Saturday 14 October 2017

Whatever Happened To Elke Sommer?


It may have seemed quite a bizarre piece of casting when German-born Hollywood actress Elke Sommer agreed to lead the cast of the 1975 film Carry On Behind, however this role came about as a result of a long and close friendship with producer Peter Rogers and his wife Betty Box. By the mid-1970s Sommer had built up a strong working relationship with Betty, having first starred for Box and director Ralph Thomas in the 1967 film Deadlier Than the Male. This Richard Johnson/Bulldog Drummond crime caper saw Elke take on the role of "sexy assassin" Irma Eckman.

In 1970 Elke joined a cast including Hywel Bennett, Denholm Elliott and Britt Ekland for the broad big screen comedy, Percy, about the first male member transplant. Playing Helga in this film led to Elke coming back to London to star in the sequel four years later. In Percy's Progress, Sommer played the different role of Clarissa. The following year saw her work for Betty's husband Peter in her sole Carry On film. In Carry On Behind, Sommer plays Russian archeologist and Roman expert Professor Anna Vooshka. Elke made Carry On history by joining American star Phil Silvers as the top earning actor ever to appear in one of the low budget comedies. She made £30000 for her starring role opposite series regular Kenneth Williams, who usually only took home around £5000.


Despite the disparity in their wages and their backgrounds, Kenneth's diaries suggest he got on fine with the big, glamorous Hollywood star. With a reputation for being at odds with his leading ladies, you would probably have expected otherwise. His diary records that he joined her for lunch and she was also included in debates with fellow actors Kenneth Connor and Bernard Bresslaw about the UK's membership of the European Economic Community. While the Carry Ons may have been faltering by '75, I have a bit of a soft spot for Carry On Behind. With several series regulars missing from the line up and a more near the knuckle approach to sex and nudity, it somehow still manages to stay in the style of earlier hits. Much of this is down to a very funny script from new writer, Dave Freeman, replacing Talbot Rothwell who had retired in 1974. Elke's role adds a different dimension to the film and there is much humour taken from her foreign misunderstandings of very British situations. I am sure these were also replicated off set! 

Elke Sommer would work for Ralph Thomas one final time towards the end of the decade. In 1979 she had a supporting role in the crime caper, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. The film, mainly watchable for glimpses of late 1970's London, co-starred Richard Jordan, Oliver Tobias (fresh from The Stud with Joan Collins) and the late, great David Niven. Elke's role doesn't add up to much but she provides some much needed glamour. This film would prove to be Ralph's last as a director.


Elke was born in Berlin in November 1940. While on holiday in Italy in 1958 she was spotted by a film director and almost immediately began making films in that country. Born Elke von Schletz, the late 1950s saw her change her surname to Sommer as her career took off. Having moved to Hollywood in the early 1960s, she quickly became known for her looks as well as her talents as an actor. Elke even appeared in Playboy magazine during the mid-1960s. One of her earliest and most fondly remembered roles came in 1964 when she starred opposite Peter Sellers in the comedy film A Shot in the Dark. Sellers was of course playing the legendary Inspector Clouseau. That same year Sommer won a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer in the film The Prize, which saw her work with Paul Newman and Edward G. Robinson.

Throughout the 1960s more leading roles came along, including The Art of Love in 1965 with James Garner; The Oscar in 1966 with Stephen Boyd; Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! in 1966 with Bob Hope and two years later, The Wrecking Crew with Dean Martin. Elke also appeared regularly on American television. She guested on The Dean Martin Show and on various Bob Hope Specials. She was a regular guest on the famous Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and also popped up on the game show, Hollywood Squares.


By the 1970s, Elke was appearing more regularly in European cinema once again. As well as her work for Betty Box and Peter Rogers, she could also be seen in the disaster film Zeppelin with Michael York and a remake of Ten Little Indians, directed by Peter Collinson and co-starring Richard Attenborough, Herbert Lom, Oliver Reed and Charles Aznavour. The same year she worked for Ralph Thomas for the last time also saw her reunite with Peter Sellers in the comedy film The Prisoner of Zenda. 

As the 1980s progressed, Elke moved away from acting and concentrated on other areas of her professional life. At one stage she recorded and released several albums but latterly it has been her role as an artist which has garnered most acclaim. She continues to produce artwork today from her home in Los Angeles. 


Elke Sommer has been married twice, first of all to Hollywood columnist Joe Hyams however that marriage ended in divorce. She met her second husband several years later - Walther was the general manager of a luxury hotel in New York. The pair were married in 1993 and are still together today. 

To finish here's one of her appearances on with Johnny Carson on American telly from the mid-1970s:

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