Let’s remember 10 actresses Italians who have known success in Hollywood. Unique, pioneering and even revolutionary artists …
From theater to the seventh art, from opera to silent cinema of a century ago, up to that Olympus called Hollywood. There are many Italian women who have left an indelible mark on the emotions of the public. When tablets and smart TVs did not yet exist, the company went to theaters and cinemas to “travel” elsewhere. They witnessed incredible, epic stories. Stories of love and war, modern and in costume. On stage, or in front of a camera, these events came to life thanks to charming and sensual women, sometimes brave heroines, other times fragile victims. Women who have often experienced pain and misfortunes in their lives.
What is certain is that those Italian artists and actresses put into play not only their talent and their abilities, but above all their soul, and therefore, their life. Often forgotten, many of you may be reading their names for the first time. Precisely for this reason they deserve to be remembered, because within us there are all the emotions of previous generations who have known and loved them.
Emma Carelli (1877-1928)
Her story – forgotten – was recently told by The First Woman, the documentary by Tony Saccucci. Emma Carelli was a woman who, having become an absolute diva of opera (in the Opera House of the early 1900s), suddenly found herself ousted and annihilated by a society that could not accept that a woman was before. Yes, because Carelli was the first woman manager of the show in Italy (directing the Teatro Costanzi in Rome, today’s Teatro dell’Opera). Emancipated, indomitable and independent, in the 1920s she began to suffer the jealousies and pitfalls of her male colleagues. The fascist regime (Mussolini himself) took care of intervening. The epilogue was dramatic: Carelli was deprived of the direction of her theater, and in a conspiracy of fate she also lost the love of her companion (Walter Mocchi). Now alone, she died in a car accident in 1928 (the year that recorded the highest number of women suicides in the history of Italy).
Valentina Cortese (1923-2019)
Valentina Cortese was undoubtedly one of the leading actresses of Italian cinema, beautifully told by Francesco Patierno in the documentary Diva!. Nominated for an Oscar for Night effect of maestro Francois Truffaut, La Cortese – between Europe and the USA – has worked alongside the greatest (from Marcello Mastroianni to James Stewart and Humphrey Bogart) and for the greatest (in addition to Truffaut, also Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Franco Zeffirelli ). And it was she who found out Audrey Hepburn. Marked by deep loves (with Giorgio Strehler, with whom an artistic partnership was also created) and painful (with the Conductor Victor de Sabata who suddenly died of a heart attack), the strength of the woman (even before the actress) was that of reaching the highest peaks by going beyond the greatest pain: that of being abandoned, as soon as she was born, by her single mother. Her greatness also lies in a gesture: bothered by the American producer Darryl Zanuck, she threw whiskey in his face. A clear opposition to arrogance and masculine, a great example of dignity.
Sylva Koscina (1933-1994)
Discovered by Eduardo De Filippo, born in Zagreb in the former Yugoslavia, Silvia Koscina in almost 40 years of career has worked alongside the great stars of Italian comedy – from Totò to Alberto Sordi, from Nino Manfredi to Ugo Tognazzi – and great movie stars of Hollywood like Kirk Douglas and Paul Newman. Prosperous and photogenic, Koscina started out as a model (for stylists Roberto Capucci, Vincenzo Ferdinandi and Emilio Schuberth) before being launched in cinema by Pietro Germi. Sylva was not only a breathtaking beauty, but also an interpreter capable of playing dramatic roles (she also worked with great masters such as Ettore Scola and Federico Fellini). Her life – tumultuous: she had to face marital troubles (her marriage to producer Raimondo Castelli was canceled) and financial (she was forced to sell her villa) – ended prematurely at the age of 61.
Elsa Martinelli (1935-2017)
It was the designer Vincenzo Ferdinandi who discovered it and, in fact, launched it into high fashion. After his debut on the catwalk, another designer, Roberto Capucci, introduces her to the world of the jet-set: Elsa soon becomes an internationally recognized model and model. Hollywood notices her making her big screen debut at the age of 22 – alongside a certain Kirk Douglas (it was he who personally chose her after seeing her in a magazine) – in the western The Indian Hunter (1956, by André De Toth) and, thanks to her performance, she immediately won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlinale. Later he worked in Italy with great directors (from Bolognini to Vittorio De Sica, from Elio Petri to Alberto Lattuada), but also in France (with Roger Vadim) and again USA (with Orson Welles). Over the years she became an icon of elegance and style, in 1995 she wrote her entire life in autobiography I am as I am. From the sweet life and back.
