Elsa Martinelli, ‘The Indian Fighter Star,’ Dies at 82
ROME — Italian actress Elsa Martinelli, who starred opposite Kirk Douglas in 1955 western “The Indian Fighter” and went on to gain international recognition working, among others, with directors Mario Monicelli, Roger Vadim, Orson Welles, Howard Hawkes, and Elio Petri died on July 8 in Rome. She was 82.
Born in the Tuscan city of Grosseto, Martinelli moved to Rome in the early 1950’s and started a career as a model, after her beautiful slim physique was noticed by fashion designer Roberto Capucci. She soon appeared in “Vogue” and “Life,” which is where she was noticed by Kirk Douglas’ wife Anne Buydens.
Martinelli in 1954 made her acting debut in Stendhal adaptation “Le Rouge et le Noir,” directed by France’s Claude Autant-Lara.
Her breakout role came the following year in Andre de Toth’s “The Indian Fighter, which Douglas produced.
“Sex in the person of Elsa Martinelli, Italian actress introduced here, and the relationship of her Indian maid character with Douglas is a story factor and ballyhoo point,” read the Variety review.
Martinelli then went on to alternate roles in European and U.S. productions, working with Mario Monicelli in “Donatella” (1956); with Vadim, opposite Mel Ferrer, in “Blood and Roses” (1960); with Hawkes in “Hatari!” (1962); with Welles in Kafka adaptation “The Trial” (1962) and with Petri in campy social satire “The 10th Victim” alongside Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress (1965).
Martinelli’s role as a lower-class young woman who is mistaken for a high-society lady in “Donatella” won her the Silver Bear acting award at the 1956 Berlin Film Festival.
She appeared in more than 40 feature films and starting in the 1970’s veered more towards TV work in Italy, most recently in hit mini-series “Orgoglio” in 2005 in which she played the Duchess of Monteforte.
Martinelli’s last role in an English-language film was as Carla the Agent in Eugene Levy-directed ensemble comedy “Once Upon A Crime,” in 1992.
Martinelli married twice, first to Franco Mancinelli Scotti di San Vito and subsequently in 1968, to Paris Match photographer Willy Rizzo.
She is survived by a daughter from her first marriage, Cristiana Mancinelli, who is also an actress.