Alida Valli

Alida Valli obituary in “The Guardian” in 2006.

Alida Valli.
Alida Valli.

Alida Valli was born in Istria, Italy in 1921.   At the age of 15 she went to Rome to study acting.   She made her film debut in 1936 in “The Three Cornered Hat”.   She made films in Italy over the next ten years and was brought to Hollywood to make Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Paradine Case” with Gregory Peck and Ann Todd in 1947.   She remainded in Hollywood until she returned to Europe to make the Carol Reed classic “The Third Man” with Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten in 1949.   In 1954 Lucino Visconti directed her and Farley Granger in “Senso” where they both gave stunning performances.   In 1961 she and Jeanne Moreau were terrific as nuns in “The Carmelites”.   Alida Valli made her last film in 2002 and died at the age of 84 in 2006.

Her obituary by John Francis Lane in “The Guardian”:

The Italian film icon from the 1930s onwards, Alida Valli, who has died aged 84, was described by Benito Mussolini as the most beautiful woman in the world after Greta Garbo. He was not her only fan. Most Italian directors of the time were in love with her, and her countrymen and women considered her a national sweetheart. After the war, she found international stardom in Hollywood, though undoubtedly her best English-language role was as Anna Schmidt, Harry Lime’s grieving girlfriend, in The Third Man.

Born Alida von Altenburger in Pula, in what is now Croatia but was then part of the Italian kingdom, Alida moved with her family to Como, in northern Italy, while still a girl. When her father died, she and her mother went to Rome, where she enrolled at the capital’s newly inaugurated film school, Centro Sperimentale. In 1936 she beat four rival students for a small part in I due sergenti (The Two Sergeants), directed by Enrico Guazzoni, who had made the Italian silent film classic, the first Quo Vadis?

Alida was still not particularly ambitious, but was encouraged by the Centro’s teachers, particularly film historian Francesco Pasinetti, who had every right to claim later that he had been her Pygmalion. The name Alida Valli was invented for her, and in 1937 she made five films, winning such popularity that her salary was increased with every picture. Having discovered that she could support her whole family, she decided that the career was worth pursuing.

She became one of the top stars of Italian cinema, appearing mostly in comedies or romantic melodramas. Then, in 1940, she was cast as the heroine in Mario Soldati’s adaptation of Fogazzaro’s 19th-century novel, Piccolo Mondo Antico. She was not Soldati’s first choice, but once on the set she enchanted the director with her beauty and talent. The film was a triumph and Alida won a best actress award. During the second world war, she made many films, including the striking two-part Noi Vivi/Addio Kira! (We the Living), directed by Goffredo Alessandrini, about the hardships of life in post-revolutionary St Petersburg. She and Rossano Brazzi played the tragic young lovers, and the film was acclaimed at the Axis-dominated 1942 Venice film festival, where its anti-communist message was much appreciated.

In 1944, Alida married Oscar De Mejo, a jazz pianist. Their son, Carlo, was born a year later, by which time Alida had been offered a Hollywood contract by David Selznick. There were initial problems over her American visa after an anonymous letter to the US embassy in Rome accused her of fascist sympathies and of having slept with Hitler’s propanganda chief Joseph Goebbels. But Selznick’s lawyers disproved the allegations and the visa was granted, with apologies.

In Hollywood Alida was groomed into a mysterious, vamp-like creature – she was known quite simply as Valli. Her first film there was Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case (1947), in which her icy aloofness gave a mistaken idea of her talents. In 1948 came Miracle of the Bells, in which she co-starred with Frank Sinatra, whom she would later describe as “the greatest (unrequited) passion of my life”. The film was a flop. Then came Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949).

After Alida returned to Europe – without De Mejo, who had discovered a vocation as a painter and stayed on in the US – she made the odd film in France and Italy. Then, in the mid-1950s, her career entered a new phase with roles in auteur films such as Visconti’s Senso (1954), in which she played an Italian countess in love with an Austrian officer (Farley Granger), and Antonioni’s Il Grido (1957), which had won her praise and almost cult status.