Wanda Osiris (1905-1994)
From an early age Anna Menzio nurtures a great passion for singing and music. The love for the theater led her to Milan where, in 1923, she made her debut at the Eden cinema in the company of Carlo Rota (and later she will also work with Totò in Small Cafe). Her debut as a showgirl takes place in 1937 (in And if he tells you go, don’t worry go …): this is where she begins to create her character as Divine of the Italian show, Anna becomes Wanda. Between the 1930s and 1940s she continued to perfect her character – the ocher makeup, the bleached hair, the turbans, the sequins, the feathers, the thornless roses – becoming the Wandissima, now the absolute goddess of the Italian magazine. When asked what was behind her smile, she replied “A little bit of everything. Joys, pains, illusions, disappointments… a little bit of everything and I keep smiling. Maybe I think it’s for the best“.
Silvana Pampanini (1925-2016)
The star system is sometimes really cruel. An example are the funeral – sadly deserted by the whole world of cinema – of Silvana Pampanini (disappeared, 91 years old, just over 5 years ago), Diva “forgotten and betrayed” by her city, Rome, and by her own environment. but yet Ninì Pampan she was one of the greatest actresses of our cinema, so beautiful (from a very young age, 1946, she was elected Miss Italy by popular acclaim) to make many colleagues lose their heads (from Orson Welles to Hollywood stars like Tyrone Power and William Holden) and so good that she was chosen by filmmakers of the caliber of Monicelli, Germi, Comencini, De Santis, and Steno. Despite her international fame and her flirtations with some stars of American cinema, Pampanini did not succumb to the flattery of Hollywood, preferring – just like Valli – to stay in Europe.
Rossana Podestà (1934-2013)
The career of Carla Dora – aka “Rossanna” Podestà it began very early, at the age of 16, when director Léonide Moguy chose her for Tomorrow is another day (1951). The “tomorrow” of the Podestà was then brilliant with around sixty films as an actress, both in Italy (where she married the actor and director Marco Vicario, who directed her several times), and abroad (especially in America Latina, thanks to Mexican director Emilio Fernández). Beautiful woman, with a pin-up physique, the Podestà made several films of the pink neorealism vein but left her mark above all in historical-mythological films (she was renamed the “queen of the peplum”). In particular – it was the year 1956 – the American director Robert Wise, in the blockbuster Elena di Troia, chose her as the protagonist, preferring her to absolute divas such as Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner and Ava Gardner.
Elettra Raggio (1887-1973)
Eclectic artist and singular figure in the cultural landscape of the time, Elettra Raggio – born in Geneva Francesca Rusconi – is still considered today a great diva of silent cinema. Milanese by birth, coming from an upper middle class family, he began his career in the theater before moving to the cinema in 1915. However, Elettra did not stop at acting alone, venturing (in a pioneering way) all phases of film production. So much so that only a year later he founded his own production company, Raggio Film. Woman producer in a world of men, his cinematographic works manifested an approach to the seventh art aimed more at intellectual and artistic research rather than a commercial dimension, taking numerous elements from the theatrical world from which he came. In his life he also devoted himself to publishing.
Yvonne Sanson (1925-2003)
Born in Greece (in Thessaloniki) but naturalized Italian, Yvonne Sanson also started out as a model. Typical Mediterranean beauty, she landed in the cinema and it was Alberto Lattuada who gave her her first important role – the fatal Ginevra Canale – in The crime of Giovanni Episcopo (from the novel by Gabriele D’Annunzio). After having worked together with Vittorio Gassman and Totò, his career turned thanks to a genre much loved by the public of the 50s, the melodrama (the critics called this line of films as appendix neorealism). In a short time, Sanson – often alongside Amedeo Nazzari – becomes the queen of Italian cinematographic melò. While acting in other genres, often led by very important authors (from Rossellini to Risi, from Bertolucci to De Santis), its decline began in the 1960s. After the untimely death of her husband, the vicissitudes with the Italian tax authorities began for Yvonne: in 2003 she left in modest conditions, now far from the spotlight.
Alida Valli (1921-2006)
Born a baroness (her real name is in fact Alida Maria Altenburger von Marckenstein und Frauenberg), Alida Valli has become one of the symbols of cinema and theater of the twentieth century. As cold in appearance as passionate in soul, Valli was a woman who suffered a lot (she lost her boyfriend Carlo Cugnasca in 1941, an aviator who fell in Libya) and made courageous choices (often to the detriment of her career: after being was directed by Alfred Hitchcock neither The Paradine case, 1947, it was she who said no to Hollywood and returned to Italy) again in the name of art. Her story and her heart, shrouded in mystery for decades (it is known that she was a very reserved woman), were told by Mimmo Verdesca in the documentary Alida.
© Silver Screen Collection