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Saturday, 22 April 2017

Alida Valli - actress

Scandal dogged star admired by Mussolini


The actress Alida Valli was the object of Mussolini's admiration
The actress Alida Valli was the object of
Mussolini's admiration
The actress Alida Valli, who was once described by Benito Mussolini as the most beautiful woman in the world after Greta Garbo, died on this day in 2006 at the age of 84.

One of the biggest stars in Italian cinema in the late 1930s and 40s, when she starred in numerous romantic dramas and comedies, she was best known outside Italy for playing Anna Schmidt, the actress girlfriend of Harry Lime in Carol Reed’s Oscar-winning 1949 classic The Third Man.

She was cast in the role by the producer David O Selznick, who shared the Fascist leader’s appreciation for her looks, and who billed her simply as Valli, hoping it would create for her a Garboesque enigmatic allure.  Later, however, she complained that having one name made her “feel silly”.

Valli was born in Pola, Istria, then part of Italy (now Pula, Croatia), in 1921. She was christened Baroness Alida Maria Laura Altenburger von Marckenstein-Frauenberg, on account of a noble line to her paternal grandfather, Baron Luigi Altenburger, an Austrian-Italian from Trento and a descendant of the Counts d’Arco.

Her father was a journalist and professor. The family moved to Como when she was young but her father died when she was a teenager, after which she and her mother moved to Rome, where she enrolled at the capital's new film school, Centro Sperimentale.

She had no expectations of making a career in movies but the Centro's teachers recognised her talent. The name Alida Valli was invented for her, and in 1937 she made five films, each one more successful than the last. Consequently, her salary went up with each production. When she realised her earnings could support her whole family, she decided that it was a career worth taking seriously.

Alida Valli with Joseph Cotten in The Third Man
After a number of comedies and costume dramas, she won acclaim for more serious roles in Picolo mondo antico (1941) and We the Living (1942). The latter saw her star opposite Rossano Brazzi as tragic lovers in post-revolutionary St Petersburg, which pleased the Fascist regime because it seemed to convey an anti-communist message.

She felt uncomfortable about being linked with the Mussolini regime, however, especially when an anonymous letter to the United States embassy in Rome stalled her application for a visa to work in the US. The letter accused her of Fascist sympathies and being romantically involved with Hitler's propanganda chief Joseph Goebbels. The visa was granted, but only after Selznick's lawyers had disproved the allegations.

After Alida returned to Europe, she moved into more serious roles in films such as Luchino Visconti's Senso (1954) and Michelangelo Antonioni's Il Grido (1957), which had won her praise and confirmed that her beauty was underpinned with genuine acting ability.

Her success was overshadowed, however, by her relationship with Piero Piccioni, the son of Italy’s foreign minister, Attilio Piccioni, who was implicated in a sex and drugs scandal – the so-called Montesi scandal -  that emerged following the discovery of a young woman’s body on a beach near Ostia Antica, the old Roman resort, in 1953.

Piccioni was acquitted of any culpability in the woman’s death after Valli confirmed that she and Piccioni were together in Amalfi, 200 miles away, at the time, staying in a villa as guests of Carlo Ponti.  Valli had by then separated from her husband, Oscar De Mejo.

Valli with Stewart Granger in Luchino Visconti's Senso
During the next decade Alida struggled to rebuild her film career and turned to working more in theatre and television, before her reputation was re-established with parts in such films as Pier Paolo Pasolini's Oedipus Rex (1967) and Bernardo Bertolucci's The Spider's Strategem (1970), 1900 (1976) and La Luna (1979).

Valli encountered tragedy in her personal life when her lover as a young actress, the fighter pilot Carlo Cugnasca, was killed in action over Africa. In 1944, Alida married De Mejo, a jazz pianist, with whom she had a son, Carlo, in 1945, by which time Alida had been offered a Hollywood contract.  They had another son, Larry, but parted after eight years.

Valli's death at her home in Rome was announced by the office of the mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni. The Italian president, CarloAzeglio Ciampi, described her passing as “a great loss for the cinema, the theatre and Italian culture.”

The 15th century facade of Como's Duomo
The 15th century facade of Como's Duomo
Travel tip:

Como, where Valli grew up, can be found at the southern tip of the eastern branch of Lake Como. It is a pleasant town with an impressive cathedral in the historical centre, the construction of which spanned almost 350 years, which is why it combines features from different architectural areas, including Gothic and Renaissance. The façade was built in 1457, its characteristic rose window and a portal flanked by Renaissance statues of Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger, both of whom were from Como. This Duomo replaced the earlier 10th-century cathedral, San Fedele.

Como hotels from Expedia

Travel tip:

The Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia can be found off Via Tuscolana to the south of Rome, nextdoor to the Cinecittà studio complex. It is the oldest film school in Western Europe, founded in 1935 during the Mussolini era by his head of cinema, Luigi Freddi. It is still financed by the Italian government to provide training, research and experimentation in the field of cinema.  Apart from Alida Valli, other actors and actresses to have emerged from the school include Claudia Cardinale, Domenico Modugno and Francesca Neri. Directors among the alumni include Michelangelo Antonioni, Giuseppe De Santis and Luigi Zampa.

Find popular Rome hotels on TripAdvisor

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