14 June 2016

Irma Gramatica

Irma Gramatica (1867-1962) was an Italian stage and screen actress, known for her qualities but also her temper.

Irma Gramatica
Italian postcard, no. 48. Photo: Sciutto, Genoa.

Enormous potential

Irma Gramatica, originally Maria Francesca Gramatica, was born in 1867 in Fiume, Italy (now Rijeka, Croatia). She had two sisters, both actresses as well: Emma and Anna. Though born Maria Francesca, she was called Irma from her childhood, as in Carnia, Friuli, where she was raised all Mariafrancesca’s were called Irma. She was the daughter of Domenico Gramatica and the Hungarian Cristina Bradil, respectively a prompter and a seamstress in the company of Luigi Monti.

Already at the age of five years she debuted on stage in the drama Cause ed effetti by Paolo Ferrari and immediately showed enormous potential. In her girlhood she starred alongside the great players of the time such as Cesare Rossi, Jacinta Pezzana, Flavio Andò and Eleonora Duse, supporting them in Fedora by Victorien Sardou.

She joined them in a major tour through South America, where the first symptoms of imbalance began to appear. Irma indeed tried to commit suicide by eating exotic fruit contaminated by yellow fever. The reason is unknown but seems linked to difficulties related to a great inner pain, not to sentimental origins.

At seventeen she married the actor Arnaldo Cottin and they had a son the following year. With Cottin she returned to Argentina two years after, but during the tour, the child, left back in Italy, died, and the incident led to the separation of Gramatica and her husband. While remaining in Argentina, Irma contracted meningitis from which she was saved, but anaemic and weakened by an intense nervous breakdown she suffered a deep depression, beginning to perceive her existence as an unbearable burden.

After her return to Italy, she became First Young Actress in the company of Italia Vitaliani and Vittorio Salsilli in 1892, and in 1895 First Actress, under the guidance of Napoleone Mozzidolfi and directed by Alessandro Marchetti. Under the guidance of V. Valli she perfected her outstanding temperament, suitable for a very wide repertoire.

Irma Gramatica
Italian postcard by T.C.R., no. 1. Photo: Varischi & Artico Co., Milano.

Irma Gramatica
Italian postcard by T.C.R., no. 2. Photo: Varischi & Artico Co., Milano.

Grumpy and irritable character

Irma Gramatica proved to be sensitive both to the new theatre as well as the romantic authors of the 19th century. After leaving Eleonora Duse’s company, Irma entered that of Ermete Zacconi, an actor whom the same Gramatica said "had absolute influence on the conduct of my artistic faculties."

From here began her great successes that led to the birth of the famous stage company Talli-Gramatica-Calabresi. Irma was the first Nennele in Come le foglie by Giuseppe Giacosa, Lisa in Dal tuo al mio by Giovanni Verga, Paolina in Sperduti nel buio by Roberto Bracco and especially Mila di Codro in La figlia di Jorio, which Gabriele D'Annunzio had written especially for Duse but who, because of illness could not perform it on stage.

Irma had a grumpy and irritable character, and had as she called itself a severe nature. She always tried to be approached as little as possible, admitting to detest interviews, feeling a real phobia for them and almost always rejecting them.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s she was active as film actress at the new Cinecittà studios, sometimes paired with her sister Emma as in Sissignora/Yes, Madam! (Fernando Maria Poggioli, 1941) and Sorelle Materassi/The Materassi sisters (Fernando Maria Poggioli, 1944).

Her young co-actors in those years were e.g. Laura Adani, Clara Calamai, Maria Denis, Maria Mercader and Anneliese Uhlig. Irma also played the widow Pescatore in the Italian version of Il fu Mattia Pascal (Pierre Chenal, 1937), starring Pierre Blanchar. Immediately after the war she had an important part in the refugees film Lo sconosciuto di San MarinoUnknown Men of San Marino (Michał Waszyński, 1946), for which Cesare Zavattini had written the script. Her last part was in Incantesimo tragico/Tragic Spell (Mario Sequi 1951), a period drama about a cursed treasure, set in the Maremma region.

Irma Grammatica died in Villa Giuseppina at Tavarnuzze in 1962.

Irma Gramatica
Italian postcard, no. 512. Photo: Sciutto, Genoa.

Sources: (Italian) and IMDb.

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