lilia Sofer Skala Student Portfolio, Ms2003-015 - Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University".
  3. ^ "Libby Skala Interviews & Press". Retrieved 13 November 2016.
  4. ^ Tallmer, Jerry (14 August 2009). "Libby Skala encapsulates 100 years of life, love, dance". Chelsea Now. Archived from the original on 19 August 2009. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  5. ^ a b "Guide to the Papers of the Grace Polk Family, 1877-1975 AR 25104/MF 964". Retrieved 13 November 2016.
  6. ^ "Lilia Skala biodata". Retrieved 13 November 2016.
  7. ^ a b c Tallmer, Jerry (23 August 2005). "Theatrical tribute to a special grandmother". Retrieved 13 November 2016.
  8. ^ a b "International Archive of Women in Architecture" (PDF). IAWA Newsletter. No. 15. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Fall 2003.
  9. ^ Taylor, Clarke (24 November 1977). "Skala as Rosa; Grande Dame of 'Roseland'". Los Angeles Times. p. H30. Retrieved 3 December 2010.
  10. ^ "Buttresses to Broadway: When Lilia Skala Came to Blacksburg". 27 August 2015.
  11. ^ "International Archive of Women in Architecture, Fall 2003, No. 15" (PDF).
  12. ^ Gibson, Gwen (31 March 1988). "Versatile Lilia Skala Is Seeking New Fields". Chicago Tribune.
  13. ^ "News | Longyear Museum". 14 March 2011. Archived from the original on 5 July 2011. Retrieved 13 November 2016.

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