This success, however, was clouded by her affair with a friend of her ex-husband’s, Piero Piccioni, the son of a Christian Democrat minister, who had been implicated in the Montesi case, a scandal that rocked Italian society and politics. The case revolved around the death of a young woman, Wilma Montesi, and Alida was called as a witness at Piccioni’s trial, attracting much unfavourable press publicity in the process.

During the next decade Alida struggled to rebuild her career, working mainly abroad. In the early 1960s, she moved to Mexico for three years, married director Giancarlo Zagni and appeared in several films and television plays. Back in Italy her reputation was re-established with such films as Pasolini’s Oedipus Rex (1967), Bertolucci’s The Spider’s Strategem (1970), 1900 (1976) and La Luna (1979).

Her theatrical career took off in 1956, when Zagni directed her in Ibsen’s Rosmersholm and Pirandello’s The Man, the Beast and Virtue. Among her most memorable stage performances were as the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet, the mother in Genet’s Paravents, Deborah in More Stately Mansions, and the Katharine Hepburn role in Suddenly Last Summer. Under the direction of Patrice Chéreau, she played at the Milan Piccolo Teatro in Wedekind’s Lulu. When both in their 80s, Alida and Raf Vallone appeared together as grandparents celebrating their golden wedding in a tragi-comedy TV movie, Vino Santo. The marriage to Zagni ended in 1970.

On the whole, Alida hated talking about the past. A 1995 book, for instance, contained only interviews with journalists, apart from an epilogue of her laconic words on the telephone: “Don’t bother, lasci perdere; it isn’t worth it.” But during the 1990s, when she was making her last stage appearances touring in two Pirandello plays, she played in the Calabrian town where I live. We had dinner after the show, with Carlo, who was also in the company, and she told us that there had not been another man in her life. She was still a very beautiful woman.

She received a life achievement Golden Lion award at the Venice film festival in 1997. Carlo and her second son, Larry, survive her.

· Alida Valli (von Altenburger), actor, born May 31 1921; died April 22 2006 “The Guardian” obituary can also be accessed on-line here.Her IMDB entry:

Enigmatic, dark-haired foreign import Alida Valli was dubbed “The Next Garbo” but didn’t live up to postwar expectations despite her cool, patrician beauty, remote allure and significant talent. Born in Pola, Italy (now Croatia), on May 3, 1921, the daughter of a Tridentine journalist and professor and an Istrian homemaker, she studied dramatics as a teen at the Motion Picture Academy of Rome and Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia before snaring bit roles in such films as Three Cornered Hat (1935) [“The Three-Cornered Hat”] and The Two Sergeants (1936) [“The Two Sergeants”]. She made a name for herself in Italy during WWII playing the title role in Manon Lescaut (1940), won a Venice Film Festival award for Piccolo mondo antico (1941) [“Little Old World”] and was a critical sensation in We the Living (1942) [“We the Living”]. She briefly abandoned her career, however, in 1943, refusing to appear in what she considered fascist propaganda, and was forced into hiding. The next year she married surrealist painter/pianist/composer Oscar De Mejo. They had two children, and one of them, Carlo De Mejo, became an actor. She divorced in 1955, then she came back to Italy,

Following her potent, award-winning work in the title role of Eugenie Grandet (1946), she was discovered and contracted by David O. Selznick to play the murder suspect Maddalena Paradine in Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Paradine Case (1947). She was billed during her Hollywood years simply as “Valli,” and Selznick also gave her top femme female billing in Carol Reed‘s classic film noir The Third Man (1949), but for every successful film–such as the ones previously mentioned–she experienced such failures as The Miracle of the Bells (1948), and audiences stayed away. In 1951 she bid farewell to Hollywood and returned to her beloved Italy. In Europe again, she was sought after by the best directors. Her countess in Luchino Visconti‘s Senso (1954) was widely heralded, and she moved easily from ingénue to vivid character roles. Later standout films encompassed costume dramas as well as shockers and had her playing everything from baronesses to grandmothers in such films as Eyes Without a Face (1960)

– IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Her IMDB entry can also be accessed online here.

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