Elfi von Dassanowsky
Film Producer and Executive, Opera Singer, Musician, Humanitarian
Born in Vienna, Elfi (Elfriede) von Dassanowsky was at age 15, the youngest woman admitted to Vienna's Academy of Music and Performing Arts to that date, as a student of voice and as the protégée of famed German concert pianist, Emil von Sauer, a pupil of Franz Liszt. While still a student, she was chosen by Wien-Film Studio director Karl Hartl to instruct his rising star, Curd Jurgens in piano, so that he could play the instrument on screen. Her studies and her budding operatic career were abruptly halted for extended labor service when she openly rejected membership in Nazi organizations. But her talent allowed her a second chance, and UFA Studios in Berlin offered her a star film contract in 1944, which she also declined.
In 1946, Elfi von Dassanowsky made her opera debut in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro and her wide singing range gained her rapid fame in various operas and operettas. At the behest of American Lt. General Geoffrey Keyes as well as the British and French military leaders, she also created and performed in concerts aimed to showcase Austrian musical culture for the Allied High Command. Her greatest achievement, however, is to be found in cinema. She remains one of the few women in international film history, and at age 22 one of the youngest, to co-found a film studio -- Belvedere Film -- the first new facility in postwar Vienna. With senior partners August Diglas and Emmerich Hanus, she co-produced such classics as Die Glücksmühle (1946), Dr. Rosin (1949), and Märchen vom Glück (1949), and gave film stars Gunther Philipp and Nadja Tiller their first screen roles. She also starred in theatrical dramas and comedies, helped initiate several theater groups in Vienna, 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 -- free to refugees. Following her production work with Belvedere Film, she was a casting director and administrator with the short-lived Phoebus International Films in Hamburg. An expert in the Paderewski piano technique, her musical pedagogy continued in Canada and the U.S. in the late 1950s, where she married and raised a son and daughter. In Hollywood in the 1960s, she resisted becoming a starlet and preferred to remain behind the camera in an industry that did not yet accept women in the leading production role she had in Europe. Elfi von Dassanowsky subsequently became a vocal coach for director/producer Otto Preminger and his actors, and later a successful Los Angeles businesswoman.
Elfi von Dassanowsky was an active member of many organizations including the Women's International Center, the Austrian American Film Association, and the Association of Austrian Film Producers. In 1999, she re-established Belvedere Film with her son Robert, a Professor of Film Studies at the University of Colorado, as a Los Angeles and Vienna-based production company. She has since served as Executive Producer of the award-winning short film, Semmelweis (2001), and as Co-Producer of the documentary, Felix Austria! (aka The Archduke and Herbert Hinkel (2012), among several other projects. She is also co-author of the forthcoming screen adaptation of Alexander Lernet-Holenia's antiwar novel, Mars im Widder (Mars in Aries).
Recognized for her unique work as a pioneering woman in film production and as a multi-talent in postwar Austrian arts and culture, Elfi von Dassanowsky is the only Austrian to receive the Women’s International Center’s prestigious Living Legacy Award, and has been honored with the UNESCO Mozart Medal for her work in "promoting world peace through music and the arts," the French Order of Arts and Letters, and by the State of California, which declared February 2, 1996, "Elfi von Dassanowsky Day". She is the recipient of the Austrian Film Archive's Lifetime Achievement Medal, and was granted the title of Professor by Austrian President Klestil. Her influential work has been hailed by such figures as President Clinton, Elizabeth Taylor, Sir George Solti and the late Princess Diana. As the international press has often noted, Elfi von Dassanowsky will remain an international role model to women in the arts and society.