29 January 2012


Hesperia (1885 - 1959), was one of the Italian divas of the silent screen. She often worked with director Baldassarre Negroni, who later became her husband.

Romanian postcard by Edition S.A.R.P.I.C., Bucarest, no. 52.

Italian postcard by Ed. A. Traldi, Milano, no. 465.

Tableaux Vivants
Hesperia was born as Olga Mambelli in 1885 in Bertinora, Italy. Her niece was film actress Pauline Polaire, who also appeared in Italian silent films and was famous for her 13 inch corsetted waist. Hesperia started her career as a child actor at the Teatro Comunale, the local theater in Meldola in the Italian Romagna, where she grew up. Between 1910 and 1912 she had her breakthrough as vaudeville artist with tableaux vivants of sculptures and paintings, performing all around Italy. Her parents considered her hence a dishonored woman and closed the door to her. Baron Fassini of the Roman Cines company saw a future star in this quite matronlike woman. He put her into films, first in two- and three-reelers, often paired with Ignazio Lupi. Among these early films were silent shorts like Quando la donna vuole.../When the woman wants ... (1912), Altruismo/Altruism (1912), and La madre/The Mother (1913) with Leda Gys. Hesperia proved to be as well a good dramatic actress as a comedienne.

Hesperia in L'aigrette
Italian postcard by Tiber Film, Roma, no. 5105. Photo: IPA CT Duplex.
Hesperia and Ida Carloni Talli in L'aigrette (1917, Baldassarre Negroni), misspelled by IMDb as L'aiglette. This was an adapation of play by Dario Niccodemi. The countess of Saint-Servant (Ida Carolini Talli) has raised her son Enrico (Tullio Carminati) to be proud of his name and title, and to cherish honour and virtue, symbolised by the feather of her aigrette. In reality the countess is hunted by creditors, the castle is falling apart. Enrico falls in love with Susanne Leblanc (Hesperia), wife of banker, and in return she loads him with money in order to restore the castle. Her husband (André Habay) is not so happy with this kind of charity...

Hesperia in La cuccagna
Italian postcard by Tiber Fim, Roma, no. 5071. Photo: IPA CT Duplex.
Saccard (Claudio Nicola) surprises Renée (Hesperia) and Max (Alberto Collo) in La cuccagna (1917, Baldassarre Negroni). The film was an adaptation of Emile Zola's La curée. Hesperia is Renata/Renée, second wife of the cunning and wealthy Saccard, who married young Renata for her money. She has an affair with Saccard's son Max, played by Collo. In the end money triumphs instead of love, just as in Zola's novel. On this postcard the father (left) looks not much older than the son (right).

Incontrollable Rages
In 1914, Hesperia switched to Milano-Films, with her future husband, film director Baldassarre Negroni. He had already been directing her at Cines. For a while he was also the artistic director at Milano. Among their films for Milano were L'ultima battaglia/The Last Battle (1914, Baldassarre Negroni) with Livio Pavanelli, Vizio atavico/Atavistic Vice (1914, Baldassarre Negroni) starring Mercedes Brignone, and Nel nido straniero/Stranger in the nest (1914, Baldassarre Negroni). In 1915, when Italy joined the Allies in the First World War and Milano had to stop producing, Negroni took Hesperia with him to the Tiber Film company in Rome, where Francesca Bertini just had left for the Caesar company. A strong competition between the two leading ladies started, exploiting both the typical diva repertory of boulevard drama, leading to simultaneous adaptations of Alexandre Dumas fils' La dame aux camélias in 1915. While Bertini remained more solemn, Hesperia could get into incontrollable rages but also wildly merry moods. The following years, Hesperia appeared at Tiber-Film in such films as Marcella (1915, Baldassarre Negroni) based on a play by Victorien Sardou, La morsa/The Vice (1916, Emilio Ghione) and La donna di cuori/The queen of hearts (1917, Baldassarre Negroni) wih Tullio Carminati. Between 1912 and 1923, the year she married count Negroni and withdrew from film business, Hesperia made some 70 films, mostly impeccable and often popular bourgeois dramas and comedies. Even later films such as Il figlio di Madame Sans-Gêne/The son of Madame Sans-Gêne (1921, Baldassarre Negroni) with her niece Pauline Polaire knew to draw crowds in Italy. In 1938, the by now countess Olga Negroni had a small reappearance on Italian screens in the film Orgoglio/Pride, (1938, Marco Elter) starring Fosco Giachetti and hot at the Cinecittà film studios. In 1959, Hesperia passed away in Rome, Italy. She was 78.

Italian postcard by Ed. Vettori, Bologna, nr. 167.
The postcard shows again Hesperia and Alberto Collo in La cuccagna (1917, Baldassarre Negroni). In the end, money triumphs instead of love, just as in Emile Zola's novel, La curée. That's why some Italian critics thought the title La cuccagna (Abundance) too cheerful, while La curée means The Loot.

Italian postcard, sent in 1922 from Cava dei Tirreni (Salerno).

Source: Vittorio Martinelli, Le dive del silenzio; Tonino Simoncelli, Hesperia, stella del varietà e diva del muto, and IMDb.

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