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Mai Zetterling, 68; Swedish Film Actress Turned Director


Mai Zetterling, the stunning Swedish actress for whom Ingmar Bergman wrote his first film script 50 years ago, has died of cancer.

The Joyce Edwards dramatic agency announced Friday that its client--who years ago abandoned acting for directing--was 68 when she died in London on Tuesday.

Miss Zetterling, who co-starred with Anjelica Huston in "The Witches," a children's fantasy, and was featured in films involving such disparate actors as Peter Sellers, Tyrone Power, Dirk Bogarde and Danny Kaye, had never realized her potential as a director because she refused to direct many scripts offered her, branding them "rubbish."

From her earliest days as a young actress in Sweden, she was known as a confrontational feminist, less interested in the commercial aspects of her pictures than their universality.

When she moved from in front of the cameras to behind them, she also abandoned glamorous trappings, cut her hair severely and made films dealing graphically with women's issues--prostitution, motherhood and lesbianism.

Such pictures as "Scrubbers," "The Girls," "Loving Couples" and several more, distributed primarily in Europe, were diametrical opposites of "Torment," Bergman's first picture, in which Miss Zetterling portrayed one of two young lovers beset by a sadistic teacher.

Also released as "Frenzy" and "Hets," it remains among her better-known pictures.

She came to America in the 1950s and appeared alongside Sellers in "Only Two Can Play," with Power in "Abandon Ship" and with Bogarde in "Desperate Mount."

She left acting, she said, "because I was not a passive person," and her career suffered because of the limited demand for women directors. But in 1963 she was given a $6,000 budget and asked to film a British documentary.

Then came "Night Games" and "Loving Couples" and a stint as one of eight directors of "Visions of Eight," a highly praised film about the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

Miss Zetterling also wrote a number of books, including her autobiography, "All Those Tomorrows."

In that book she told of being born to a working-class family in Stockholm and leaving school barely literate.

After working in a drugstore and a mail-order firm, she tried acting, was invited to a school, and at age 17 joined the National Theater School in Stockholm, where she met Bergman.

At the time of her death, Miss Zetterling was directing a film entitled "The Woman Who Cleaned the World."

Her survivors include a son and daughter.

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