Maria Schneider: Actress best known for starring opposite Marlon Brando in the controversial film 'Last Tango in Paris'

The French actress Maria Schneider became famous over-night when she starred opposite Marlon Brando in Bernardo Bertolucci's controversial film Last Tango in Paris (1972), which featured perhaps the most famous sex scene in cinemahistory, in which Brando, with the aid of a slab of butter, appears to have anal intercourse with his co-star.The sequence caused a world-wide furore, and the film was banned in several countries (including parts of the UK). Schneider and Brando, along with Bertolucci, were idicted by an Italian court on charges of obscenity for participating in the making of an erotic movie, and it was banned in Italy until 1987.

Though it gave Schneider lasting fame, it also started a career marked by breakdowns, drug addiction, a suicide attempt and fractured relationships. Schneider would later claim that she was coerced into doing the film's most notorious sequence, which had been thought up by Brando (she was an unknown with no professional training) and she harboured a lifelong animosity towards Bertolucci, stating, "Never take your clothes off for middle-aged men who claim that it is art."

Born Marie Christine Gelin in Paris in 1952, she was the illegitimate daughter of a Romanian teenage model who ran a bookshop, and the popular French actor Daniel Gelin, who was married to the actress Danièle Delorme at the time and refused to acknowledge his daughter. She was raised by her mother in a town near the German border until at the age of 15 she left home after an argument and went to Paris, where Brigitte Bardot, who had worked with Gelin and was allegedly appalled at his behaviour, gave her a room in her house and found her an agent.

Schneider took her mother's surname when she started working in films as an extra, movies in which she had brief roles including L'Arbre de Noel (The Christmas Tree, 1969) with William Holden, and Madly (1971), an Alain Delon vehicle, but was still an unknown when she auditioned with over 100 other actresses for Last Tango in Paris, in which she played an unworldly, bourgeois girl, about to get married, who meets a middle-aged widower in an empty Paris apartment. (The role was intended for Dominique Sanda, who had become pregnant.) The couple embark on an intense, entirely physical affair during which the man works out his aggression – at his request, they do not even learn each other's names.

The combination of Brando and Bertolucci, and the notoriety of its sexual content, made the film anenormous hit, described by the critic Pauline Kael as "bold and imaginative – a great work," and Brando and Bertolucci were nominated for Oscars, though an Italian court gave Bertolucci a four-month suspended prison sentence for obscenity. "Iwas too young to say no," said Schneider of the much discussed scene. "I was no more than a baby at 19. So I did the scene and I cried. I was trapped in his fantasy."

Schneider was to appear in one more memorable film, Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975), an existential but accessible thriller in which Jack Nicholson starred as a reporter who assumes the identity of a look-alike who dies during an overnight stay in a hotel, later discovering that the man was a gun-runner. Again nameless (she is billed as "the girl"), Schneider was impressive as an enigmatic, outwardly naïve architectural student – part of the exquisitely photographed movie is set against the background of Gaudi's Barcelona.

In the year The Passenger was released, Schneider walked off the set of René Clément's La Baby-Sitter to become a voluntary patient at a psychiatric hospital in Rome in order to be with her lover, the American photographer Joan Townsend, who was incarcerated there. "They had locked her up, so I had to do it out of loyalty," she explained. In 1977, cast as Conchita in Luis Bunuel's That Obscure Object of Desire, she made headlines by walking off the set because, she said, of excessive nudity, and two years later she abandoned Tinto Brass's Caligula for the same reason. "I felt very sad because I was treated like a sex symbol and I wanted to be recognised as an actress. The whole scandal and aftermath turned me a little crazy and I had a nervous breakdown."

She turned down the chance to play Mary Magdalene in Franco Zeffirelli's epic television drama, Jesus of Nazareth (1978), a decision she later regretted. Later films included La Derobade (Memoirs of a French Whore, 1979), Mama Dracula (1980), Jacques Rivette's Merry-Go-Round (1981), which teamed her with Joe Dallessandro, Balles perdu (1983), L'Art de Survivre (Bunker Palace Hotel, 1989) and Les Nuits Fauve (1992). She played Mrs Rochester in Franco Zeffirelli's Jane Eyre (1996) and was an ageing courtesan in her final film, Josiane Balasko's Client (2008). A dependence on drugs blighted much of her later life, but she was finally able to conquer her addiction with the help of a partner whom she called "my angel" but refused to identify.

Marie Christine Gelin (Maria Schneider), actress: born: Paris 27 March 1952; died Paris 3 February 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peopleJonathan Ross has got a left-field suggestion to replace Clarkson
News
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
footballDoes Hodgson's England team have an identity yet?
Sport
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss