An interview with Countess Brunella A1-Ring

Grid, Austrian GP 2001

Grid, Austrian GP 2001 

 © The Cahier Archive

At this time of year everyone is talking about the Cannes Film Festival. And amid all the hype of the annual gathering of the film industry in the glamorous setting of the Cote d'Azur serious business is done between the cocktail parties. The beaches and beds of Cannes may be heaving with topless starlets but some of the industry's bigger names are there, keeping a lower profile.

One of the biggest names in the business is reclusive Austrian icon Brunella A1-Ring. Back in the 1970s Brunella, then known as Osterreichring, was the most talked-about star of them all. A diva, she was in her day as famous as Sophia Loren or Elizabeth Taylor. She was beautiful, glamorous and well-connected but the world loved her because she unpredictable and every so slightly wild. At the time she was under contract to Bernie Ecclestone's Formula 1 Studios, a rising star in Hollywood. Brunella lived the jetset life, was a fashion leader and was always in the gossip columns.

"Not bad for a quiet country girl from the Mur Valley in Austria," she says with a sweet smile.

But in the late 1980s the adventures of Brunella and Elizabeth Taylor were quietly eclipsed by a new generation of Hollywood stars. They were not the screen goddesses of yesteryear (but one or to were rather better actresses). Formula 1 Studios was looking for more family viewers and so opted for safer starlets and, after a series of car accidents in 1987, Brunella was dropped in favor of a rising new Hungarian starlet called Zsa Zsa Hungaroring.

The fur flew.

"She vos an ambitious bitch," remembers the Countess with a suggestive curl of her eyebrow. "She vould do anything to get my job."

And she did.

For several years Brunella disappeared completely. She exchanged her life in the VIP lounges of the world for a quieter time in the family schloss.

"I needed a few quiet years to recover and to find my confidence again," she says with that lovely lilting voice that the world once loved. "I needed to feel vanted, to feel loved. And then vhen I vas feeling more secure I vanted to prove to the vorld that I vas a great actress and not just a great beauty. It is so sad to see great stars fading away. I vanted to show that I could come back and do it all again."

Born Brunhilde Zeltweg in 1958 she had a conventional Austrian childhood, apart from a couple of minor roles in B movies such as "Formula 2". There were a few sharp edges to be smoothed over. In 1970 Fraulein Zeltweg decided to move to Hollywood and, following in the footsteps of Norma-Jean, she transformed herself into the more glamorous Brunella Osterreichring.

Why did she feel the need to change her name?

"I vas like the ugly duckling," she says. "Vhen I vas a Brunhilde Zeltweg I vas not very polished. Not very glamorous. I vos beautiful of course but I vanted a new name to express a more international image and I chose a name that echoed a little the name of my country."

The name change and her starring role (at the age of 12) alongside the racing driver Jochen Rindt in the film "Grand Prix" projected Brunella to international stardom. Not long after the film opened Rindt was killed but Brunella's star continued to rise. She swapped her dirndl - the flowery frock favored by strapping Styria lasses - for hot pants and took the jetset by storm. And she liked being famous. The jetset liked her. She was gorgeous and daring and her curves were beautiful.

"Everyone wrote the most vunderful things about me," she remembers. "They loved my plunging Boschkurve. And I vas dangerous. You never knew vhat I vould do next."

In her early teens she was seen in the company of some of the world's leading playboys. And there were darker stories too. She was linked to the death of Mark Donohue in 1975.

"Ach," she says dismissively. "People say stupid things. They vere jealous of my success. I vas on top of the vorld in those days."

Never one to follow conventional routes, Brunella often surprised observers with those who won her heart.

"I always preferred to give everyone surprises," she says. "I vas seen on the arm of Vittorio Brambilla. He vas not famous before he met me. I also made John Vatson famous. He was so happy vhen he von me over he even shaved off his beard. And then there vas the Australian playboy Jonesy-baby. He vas a nobody but of course later he vent on to become the World Champion. He vas always calling me Ostrich."

They were together for a couple of years, on and off.

By 1982, however, Brunella hit the headlines when Elio de Angelis and Keke Rosberg fought to win her over.

"It vas a difficult choice," Brunella remembers, "but Elio vas a wonderful playboy. And he played the piano so vell."

But despite all the amorous adventures Brunella never married.

And then came the crashes of 1987.

"It vas not my fault," she insists. "The fast crowd led me astray."

The Formula 1 Studio terminated her contract and she was left with no work beyond some small-budget projects with local film-makers.

"It vas dull," she says.

But in Austria they did not forget her. After a dalliance with Steven Spielberg she married Count Hermann von A1-Ring (of the Viennese A1-Rings). Rather than keeping her own name as most stars do when they get hitched, Brunella decided to take on the A1-Ring name.

"After a few years of being called Ostrich by everybody I thought I needed to sound more graceful. Osterreichring sounds like some kind of hormone treatment so I decided that it vould be good to change it. It vas nice also to be a Countess.

"They say that I only married A1 for his money and his title," she says. "Ha! But it vas love. Sure, he had a lot of money but that vas not vhy I did it. Beauty vill always finds its vallet. Rita Hayworth married the Aga Khan. Grace Kelly married her Prince and he vas not short of dollars. It vas love - but also a very good career move."

But living the fast life had not been kind to Brunella. She might have only been coming up to her 30th birthday but her looks were not as glamorous as once they had been. Studios were no longer interested in dangerous vamps. They wanted a safer kind of star.

"The Studio said that if I vanted a decent job again, I vould have to have cosmetic surgery. A1 agreed that it vould be a good idea."

A series of operations followed and the result looked pleasing enough but somehow the flowing curves of the old days seemed a little more angular after the cosmetic surgeons had finished with Brunella.

"I am not ashamed of the surgery," she says now. "Everyone in the film business does it. And some of them vear vigs as vell. Buy they are VERY good vigs. Surgery is part of the business."

A1 paid for the work.

"He vanted me to regain the stardom of my youth," she says now.

And Brunella did get a new starring role in 1997. There were some critics who said she was past her best and that she was not as good a performer as in her early days. But she was a trouper. Five years later Brunella's contract with Formula 1 Studios is coming to an end again. A lot of the executives in Formula 1 say that the Countess A1-Ring will not get a new deal and she must look forward to another change of career.

How does she react to this?

"I vant to be alone," she says.

In a while she probably will be...

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