Elfi von Dassanowsky

Elfi von Dassanowsky

Elfriede "Elfi" von Dassanowsky (February 2 1924October 2 2007) was an Austrian-American singer, pianist, film producer and humanitarian.

Early life

Elfi von Dassanowsky was born Elfriede Maria Elisabeth Charlotte von Dassanowsky in Vienna, the daughter of Franz Leopold von Dassanowsky, a civil servant in the Austrian Trade Ministry, and Anna von Dassanowsky (nee Grünwald). A piano prodigy at the age of 5, she became at age 15, the youngest woman admitted to Vienna's Academy of Music and Performing Arts to that date as the protégé of concert pianist, Emil von Sauer. While a student, film director Karl Hartl chose her to instruct Curd Jürgens in piano, so that he could play the instrument on screen (it served him well beyond the era, to the 1971 Hollywood film The Mephisto Waltz). But Dassanowsky's studies and early career were halted for extended labor service when she rejected membership in Nazi organizations. The powerful UFA Studio in Berlin offered her a film contract in 1944, which she also declined.


In 1946, von Dassanowsky made her opera debut as Susanna in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro at the Stadttheater St. Pölten and created in concerts for the Allied High Command. She remains one of the few women in film history, and at age 22 one of the youngest, to co-found a film studio -- Belvedere Film -- the first new studio facility in postwar Vienna.

With senior partners August Diglas and Emmerich Hanus, the studio created such German-language classics as Die Glücksmühle (The Mill of Happiness, 1946), Dr. Rosin (1949), and Märchen vom Glück (Kiss Me, Casanova, 1949), and gave Gunther Philipp and Nadja Tiller their first screen roles. She starred in operas, operettas, theatrical dramas and comedies, helped initiate several theater groups, was announcer for Allied Forces Broadcasting and the BBC, toured West Germany in a one-woman-show and gave master classes in voice and piano. During this period, Dassanowsky also modeled exclusively for Austrian painter Franz Xaver Wolf (1896–1990), whose work featuring her image is now in museum and private collections. An expert in the Ignace Paderewski piano technique, her musical pedagogy continued in the 1950s in Canada and New York, where she also married and had a son and daughter. At this time she turned to design and created a prototype for woman's leather day coat, which is now in the collection of the MAK-The Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna. She later divorced and her marriage was annulled. Although she never remarried, she was briefly linked with author and actor, Prince Heinrich Starhemberg (aka Henry Gregor, 1934-1997) in the mid 1990s.

In Hollywood in the 1960s, she resisted becoming a trendy Euro-starlet and preferred to remain behind the camera as a vocal coach for director/producer Otto Preminger. In 1962, she became a naturalized citizen of the United States. A successful Los Angeles businesswoman, in 1999, she re-established Belvedere Film as a Los Angeles/Vienna-based production company with her son, Robert. She was executive producer of the award-winning dramatic short film, Semmelweis (2001), the spy-comedy, Wilson Chance (2005), and several works in progress at the time of her passing, including the documentary The Archduke and Herbert Hinkel (due to be released in 2008).

Recognized internationally for her unique work as a pioneering woman in film production and as a multi-talent in postwar Austrian arts and culture, von Dassanowsky is the only Austrian woman to receive the Women’s International Center’s prestigious Living Legacy Award, and has been honored with the UNESCO Mozart Medal, the Austrian Decoration of Merit, the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Austrian Film Archive's Lifetime Achievement Medal, by the State of California and the cities of Vienna and Los Angeles, where von Dassanowsky lived since 1962. Additionally, she is reported to have been nominated for the honorary Right Livelihood Award in the late 1990s.


While in Kona, Hawaii in July 2007, Dassanowsky suffered a life-threatening embolism. She was flown to Queens Hospital in Honolulu and part of her left leg had to be amputated. She was reported to be recovering well in rehabilitation in Los Angeles and was expected to continue her efforts in film production as well as arts and UNESCO promotion. According to news reports, amputee celebrity Heather Mills took a personal interest in her rehabilitation. However, Dassanowsky died October 2 2007 in Los Angeles of heart failure. She was interred in a Designated Grave of Honor at the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna on July 25, 2008.


In November 2007, the planned establishment of the Elfi von Dassanowsky Foundation was announced in Vienna. It would continue the pioneering and creative spirit of the late artist by developing awards and grants for emerging women filmmakers.

External links

Search another word or see Elfi von Dassanowskyon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature