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11 July 2017

Elsa Martinelli (1935-2017)

On 8 July 2017, glamorous Italian actress and former fashion model Elsa Martinelli (1935) has died. She showed her beautiful curves in many European and Hollywood productions of the 1950s and 1960s, but somehow she never became the star she was destined to become in the mid-1950s. Martinelli was 82.

Elsa Martinelli
German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/255.

Elsa Martinelli
German postcard by ISV, no. D 22. Photo: Pierluigi.

Elsa Martinelli
German postcard by ISV, no. D 27. Photo: Pierluigi.

Elsa Martinelli
German postcard by Universum-Film Aktiengesellschaft (Ufa), Berlin-Tempelhof, no. CK 39. Retail price: 30 Pfg. Photo: Ufa.

Elsa Martinelli
Spanish postcard by Postal Oscarcolor, no. 407.

Elsa Martinelli (1935-2017)
Italian postcard by Rotalcolor, Milano, no. N. 178. Photo: Warner Bros. Publicity still for Hatari! (Howard Hawks, 1962).

The World of Fashion


Elsa Martinelli was born Elsa Tia in Grosseto, Tuscany, in 1935. Soon after her birth, her large and very poor family moved to Rome. Elsa had to earn her keep from the age of twelve, delivering groceries.

In 1953, while working as a barmaid, she was discovered by designer Roberto Capucci who introduced her to the fashion world. She became a model and began playing small roles in films.

She appeared uncredited in Le Rouge et le noir/Scarlet and Black (Claude Autant-Lara, 1954) starring Gérard Philipe.

Her first important film role came the following year with the American Western The Indian Fighter (André De Toth, 1955), in which she played the Native American heroine opposite Kirk Douglas. Douglas claims to have spotted her on a Life magazine cover and hired her for his production company, Bryna Productions.

She returned to Rome and starred in the Carlo Ponti production La risaia/Rice Girl (Raffaello Matarazzo, 1956) with Folco Lulli and Rik Battaglia. The melodrama was an obvious attempt to recapture the success of Riso Amaro/Bitter Rice (Giuseppe De Santis, 1949) with Silvana Mangano as the sexy rice field worker in hot pants. The attempt worked quite well.

Elsa Martinelli in La Risaia (1956)
Italian postcard by Rotalfoto, Milano / G.B. & F., V, no. 2072. Photo: Carlo Ponti. Publicity still for La risaia/Rice Girl (Raffaello Matarazzo, 1956). Caption: Saluti dalla Risaia (Greetings from the rice girl).

Elsa Martinelli
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, offered by Les Carbones Korès 'Carboplane', no. 917. Photo: Paramount, 1957.

Elsa Martinelli
Italian postcard by Casa Editr. Ballerini & Fratini, Firenze (B.F.F. Edit.), no. 3387. Photo: Universal.

Elsa Martinelli
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, no. 1064, 1959. Retail price: 0,20 DM. Photo: Maxima-Lux Rome; Aspa, Madrid. Publicity still for La mina/The Mine (Giuseppe Bennati, 1957).

Elsa Martinelli
Italian postcard by 3K, no. 3841.

Elsa Martinelli
German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin-Charlottenburg, no. S 737. Photo: Unitalia-Film / Dial.

Modern Cinderella


In 1956 Elsa Martinelli won the Silver Berlin Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin International Film Festival. She won this prestigious award for playing a modern Cinderella in the comedy Donatella (Mario Monicelli, 1956) with Gabriele Ferzetti.

From then on, she divided her time between Europe and the US and appeared in such films as Four Girls in Town (Jack Sher, 1956) with George Nader, Manuela/The Stowaway Girl (Guy Hamilton, 1957) with Trevor Howard, the historical drama I Battellieri del Volga/Prisoner of the Volga (Victor Tourjansky, 1959) with John Derek and the romance Un amore a Roma/Love in Rome (Dino Risi, 1960).

Highlights were the excellent drama La notte brava (Mauro Bolognini, 1959), based on a novel by Pier Paolo Pasolini and the haunting and surreal horror film Et mourir de plaisir/Blood and Roses (Roger Vadim, 1960).

The latter was an attempt to retell the classic Sheridan Le Fanu vampire tale Carmilla, co-starring the director's wife Annette Vadim (or Annette Stroyberg).

In 1957 Elsa married wealthy Count Franco Mancinelli Scotti di San Vito. Her mother-in-law, Countess Margherita Manicineli Scotti di San Vito, reportedly expelled her son from their Rome palace because the marriage was against her wishes. Finally she fired her son from his job as manager of the family estate.

Elsa Martinelli
German postcard by Filmbilder-Vertrieb Ernst Freihoff, Essen, no. 233. Photo: Georg Michalke.

Elsa Martinelli
German postcard by WS-Druck, Wanne-Eickel, no. 284. Photo: Georg Michalke / Archiv Filmpress Zürich.

Elsa Martinelli
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 1.974, 1963. Photo: publicity still for Le capitan/Captain Blood (André Hunebelle, 1960).

Elsa Martinelli
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin, no. 103. Photo: publicity still for Hatari! (Howard Hawks, 1962).

Elsa Martinelli and Anthony Perkins in Le procès (1962)
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin, no. 470. Sent by mail in 1972. Photo: publicity still for Le procès/The Trial (Orson Welles, 1962) with Anthony Perkins.

Tried and True Howard Hawks Fashion


One of Elsa Martinelli’s most interesting films is Orson Welles’ adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Trial, Le Procès (Orson Welles, 1962). Anthony Perkins played Joseph K, a man condemned for an unnamed crime in an unnamed country. Seeking justice, he is sucked into a labyrinth of bureaucracy. Along the way, he becomes involved with three women - Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider and Martinelli - who in their own individual ways are functions of the System that persecutes him.

In the action and adventure comedy Hatari! (Howard Hawks, 1962) she played a freelance wildlife photographer on a Tanganyika game farm. Martinelli was the eye candy in a star cast with John Wayne, Gérard Blain, Red Buttons and Hardy Krüger. Hal Erickson at AllMovie: "Wayne's men-only contingent is reduced to jello when Elsa enters the scene, but in tried and true Howard Hawks fashion, she quickly becomes ‘one of the guys’."

In the comedy The Pigeon That Took Rome (Melville Shavelson, 1962) she starred opposite Charlton Heston, and in The V.I.P.’s (Anthony Asquith, 1963) she was the protegee of Orson Welles.

In the South Seas adventure Rampage (Phil Karlson, 1963) she co-starred with Robert Mitchum, and in the episodic sex comedy Sette Volte Donna/Woman Times Seven (Vittorio De Sica, 1967) with Lex Barker.

In the big-budget adaptation of Terry Southern's satiric sex farce Candy (Christian Marquand, 1968), she played Candy’s mother in a cast with Charles Aznavour, Marlon Brando, and Richard Burton.

In Italy she made the near surrealist western Il mio corpo per un poker/Belle Starr (Piero Cristofani, Lina Wertmuller, 1968), and a stylish erotic thriller, Una sull'altra/One on Top of the Other (Lucio Fulci, 1969), with Marisa Mell and Jean Sorel.

Elsa Martinelli
French postcard by E.D.U.G., no. 199. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Elsa Martinelli
French postcard by E.D.U.G., no. 124. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Elsa Martinelli
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, offered by Les Carbones Korès 'Carboplane', no. FK 32. Photo: Fried Agency / Ufa.

Elsa Martinelli
German postcard by Ufa/Film-Foto, no. FK 3172. Photo: Unitalia Film, Roma.

Elsa Martinelli
Italian photocard, editor and photographer unknown.

Elsa Martinelli (1935-2017)
Spanish postcard by Archivo Bermejo, no. C. 263, 1965. Photo: Warner Bros. Publicity still for Hatari! (Howard Hawks, 1962).

Interior Designer


In the 1970s the film career of Elsa Martinelli somehow halted. She only appeared incidentally in European films. She starred opposite Robert Hossein in the French caper film La Part des Lions/The Lions' Share (Jean Larriaga, 1971), and she played a supporting part in the political drama Garofano Rosso/The Red Carnation (Luigi Faccini, 1976) with Marina Berti.

On TV she appeared as a guest star in The Return of the Saint (1979) with Ian Ogilvy as Simon Templar. Meanwhile she had started a new, successful career as an interior designer, but she continued to accept incidental parts in films and TV-series.

After Sono Un Fenomeno Paranormale/I'm a Paranormal Phenomenon (Sergio Corbucci, 1985) with Alberto Sordi, she made unheralded return appearances in the international productions Arrivederci Roma (Clive Donner, 1990) and the inconsequential all-star comedy Once Upon a Crime (Eugene Levy, 1992).

Most recently she was seen in the short film Cabiria, Priscilla e le altre/Cabiria, Priscilla and the Others (Fabrizio Celestini, 1999) and the TV-series Orgoglio (2005).

Elsa Martinelli was married from 1957 till 1964 to Count Franco Mancinelli Scotti di San Vito, by whom she has a daughter, actress Cristiana Mancinelli (1958). In 1968 she married Paris Match photographer and 1970s furniture designer Willy Rizzo, with whom she had a son.

On 8 July 2017, Elsa Martinelli passed away in Rome, Italy. She was 82. Her husband Willy Rizzo had died in 2013.


Trailer The Indian Fighter (1955). Source: zinho jp (YouTube).


Italian trailer Donatella (1956). Source: CG Entertainment (YouTube). No subtitles, sorry.


German DVD trailer for La risaia/Rice Girl 1956).Source: Arild Rafalzik (YouTube). No subtitles, sorry.


Trailer Hatari! (1962). Source: Paramountmovies Digital (YouTube).


Trailer Le Procès/The Trial (1962). Source: Danios 12345 (YouTube).


Elsa Martinelli and Robert Hoffman in Come Imparai ad Amare le Donne (1967). Source: stranevisioni (YouTube). No subtitles, sorry.

Sources: Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Marlène Pilaete (Les Gens du Cinéma - French), Kimberly Lindbergs (Cinebeats), Gerald A. DeLuca (IMDb), Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen, Wikipedia, and IMDb.

1 comment:

The Vicar of VHS said...

Gorgeous! I'm going to seek out some of her horror/thrillers, I think. What an open, honest gaze in that second pic.