22 February 2017

Giulietta Masina - actress

Married to Fellini and excelled in his films

Giulietta Masina in a picture taken in about 1960
Giulietta Masina in a picture taken
in about 1960
The actress Giulietta Masina, who was married for 50 years to the film director Federico Fellini, was born on this day in 1921 in San Giorgio di Piano, a small town in Emilia-Romagna, about 20km (12 miles) north of Bologna.

She appeared in 22 films, six of them directed by her husband, who gave her the lead female role opposition Anthony Quinn in La Strada (1954) and enabled her to win international acclaim when he cast her as a prostitute in the 1957 film Nights of Cabiria, which built on a small role she had played in an earlier Fellini movie, The White Sheik.

Masina's performance in what was a controversial film at the time earned her best actress awards at the film festivals of Cannes and San Sebastián and from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists (SNGCI).

Both La Strada and Nights of Cabiria won Oscars for best foreign film at the Academy Awards.

Masina also won best actress in the David di Donatello awards for the title role in Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits (1965) and a second SNGCI best actress award for his 1986 film Ginger and Fred.

Although born in northern Italy, one of four children, her parents sent her to live with a widowed aunt in Via Lutezia in the Parioli area of Rome. They hoped it would improve her prospects by obtaining a better education.  Ultimately, she graduated from the Sapienza University of Rome with a degree in Literature.

Giulietta Masini as Cabiria in the Fellini film Nights of Cabiria, for which she won a string of awards
Giulietta Masina as Cabiria in the Fellini film Nights of
, for which she won a string of awards
Having earlier studied music and dance, she turned to acting while at university, appearing in productions at the university's own Ateneo Theatre and the Compagnia del Teatro Comico Musicale.  It was there in 1942 that she was spotted by Fellini, who cast her in his radio serial, Terziglio.

The two hit it off immediately and married after only one year, in October 1943.  Masina continued to work on stage, in some productions alongside Marcello Mastroianni, who would become Fellini's leading man, before her husband helped her make the transition to the big screen, where she excelled in the portrayal of innocent, pathetic and troubled outcasts.

She was renowned for being able to use her expressive face to convey a range of emotions from sorrow and pathos to happiness and love. Many critics described her as a female Charlie Chaplin.  In her private life, she was noted for her impish sense of humour.

The original movie poster for Fellini's film Nights of Cabiria
The original movie poster for
Fellini's film Nights of Cabiria
As well as movie work, towards the end of her career Masina worked successfully in radio, hosting Lettere aperte, a show in which she responded to listeners' correspondence, and acted in television dramas.

Her marriage to Fellini was not blessed with children. Her first pregnancy ended after she suffered a miscarriage following a fall on a flight of stairs. She became pregnant again but her son, Pierfederico, to whom she gave birth in March 1945, tragically died from encephalitis at a month old.

Despite her husband's frequent infidelities, most of which he confessed, Masina stuck by Fellini.  They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in October 1993, a day before he died.

Onlookers noted how frail she looked at his funeral and it was only five months later that she passed away herself at the age of 73, having been diagnosed with lung cancer.  She and her husband are buried together at Rimini cemetery in a tomb marked by a prow-shaped monument, the work of sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro.

San Giorgio di Piano's parish church of San Giorgio Martire (St George the Martyr)
San Giorgio di Piano's parish church of
San Giorgio Martire (St George the Martyr)
Travel tip:

San Giorgio di Piano is a pleasant town within greater Bologna in an area with an economy based on the production of hemp and wheat.  It grew in the 14th century around a castle, the Castello di San Giorgio.  The Via della Libertà is an elegant porticoed street typical of the architecture in Bologna and Ferrara.  The parish church of St George the Martyr was renovated during the 19th century, as was the adjoining bell tower, which was added in the 18th century.  The church contains important paintings by Antonio Randa and Mario Roversi. In June each year, the town hosts a festival, the Corso dei Fiori, which is celebrated in the manner of a carnival with a parade of floats and a tradition of wearing decorative masks. 

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The Parioli district is notable for its tree-lined streets
The Parioli district of Rome, where Masina grew up,
is a well-to-do area notable for its tree-lined streets
Travel tip:

Parioli, where Masina grew up, is now one of Rome's wealthiest residential areas. Located between two of the city's largest parks - the gardens of the Villa Borghese and the Villa Ada - it is notable for tree-lined streets and elegant houses, and is also home to some of Rome's best restaurants, while its bars attract a sophisticated clientele. Many luxury apartments to rent make it popular with well-heeled visitors to the capital.

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