Lilia Skala

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; his death 1980)

Before Skala decided to be an actress, she practiced architecture as a profession. She is one of the first women architects in Austria. Skala is the first woman member of the Austrian Association of Engineers and Architects. She graduated from 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 an eponymous one-woman play, Lilia! The play is 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 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, before practicing 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 Skala's son, Peter Skala's short memoir, he believes Skala developed interests in theatre when she was 14 or 15 years old. However, Skala's parents were conservative and preferred Skala to pursue a career that's more "respectable". At that time, women were not allow to study at The University of Vienna, so Skala's parents has to send her to the TU Dresden in Germany. Although there is no sufficient information about why Skala choose Architecture as her specific area of study, we do know that she excelled in a field that is traditionally dominated by male and graduated with a Sum cum Laude. Skala returned to Vienna and continued to practice architecture after the completion of her undergraduate degree. [8]

Skala has never stoped looking for beauty, whether it is architecture, or performance arts. About a year after the birth of her son, Peter Skala, she started acting lessons and rediscover her long-lost passion in theater.[8] As her creative talents unfold, Skala started to appear on countless television shows and serials from 1952 to 1985 (for example, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1965), and as Grand Duchess Sophie kept company on Broadway with Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam not too many years after toiling in a Queens 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 for a Best Supporting Actress for her most famous role as the Mother Superior in 1963's Lilies of the Field opposite Oscar-winning Sidney Poitier. 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 (final film role)


  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 "" (PDF). Newsletter Fall 2003, No. 15 International Archive of Women in Architecture, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. 2003. External link in |title= (help)
  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".
  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.

External linksEdit