Roger Ebert Home

Sybil Danning: 1982 Cannes Sex Symbol of the Year

CANNES, FRANCE - After a thorough and impartial search of the beaches, hotel lobbies and screens of the 35th annual Cannes Film Festival, I am pleased to announce my selection of the 1982 Cannes Sex Symbol of the Year. Previous winners have included Edy Williams, who rode naked atop a convertible through the old marketplace of this once sleepy little fishing village; Barbara Ferrera, who told me she would rather play a scene with a jaguar than with a man, and Bo Derek, who did not even need to attend the festival to win the honor.

This year's runners-up include Pia Zadora, star of Las Vegas, movies and several astonishing billboards that appeared briefly last March along Chicago's major expressways; Annie Ample, a porno queen who poses on the beach for the local photographers no longer than seven hours daily, and Caroline Munro, who is guillotined by a knife-edged movie clapboard in "The Last Horror Film," which was shot at last year's festival.

And the winner is . . . Sybil Danning, the Austrian sex goddess who moved to Hollywood recently and stopped off for a few days at Cannes en route to Italy, where she will be co-starring in two films with Lou Ferrigno, TV's Incredible Hulk.

Danning and Ferrigno originally were signed to co-star in a remake of "Hercules," the 1950s muscle-and-toga epic. However, when difficulties with the special effects caused that project to be postponed for several weeks, they agreed to make another picture together in the meantime. It will be called "Seven Magnificent Gladiators" and shooting will start soon on locations in Naples, Pompeii, Rome and Verona.

Let Danning's official biography help tell the tale of her selection as Cannes' 1982 sex queen: "She may be the first actress to successfully combine beauty and brute force. Her fantastic physique can please or pulverize - sometimes both. With degrees earned in cosmetology, she knows how to make those muscles look feminine and alluring. Here is a wisdom that comes only from life experience, from her early years as a dental surgery assistant, from her education in charm and cosmetology, her years as a top print model and finally her struggle to reach international audiences as both goddess and actress."

I went to interview Sybil Danning in her room at the Carlton Hotel. She greeted me in a low-cut, slashed-front black beach dress, cut on the sides up to her waist.

"Would you like a glass of Perrier?" she asked me. She spoke perfect English. Her mother was Austrian and her father was German, she said, but her stepfather was American, and she spent her sixth through 11th years in American grade schools. She speaks five languages fluently.

"Tell me something about working with Lou Ferrigno," I said.

"I only met him for the first time yesterday. He seems like a terrific guy. Because I knew I was going to be acting with him, I started working out in Los Angeles eight months ago. I'm in the best shape of my life right now. You know, Europe can be dangerous for a girl, with all the nightlife, the good-tasting beer, the great food. In America, I have gotten more into consciousness of my health."

"What will the Gladiator and Hercules pictures look like?"

"Well, 'Hercules' itself will be a PG-rated film for the entire family, in which I fall in love with Hercules, manipulate him, and we go into battle together. Then he has to perform several difficult tasks or labors. I am not sure how many - 10 or 12, I believe. In 'Seven Magnificent Gladiators,' we will make an R-rated movie with more sex and violence. But 'Hercules' will be more like 'Superman,' with great special effects."

"Do you like these strong woman roles?" I asked.

"I love them. One big difference between my performance and Sylvia Koscina's in the original 'Hercules' is that I won't need to be helped up when I fall in the sand. I'm very good at tough roles, although I've played a lot of other kinds. Only today, between an interview with Italian television and lunch, I was signed up for two more pictures - a kung-fu movie with Chuck Norris, named 'Shanghai Corridor,' and a movie called 'Design,' with Morgan Fairchild and Burt Lancaster, In which I play the villainess."

She smiled. "Yet, with all my success, It seems I am being banned all over the world. Look at this poster. What do you think of it?"

She showed me a large poster in which she posed in a skimpy bikini. I said I thought it was very attractive.

"It has been banned at the Knoxville World's Fair . . .," she said. "I am going to go there and make a protest. And this photograph of me, what do you think?" she showed me a photograph in which she posed in a rubber scuba-diving uniform, unzipped to her navel, and held a spear gun. I said it was quite dramatic.

"The printer of a major American magazine has refused to print it . . ." she said. "And, you know, I starred in the movie 'Battle Beyond the Stars.' Well, it has been sold in America to NBC television, and they say my costumes are too revealing, so they will use a rotoscope process to turn all those scenes into close-ups from the shoulders up."

"No wonder they're the third network," I said. "You've been in a lot of movies, right?"

"I was in 'Operation Thunderbolt' with Klaus Kinski. It won a nomination as best foreign film. And in 'French Pussycat,' 'The Man with Bogart's Face,' 'Night Kill,' with Robert Mitchum, and my famous cult movie, 'Blackbeard,' in which I was chandeliered to death by Richard Burton."

"I don't believe I heard that right," I said. "You were what?"

"Chandeliered to death by Richard Burton. Remember? In the scene where the two women are on the chandelier? Believe me, I wouldn't mind being chandeliered four times a day by Burton."

"Could you describe your private life?" I asked.

"I live in a Spanish-style bungalow in the Hollywood Hills, which Howard Hughes built for Jean Harlow. I have a German shepherd. I love to make pork roast with garlic. I have a boyfriend, but we're not serious. I can't stand rich men, because rich men have power, and they want to control you. I am very proud of the fact that all I own, I earned myself."

"And what do you think of the Cannes film festival?"

"It's fun. I am a very private person, but once in a while it's a kick to come some place like this and pretend to be a sex symbol and play that game. It's like a fantasy, and then I go back to my quiet life again."

For her prize as 1982 Cannes sex symbol of the year, Sybil Danning will have an article about herself published in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

Latest blog posts

Latest reviews

Inside Out 2
Ultraman: Rising
Just the Two of Us


comments powered by Disqus