Vladek Sheybal Biography
Vladek Sheybal was a Polish character actor, singer, and director who left a mark on the British stage and screen. Born on March 12, 1923, in Zgierz, near Łódź, Sheybal was passionate about acting from an early age. However, at 16, he was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, where he was subjected to torture as punishment for his numerous escape attempts.
After World War II, Vladek Sheybal began performing in Polish theatres and cinemas, earning a reputation as a skilled actor. He appeared in the film Kanał (1957) directed by Andrzej Wajda, before leaving for Paris and then Vienna in 1958 due to his political opposition to the Communist Party.
Struggling to find work, Vladek Sheybal immigrated to Britain in 1959. He supported himself teaching acting, and his reputation from Polish films helped him land a place on the London stage. He also directed productions, including Modest Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina at Oxford University in 1960, which was seen by executives of the BBC and led to work as a director for opera and theater adaptations on British television in the early 1960s. Sheybal worked on productions for ITV Play of the Week in 1961–1962 and for the BBC, gaining experience as a director in both fields.
In 1964, Vladek Sheybal triumphed on the British stage as ‘He’ in Leonid Andreyev’s He Who Gets Slapped at the Hampstead Theatre. His big break came in 1963, where he played chess master and evil secret agent Kronsteen in the James Bond film From Russia with Love after being recommended for the part by friend Sean Connery. Sheybal took on further villainous roles or character parts in British cinema, and also appeared as Holocaust survivor Egon Sobotnik in the television mini-series QB VII, and he had a dual role as the Director and as Pierre Louys in Ken Russell’s The Debussy Film (1965). Other Russell films he appeared in were Billion Dollar Brain (1967), Women in Love (1969), and The Boy Friend (1971).
Vladek Sheybal’s other TV credits include Z-Cars, Danger Man, The Troubleshooters, The Saint, The Human Jungle, The Baron, The Champions, Callan, Strange Report, UFO, The New Avengers, Supernatural, Lord Mountbatten: The Last Viceroy, Shōgun, Smiley’s People, and The Man in Room 17. In 1977, he won the Dracula Society’s prestigious Hamilton Deane Award for his performance in the BBC play Night of the Marionettes, part of the Supernatural series, in which he played a sinister Austrian innkeeper whose life-size puppets supposedly inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Vladek Sheybal’s personal life was marked by romantic relationships with both men and women, but he formed no long-term commitments. He passed away in London in 1992, aged 69, from a ruptured aortic aneurysm.