She was born Elisabeth Ettel in Drohobycz, Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Drogobych, Ukraine).
She began acting in Innsbruck at the age of 15. In Vienna, she worked as an artist's model, posing for sculptor Wilhelm Lehmbruck, who fell in love with her. She eventually moved to Munich and then Berlin.
In 1923 she made her film debut in Der Evangelimann. With the rise of Naziism, Bergner and her husband, Paul Czinner, both Jews, moved to London. Her Catherine the Great was banned in Germany because of her religion. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for Escape Me Never (1935). Throughout, she returned intermittently to the stage, for instance in the title role of John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi in 1946.
She temporarily returned to Germany in 1954, where she acted in movies and on the stage; the Berlin district of Steglitz named a city park after her. Later she moved to London, where she died aged 88.
Bergner is considered by several critics to be the inspiration for the character of Margo Channing in Joseph L. Mankiewicz classic film, All About Eve.
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