Elke Sommer Biography

Actress, Film Actor/Film Actress, Film Actress (1940–)
German blonde bombshell Elke Sommer starred opposite film legends Peter Sellers, Paul Newman and Bob Hope.


Born in Germany in 1940, Elke (Schletz) Sommer moved into acting from a modeling career. During the 1960s, she starred opposite the likes of Paul Newman (The Prize, 1963), Peter Sellers (A Shot in the Dark, 1964) and Bob Hope (Boy, Did I Get the Wrong Number, 1966). She also became a familiar face on the 1970s talk show circuit and presented her own painting instruction show on PBS.

Early Career

Actress, artist. Born Elke Schletz on November 5, 1940, in Berlin, Germany. Known for being a blonde bombshell, Elke Sommer appeared on screen with the likes of Peter Sellars, Paul Newman, and Bob Hope. The daughter of a Lutheran minister, she lost her father when she was fourteen. A few years later, Sommer went to London to work as a nanny. This job helped her learn English, which she hoped would help her achieve her goal of becoming a translator.

While at the University of Erlangen, Sommer abandoned her studies to pursue a modeling career and then moved into acting. She made her film debut in the German film, Das Totenschiff (1959). In the early 1960s, she won over American audiences with her roles in the drama The Prize (1963) with Paul Newman and the comedy A Shot in the Dark (1964) with Peter Sellars. Sommer won a Golden Globe for her work on The Prize. In addition to being an actress, she was a popular sex symbol of the era. Sommer was compared to such other screen sirens as Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot.

Career Highlights

Other notable film roles from this time include The Art of Love (1965) with James Garner, The Oscar (1966) with Milton Berle, and Boy, Did I Get the Wrong Number (1966) with Bob Hope. This last film was the start of a long working relationship with Hope. She went on to appear on many of his television specials over the next decade.

In the 1970s, Sommer was a popular talk show guest, appearing on The Mike Douglas Show, The Merv Griffin Show, Dinah!, and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. She had roles in a number of feature films, including Zeppelin (1971), The Swiss Conspiracy (1979), and The Prisoner of Zelda (1979), which reunited her with Sellars. The next decade brought more work, largely in television. She made guest appearances on such shows as The Love Boat and St. Elsewhere and had roles in several miniseries, including Inside the Third Reich (1982), Peter the Great (1985), and Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986). Also around this time, she served as host of the syndicated show, Elke Sommer’s World of Speed and Beauty, which covered motor sports. She later hosted Painting with Elke Sommer, a 13-part instructional series, which was broadcast on public television.

Creating art had long been a passion for Sommer. She once said, "I'd rather be known as a painter who acts than as an actress who paints." Over the years, her work has appeared in numerous shows at galleries and museums around the world and carries on aspects of traditional German folk art.

Battle with Zsa Zsa Gabor

Outside of art and acting, Sommer was embroiled in a long legal battle with actress Zsa Zsa Gabor and her husband, Prince Frederick von Anhalt, in the 1990s. She sued the couple after they made disparaging remarks about her to some German publications. The legal battle played out in two different countries: the United States and Germany. Both cases went through appeals, but in the end Gabor and von Anhalt were held accountable for their statements. Most notably, Sommer received a $3.3 million libel judgment against the pair in a California court in 1993.

Most recently, Sommer has made a few appearances on German television, according to the Internet Movie Database website. She has been married twice. Her first marriage to American writer Joe Hyams lasted from 1964 to 1981. In 1993, Sommer married Wolf Walther.

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