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14 May 2013

Elsa Merlini

Elsa Merlini (1903-1983) was a star of the Italian cinema of the 1930's. She excelled in the 'telefoni bianchi', an Italian genre of sophisticated comedies which were wildly popular before WWII.

Elsa Merlini
Italian postcard by N.M.M., Milano, 1941 - XIX. On the retro side: "Elsa Merlini - l'artista che sa accoppiare il brio più indiavolato, espressioni di languore e di malinconia" (Elsa Merlini - the artist who knows to pair the most devilish vivacity with expressions of languidness and melancholy). This card could be for the film Paprika (1933, Carl Boese) in which spicy Ilonka (Merlini) from Hungary becomes a housemaid in order to win the heart of her misogynist master (Renato Cialente).

Elsa Merlini and Vittorio De Sica
With Vittorio De Sica. Italian postcard. The caption 'Ritorna Elsa Merlini tutto pepe' translates as:' Elsa Merlini returns, all pepper'. Photo: probably a publicity still for the film Non ti conosco più/I Don't Know You Anymore (1936, Nunzio Malasomma, Mario Bonnard). The pepper refers to the title of her previous film Paprika (1933, Carl Boese).

Excellent Comedian
Elsa Merlini, pseudonym of Elsa Tscheliesnig, was born in Trieste in 1903, when the city was still part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. She moved to Florence where she worked on her diction because of her German and Slavic influences. She changed her name into the more Italian Merlini, and at 17, she made her stage debut with Annibale Ninchi, the future leading actor of the film Scipione l'Africano/Scipio the African (1937, Carmine Gallone). In 1930 she entered the Nicodemi company and over the years she proved to be an excellent comedian, working with Sergio Tofano and Luigi Cimara . In 1934 she established a new company with her life partner Renato Cialente, Merlini-Cialente. They produced dramatic plays by Anton Chekhov and Luigi Pirandello. Merlini also started a career as a singer, recording several songs. She sometimes sang duets with Vittorio De Sica, such as the song Dammi un bacio e ti dico di si from the film Non ti conosco più/I Don't Know You Anymore (1936, Nunzio Malasomma, Mario Bonnard).

Elsa Merlini
Italian postcard in the series Cines-Pittaluga by Ballerini & Fratini, Firenze, no. 2564. Card given as memory to a visit of La segretaria privata/The Private Secretary (1932, Goffredo Alessandrini) starring Merlini.

Elsa Merlini
Italian postcard by Ballerini & Fratini, Florence, no. 2858. Photo: S.A.P.F. production.

Private Secretary
Elsa Merlini is best remembered for her telefoni bianchi, the elegant film comedies of the 1930's. Her first film set the tone: it was the musical comedy La segretaria privata/The Private Secretary (1931, Goffredo Alessandrini), an Italian version of the German film operetta Die Privatsekretärin (1931, Wilhelm Thiele) starring Renate Müller. Getting a simple job as a dactylograph - remember we are right in the Depression years - is enough for Elsa to sing out loud: "Oh come son felice, felice, felice", the recurring motif of the soundtrack. Unknowingly, she bonds with the director of the company who regards her as a fling first, but who is finally won over. After this hit, Merlini continued appearing in films such as Paprika (1933, Carl Boese) - again an Italian version of a German picture with the same title, Non ti conosco più/I Don't Know You Anymore (1936, Nunzio Malasomma), and La dama bianca/The White Lady (1938, Mario Mattoli). She often co-starred with Nino Besozzi, who plays the director in La segretaria privata, Renato Cialente, and with Vittorio De Sica.

Elsa Merlini, Nino Besozzi
With Nino Besozzi. Italian postcard by B.F.F. edit., no. 2598. Photo: Produzione SAPF.

Elsa Merlini
Italian postcard by B.F.F. edit., no. 2631. Photo: Produzione SAPF.

Tragic Death
In 1943, Elsa Merlini's lover, Renato Cialente, was killed by a bypassing German car while he was leaving the theater. After the war and her partner's tragic death, Merlini returned to the stage, and did not perform in films until 1951. Then she was relaunched in the cinema with the comedy Cameriera bella presenza offresi/Housemaid (1951, Giorgi Pastina). An all-star cast surrounded Merlini: Gino Cervi, Eduardo and Titina De Filippo, Giulietta Masina, Vittorio De Sica and Isa Miranda. Few other films followed, however. From the late 1950's on, she also performed on television and she also had a prolific career at the radio, first for EIAR, then for the RAI. In 1968 she had her own radio programme La maga Merlini (The Sorceress Merlini). In1983, Elsa Merlini died of a tumor at the age of 80. From 1934 until his death in 1943 she was the partner of Renato Cialente. From 1965 on she was married to Luciano Zuccolini.


Elsa Merlini and Vittorio De Sica sing Dammi un Bacio e ti Dico di Sì. Source: maxmenox60 (YouTube).

Sources: AllMovie, Wikipedia and IMDb.

2 comments:

EmmaK said...

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Bob of Holland said...

You're welcome.