Born and raised in Vienna, Austria, Lilia Skala would become a star on two continents. In pre-World War II Austria she starred in famed Max Reinhardt's stage troupe, and in post-war America she would become a notable matronly, award-worthy character star on Broadway and in films. Forced to flee her Nazi-occupied homeland with her Jewish husband and two young sons in the late 1930s, Lilia and her family managed to escape (at different times) to England. In 1939, practically penniless, they immigrated to the US, where she sought menial labor in New York's garment district.
Lilia quickly learned English and worked her way back to an acting career, this time as a sweet, delightful, thick-accented Academy Award, Golden Globe and Emmy nominee. She broke through the Broadway barrier in 1941 with "Letters to Lucerne", followed by a featured role in the musical "Call Me Madam" with Ethel Merman. In the 1950s she did an extensive tour in "The Diary of Anne Frank" as Mrs. Frank, and performed in a German-language production of Kurt Weill's "The Threepenny Opera." Lilia became a familiar benevolent face on TV in several early soap operas, including "Claudia: The Story of a Marriage" (1952).
She won her widest claim to fame, however, as the elderly chapel-building Mother Superior opposite Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field (1963), for which she won both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. That led to more character actress work in films, most notably as the dog-carrying Jewish lady in the star-studded Ship of Fools (1965) and as Jennifer Beals' elderly German friend in Flashdance (1983). On TV she played Eva Gabor's Hungarian mother in "Green Acres" (1965) and earned an Emmy nomination for her work in the popular miniseries Eleanor and Franklin (1976) (TV)). Lilia died at the ripe old age of 98.