Born Natalia Postmann and also known as Tala Forman, she had studied with the director Max Reinhardt and appeared in the repertory theater. She is said to have had a relationship with the writer Bruno Frank, who is also said to be the father of her daughter Barbara, born in 1943.
When the Nazis came to power, and in light of her Jewish heritage, she moved to the United States and settled down in Los Angeles. She had hoped for a great stage career, but her accent and her unfeminine appearance limited the roles she could play.
Among her acting credits were appearances in Comrade X (1940), Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942), and The House on Telegraph Hill (1951). Her performance in Once Upon a Honeymoon drew praise from New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, who said she "shines with clear and poignant brilliance in a brief part as a Jewish chambermaid."
Lytess was Columbia Pictures' drama coach for Marilyn Monroe from 1948-1955, and some sources have asserted they had an affair during the seven years they worked together, when Marilyn was in her 20s. Other Lytess students included Mamie Van Doren, Virginia Leith, and Ann Savage (who reputedly got her stage name after a particularly "savage" argument with Lytess).
Lytess died of cancer four days before her 52nd birthday in Zurich, Switzerland. She was portrayed by Lindsay Crouse in Norma Jean & Marilyn, and by Embeth Davidtz in The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe.
- Barabbas (1961; uncredited)
- Schlitz Playhouse (TV series; 1958)
- Anything Can Happen (1952)
- The House on Telegraph Hill (1951)
- Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942)
- Comrade X (1940)
- Spoto, Donald (2001). Marilyn Monroe: The Biography. Cooper Square Press. p. 135. ISBN 978-0-8154-1183-3.
- Meyers, Jeffrey (19 January 2012). The Genius and the Goddess: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe. University of Illinois Press; 1st Edition edition. p. 155. ISBN 9780252078545.
- Spoto, Donald (2001). Marilyn Monroe: The Biography. Cooper Square Press. pp. 135–36.
- Crowther, Bosley (13 November 1942). "'Once Upon Honeymoon,' With Ginger Rogers, Cary Grant, Opens at Music Hall". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
- Lois Banner (2012). Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 141 & passim. ISBN 978-1-60819-760-6.
- Mamie Van Doren; Art Aveilhe (1 October 1988). Playing the Field. Berkley. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-425-11251-9.
- Don Harron (2012). My Double Life: Sexty Yeers of Farquharson Around with Don Harn. Dundurn. p. 232. ISBN 978-1-4597-0552-4.
- Lisa Morton; Kent Adamson (4 December 2009). Savage Detours: The Life and Work of Ann Savage. McFarland. pp. 35, 38, 41. ISBN 978-0-7864-4353-6.
- Bono, Chastity (14 May 1996). "Lesbianism Made Easy: Actor Lindsay Crouse plays lesbian as Marilyn Monroe's teacher and lover in controversial new film". The Advocate. Retrieved 5 July 2017.