Salka Viertel (15 June 1889 – 20 October 1978) was an Austrian actress and screenwriter. Viertel was born Salomea Sara Steuermann in Sambor, a city then in the province of Galicia, which was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but today is in western Ukraine. Viertel was under contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer from 1933 to 1937, and co-wrote the scripts for many movies, particularly those starring her close friend Greta Garbo, including Queen Christina (1933) and Anna Karenina (1935). She also played opposite Garbo in MGM's German-language version of Anna Christie in 1930.
15 June 1889
|Died||20 October 1978 (aged 89)|
(m. 1918; div. 1947)
|Children||3, including Peter Viertel|
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Viertel's father, Joseph Steuermann, was a Jewish lawyer and mayor of Sambor before being forced by burgeoning anti-Semitism to renounce his office. Her mother Auguste Steuermann died in 1952 at Salka's home in Santa Monica. Her siblings were the composer and pianist Eduard Steuermann, Rosa (Ruzia) (1891–1972), married from 1922 until her death to the actor Josef Gielen and the Polish national football player Zygmunt Steuermann.
Viertel debuted as Salome Steuermann at the Pressburg Stadttheater. This was followed by some engagements in typical spas of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1911 she played briefly under Max Reinhardt in Berlin, whereupon she followed an offer in 1913 to go to Vienna to work on the New Vienna stage. In Vienna, she met her future husband, author and director Berthold Viertel. The two married in 1918. They raised three sons: Hans, Peter, and Thomas before being divorced in 1947. In 1920, Salka Viertel went to Hamburg to the Great Theater, later to Düsseldorf. Her husband worked from 1920 in Berlin, where he founded the collective theatre "Die Troupe" and worked for UFA.
In 1928, the family went to Hollywood, where Berthold Viertel received a contract with Fox Film Corporation at FW Murnau's instigation as a director and author. Originally, only a three-year stay in the US was planned. Because of the precarious situation in Germany, where they had previously worked, they decided in 1932 to remain in exile.
Salka Viertel was modestly successful in movies. She herself said she was "neither pretty nor young enough" for a career in film. One of her most successful films was the German version of Anna Christie, in which she took over the role of Marty at the request of her friend Greta Garbo, which was originally intended for Marie Dressler. In the aftermath, she was a kind of unofficial mentor for Greta Garbo and participated in some scripts for the famous actress, including Queen Christine, Anna Karenina and The Woman with the Two Faces. However, the plan to write a commercial script for Hollywood together with Bertolt Brecht, who also lived in exile in the United States, failed.
The Viertels, members of the Jewish-German intelligentsia, moved to the United States in 1928 for a planned four-year stay. In Los Angeles, the Viertel family initially lived on Fairfax Avenue, then rented a house on Mabery Road in Santa Monica, California. In 1932, following Hitler's rise, they decided to stay in Santa Monica, where their sons grew up. Their home in Santa Monica Canyon was the site of salons and meetings of the Hollywood intelligentsia and the émigré community of European intellectuals, particularly at the Sunday night tea parties. Her guests included not only Sergei Eisenstein and Charlie Chaplin but also Arnold Schoenberg, Christopher Isherwood, Hanns Eisler, Bertolt Brecht, Max Reinhardt and Thomas Mann.
In the 1930s and 1940s, she was involved in the fight against National Socialism. Viertel was also active aiding those still trapped in Europe. She helped found the European Film Fund, which brokered contracts with major Hollywood studios. This helped such notable artists as Leonhard Frank, Heinrich Mann, Alfred Polgar, Walter Mehring and Friedrich Torberg who received life-saving emergency visas and were able to escape the Nazis. With the onset of the Cold War, some Hollywood writers in the McCarthy era, including Salka, were suspected of being communist and therefore could no longer work there.
After her divorce in 1947, Salka lived in Brentwood, Southern California. In 1953 she left the U.S. and settled in Klosters in Switzerland, where later her son Peter and his wife actress Deborah Kerr lived.
In 1969, her autobiography The Kindness of Strangers was published.
Salka Viertel died in Klosters, Switzerland, on 20 October 1978, aged 89.
- Bahr, Erhardt (2008). Weimar on the Pacific: German Exile Culture in Los Angeles and the Crisis of Modernism. University of California Press. pp. 296–7. ISBN 978-0-520-25795-5. Retrieved 15 July 2010.
- "German Exiles in Southern California – Berthold Viertel (1885–1953) & Salka Viertel (1889–1978)" Archived 2007-08-29 at the Wayback Machine, Feuchtwanger Memorial Library, University of Southern California