02 March 2013

Rita Jolivet

Rita Jolivet (1885 - 1962) was an English actress of French descent. She was already an acclaimed stage actress when she made her film debut. She appeared in both European and American early silent films. In May 1915, she was one of the few survivors of the Lusitania, after a German submarine destroyed the transatlantic steamer. Rita produced Lest We Forget (1918), a romanticised version of the fatal events.

Rita Jolivet
British postcard by Millar & Lang, Ltd., Art Publishers, Glasgow & London. Photo: Geo. Garet-Charle.

To Italy
Marguerite Lucile Jolivet was born in Paris, France in 1885 (according to Vittorio Martinelli; Wikipedia states 1890). She was one of three children of Charles Eugene Jolivet from Carmansville, New York, an owner of extensive vineyards in France, and his French wife Pauline Hélène Vaillant, a talented musician. The strikingly beautiful Rita began her stage career as a youth. She was already an acclaimed stage actress when she made her film debut. Noticing Jolivet's performance at the Garrick Theatre in New York, the American distributor and importer of European films George Kleine proposed her to make films in Italy. Enthusiastic about the Guazzoni epics and Lyda Borelli's Ma l'amor mio non muore/Love Everlasting (1913, Mario Caserini), Jolivet traveled to Turin where she went to work for the Ambrosio Company. After three films including the short silent drama Fata Morgana (1914, Edoardo Bencivenga), she returned to the US to play in Cecil B. deMille's The Unafraid (1915). The film was a huge success.

Edwardian Theatre - Rita Jolivet and Otis Skinner in Edward Knoblauch's oriental play 'Kismet' in 1912
Rita Jolivet and Otis Skinner in Edward Knoblauch's oriental play Kismet in 1912. Collection: CharmaineZoe.

Rita Jolivet 1915
Rita Jolivet in 1915. Collection: CharmaineZoe.

Survivor of the Lusitania
Rita Jolivet embarked on the RMS Lusitania in May 1915 to shoot two more films at Ambrosio and to marry an Italian count. On May 7, 1915, the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank in the Atlantic Ocean. Rita was one of the few survivors and was safely escorted to Britain. Olivet's brother-in-law, George L. Vernon, was drowned on the Lusitania. He was going to join Jolivet's sister, Inez Vernon, who was residing in Europe. Inez became depressed following her husband's death and committed suicide. Rita Jolivet went to Italy, where she married count Giuseppe de Cippico di Zara and was known now in private life as the Countess Marguerita de Cippico. She played in films like Zvani (1915, Gino Zaccaria), Monna Vanna (1915, Mario Caserini) and La mano di Fatma/The Hand of Fatma (1916, Gino Zaccaria). Rita returned to the States, and she decided to produce Lest We Forget (1918), a romanticised version of the fatal events of the Lusitania, directed by French director Léonce Perret. Jolivet personally presented the film in roadshows all along the States. Jolivet and her husband donated the proceeds from Lest We Forget (1918) to the alleviation of suffering caused by World War I.

Rita Jolivet in Teodora
Italian postcard by Unione Cinematografica Italiana, no. 9. Photo: Ambrosio Film. The back of the card reads: "When Teodora (Rita Jolivet) meets the Greek Andrea (Ferruccio Biancini) she becomes his lover, pretending she is a widow with the name of Mirta."

After the war, Rita Jolivet returned to Italy to star in a long cherished project: Teodora/Theodora (1921, Leopoldo Carlucci). It was based on a play by Victorien Sardou about a Roman courtesan and former slave girl, who married the Roman emperor Justinian (René Maupré) and assumed the throne as Empress of Rome. Because of various economical problems and censorship, the production proceeded slow in 1919 and 1920, and was finally premiered in the US in 1921. It was a huge succes. One year later, the success was even bigger in Italy, with audiences flocking to see the film. The critics were enthusiastic both about the film with its gigantic sets and about Jolivet's performance. In between theatrical performances Jolivet continued making films in France and Italy through 1926. Her later screen work included The Bride's Confession (1921, Ivan Abramson), Roger la Honte/Roger the Shame (1922, Jacques de Baroncelli), Messalina/The Fall of an Empress (1924, Enrico Guazzoni) with Bruto Castellani, the lunatic comedy Phi-Phi (1926, George Pallu) with André Deed, and Marchand de bonheur/Merchant of Happiness (1926, Giuseppe Guarino). After divorcing Count de Cippico, she remarried Scottish James Bryce Allan in 1928. She retreated from the stage and screen world, and moved to New York. Rita Jolivet died in Nice, France in 1962 - according to Vittorio Martinelli - or in 1971 - according to IMDb.

Bruto Castellani
Bruto Castellani. Italian postcard by Ed. A. Traldi, Milano, no. 665.

Sources: Vittorio Martinelli (Le dive del silenzio); Wikipedia and IMDb.

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