The splendor of actress Elsa Martinelli reached far beyond the borders of Italy. Her pure beauty and innocent demeanor made her the perfect match for stars like Kirk Douglas, John Wayne and Gabriele Ferzetti.
Born in Tuscany, she moved to Rome with her family and worked as a model in the early 1950s. Shortly thereafter, she began making her transformation to an actress by taking small roles in films like Claude Autant-Lara's Le Rouge et le Noir. It wasn't long before Hollywood got wind of the up and coming Italian starlet and in 1955, she was cast opposite Kirk Douglas in the Technicolor Western The Indian Fighter. A year later, she won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 6th edition of the Berlin International Film Festival for the title role in Mario Monicelli's Donatella.
From that point on, Martinelli divided her time between Europe and the United States and would go on to appear in films such as Manuela (1957), Prisoner of the Volga (1959) The Pigeon That Took Rome (1962) and Hatari! (1962) starring John Wayne. During those years, she was married to an actual count.. Count Franco Mancinelli Scotti di San Vito. The marriage lasted from 1957–1966.
Fast forward to Eugene Levy's 1992 ensemble film, Once Upon a Crime. Described as a "black comedy mystery," the film stars Martinelli along with Richard Lewis, John Candy, James Belushi, Cybill Shepherd, Sean Young, Giancarlo Giannini and Ornella Muti. A remake of Mario Camerini's comedy Crimen, the story centers on dysfunctional couples in Monte Carlo who all become suspects in a murder.
I met Martinelli last year during the Rome Film Festival. To mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Dino Risi, the Rome Film Fest dedicated a tribute to the master of Italian-style comedy with the screening of Dino Risi Forever, a documentary by Fabrizio Corallo. At the end of the film, several actors shared their memories of Risi, including Elsa Martinelli and Andrea Occhipinti. I spoke with her briefly after the discussion. She was graceful, low-key, not at all a diva, and patient in posing for pictures with her fans.
Elsa Martinelli left behind a wonderful collection of classic films for future generations to enjoy. Many clips and complete films are easily available to watch on YouTube.