Galvanizing, stern-featured Viennese character actress with extensive Broadway experience ("The Diary of Anne Frank", "Medea and Jason") and regular if limited film and TV credits. A decade after recreating her Broadway role in the film version of the Irving Berlin musical "Call Me Madam" (1953) Skala first gained attention in features with her splendid, Oscar-nominated performance as the disciplined, argumentative but good-hearted Mother Superior who coaxes an itinerant handyman (Sidney Poitier) into building a church in the delightful sleeper "Lilies of the Field" (1963).
Most typically in prominent, commanding supporting roles, Skala has also played nuns in TV-movies including "Who Has Seen the Wind?" (1965) and the pilot for "Ironside" (1967). She also played doctors regularly, performing well as Lindsay Crouse's mentor in David Mamet's psychological thriller "House of Games" (1987) and as one of the doctors who enhances a retarded man's mental capacities in the less-than-sterling "Charly" (1968). Skala's amusing recurring role as the battleaxe mother-in-law on the 1960s sitcom "Green Acres" was a welcome chance for her to do comedy; more typically she has played dramatic roles in the apocalyptic drama "Testament" (1983, as a music teacher) and the striking prairie saga "Heartland" (1980, as a brusque rancher). Also in 1983, she played a former ballerina who inspires Jennifer Beals in "Flashdance". One of her most affecting performances used the tough aspects of her acting persona to counterpoint her lonely, careworn character in the ballroom-set anthology "Roseland" (1977), which Skala effortlessly stole from a sterling ensemble cast of elderly character stalwarts. In that film, she tugs heartstrings by dying on the dance floor, a smile on her face.