October 14, 2019

Filming with Maximilian Schell

The death of actor Maximilian Schell on Feb. 1 reminded me of our week together in 1959 during the shooting of the Playhouse 90 television version of “Judgment at Nuremberg.”

By some fluke – I had never acted before or have since – I was asked to take on the modest role of court interpreter. I soon realized that most of the time we “actors” would be sitting around on the sidelines while the director and crew figured out the camera angles for the tight courtroom drama.

Both Werner Klemperer, who played one of the Nazi judges on trial, and Schell as their defense attorney, were intensely musical.

During the long breaks, they wiled away the time in a game in which one player repeatedly knocked on a table with his knuckles, and the other player had to guess the name and composer of the symphony, and then of the specific movement within the symphony.

The week’s most emotional moment came when the cast, for the first time, saw the horrifying footage of the death camps, used as evidence in the trial.

When it was over, there was complete silence until Schell slowly got up and said,” I want you to know, I am Swiss. I am not German.”