Libuše Šafránková, who became a Czech icon with her starring turn in the 1973 classic Three Nuts for Cinderella (Tři oříšky pro Popelku), passed away on Wednesday just two days after her 68th birthday.
Josef Abrhám Jr., Šafránková’s son with husband and actor Josef Abrhám, confirmed the news to CNN Prima. The cause of her death was not immediately revealed.
Šafránková was born in Brno in 1953, where she studied acting and appeared on the stage at the city’s Mahen Theatre. At the age of eighteen in 1971, she made her film debut with a supporting role in Antonín Moskalyk’s Granny (Babička), an adaptation of the classic novel by Božena Němcová.
After moving to Prague, Šafránková would land the lead part in the fairy tale Three Nuts for Cinderella two year later, a role that would come to define her career.
One of the most beloved of all Czech films, Three Nuts for Cinderella is still shown on Christmas Eve every year in the Czech Republic, nearly fifty years after it first premiered. It has enjoyed a similar level of popularity outside the country, as well, and is a considered a holiday classic in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, and other European countries. A remake of the film is currently in production in Norway.
Šafránková landed the part after a lengthy casting call.
“I met with a lot of girls from conservatories, folk art schools, wherever we could, we were looking for Cinderella,” director Václav Vorlíček later recalled.
“Suddenly I remembered Babička, filmed by Tonda Moskalyk, where a little girl was running in the meadows. I said to myself that a few years have passed, so she could be at the age of eighteen or twenty, as I imagined Cinderella.”
After Three Nuts for Cinderella, Šafránková was cast in the lead in subsequent Czech fairy tales that included How to Drown Dr. Mracek, the Lawyer (Jak utopit Dr. Mráčka aneb Konec vodníků v Čechách), The Little Mermaid (Malá mořská víla), and The Prince and the Morning Star (Princ a Večernice).
Šafránková would later star opposite husband Josef Abrhám in films such as Waiter, Run for It! (Vrchní, prchni!), the Karel Čapek biopic Man Against Destruction (Člověk proti zkáze), and an adaptation of Czech President Václav Havel‘s The Beggar’s Opera (Žebrácká opera).
She would receive critical acclaim for her work with directors Jiří Menzel, in The Snowdrop Festival (Slavnosti sněženek) and My Sweet Little Village (Vesničko má středisková), and Jan Svěrák, in Elementary School (Obecná škola) and Kolya (Kolja). Šafránková won her first and only Czech Lion Award for her role in Kolya.
Šafránková retired from acting in 2014 following surgery to remove a benign tumor from her lungs. One of her final film roles was in Menzel’s The Don Juans (Donšajni).