Valentina Cortese died this morning in her home in Milan – she was 96.
The great Italian actress had been confined to a wheelchair for several years but was still receiving friends in her beautiful house in Piazza Sant'Erasmo.
Her first important film role was in the 1948 Italian film Les Misérables with the young Marcello Mastroianni (she played both Fantine and Cosette).
She signed a contract with 20th Century Fox in 1948, though, like her compatriot Alida Valli, would eventually break it to return to Europe. She starred in the 1949 film Malaya with Spencer Tracy and James Stewart, Jules Dassin's Thieves' Highway (1949) with Richard Conte and Lee J. Cobb, The House on Telegraph Hill (1951) directed by Robert Wise and co-starring Richard Basehart and William Lundigan, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz's The Barefoot Contessa (1954), with Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, Edmond O'Brien.
In 1952 she and a very young Audrey Hepburn played sisters in the British thriller Secret People.
When she was just fifteen, she began a relationship with conductor Victor de Sabata, but her relationship with the director Giorgio Strehler, founder of the Piccolo Teatro in Milan where she also worked, was very important to her. Chekov's The Cherry Orchard, of which there is a video recording, is legendary among Italian theatre-goers.
Her only son, Jackie Basehart, was born from her marriage to actor Richard Basehart (1951 until their dìvorce in 1960). Her son died in Milan in 2015.
In recent years there were various scandals and arrests as people close to here were suspected of stealing from her – she had an impressive jewellery collection.
In Europe she was in Michelangelo Antonioni's Le Amiche (1955), Gérard Brach's The Boat on the Grass (1971), Terry Gilliam's British film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), and in Franco Zeffirelli projects such as the film Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972), the miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977) and the film Sparrow (1993). Her final American film role was in When Time Ran Out (1980).
The film Barabba (1961) she made in Italy with Anthony Quinn, Silvana Mangano, Vittorio Gassman and Ernest Borgnine. In 1964 she was directed by Federico Fellini in Giulietta degli spiriti (Juliet of the Spirits) and in the same years appeared alongside Ingrid Bergman in The Visit. She returned to America in 1968 with her colleague Rossella Falk for Robert Aldrich's film The Legend of Lylah Clare with Kim Novak and Peter Finch.
In 1973 she starred in François Truffaut's comedy Day for Night (La Nuit américaine) and received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress. Ingrid Bergman, who won, famously announced during her speech that it should have gone to Cortese.
Short clip of Valentina Cortese with Audrey Hepburn in the British thriller Secret People (1952):
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.
Une gigantesque actrice s’envole pour l’éternité. pour l’avoir connue, un peu, je peu affirmer sa gentillesse, son écoute, son humour, et tant de subtilités qui ont fait d’elle une actrice de premier plan qui laissera dans nos têtes cette quête perpétuelle d’absolu, cette simplicité propre aux plus grands. Que de beauté…