Alida Valli
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lida Valli was born May 31, 1921 in Pola, Istria, of aristocratic ancestry on her father's side. Her full real name is Alida Maria Laura Altenburger, Baroness of  Marckenstein and Freuenberg. stage, screen and television actress

born in Pola
1921

Alida Valli's ethnic background is mixed on both sides which is rather typical for many Istrians. Her mother, Silvia Obrekar, a housekeeper, was born in Pola from a father from Liubliana and mother, Virginia della Martina, originating from Pola. Alida's father, Baron Gino Altenburger, was born in Trento, Italy. His mother (b. Tomasi) was a native of Rovereto and his father was Austrian [from where?]. Gino studied philosophy in Vienna and from there went on to teach in Pola at the Giosuè Carducci Gymnasium. He was also a music critic on the magazine Corriere Istriano.

1929, Circolo Savoia, Pola

In 1929, at the age of eight, Alida participated in many charity benefit shows on the stage of the Circolo Savoia in her native Pola. In her small repertoire she introduced the character Pierrot, a type of devil who sings and plays the guitar, and Pasqualina, the little servant girl in the famed cartoon stories of "Signor Bonaventura" by Sergio Tofano (pen name Sto) that achieved great success starting in 1917 on the pages of Corriere dei Piccoli, a supplement to the Corriere della Sera.

In early 1930, the family left Istria and moved to Como, Italy (where her mother passed away in 1978). That same year, the aspiring actress appeared in a British film short called Gypsy Land, thus beginning what would become a long international and multilingual stage and film career up to the end of her life.

As Alida was contemplating her film career, the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was cementing his power by launching his own film industry. Apart from the many documentaries and various types of propagandist films that followed, his more lasting and constructive contribution to the Italian film industry was the inauguration of the Venice Film Festival in 1932, the founding in 1935 of a film school in Rome called Centro Sperimentale di Cenematografia, and the opening of the vaste Cinecittà studios in Rome on April 28, 1937 - a complex that contained 14 sound stages, 3 water pools, 40.000 square meters of urban complex, and 35.000 square meters of gardens.

After some training at the new film school in Rome, Alida Valli's first appearances in films were mainly in bit roles in routine productions, but she soon became one of the Italian screen's leading young stars, thanks to her unusual and haunting beauty and natural charm.

In 1933, Alida appeared non-credited in T'amerò sempre, a film by Mario Camerini, and in 1934,she appeared in another Camerini film, Capello a tre punti, and in 1936, she was featured as Alida Altenburger in I due sergenti. Later that year she adopted the name "Alida Valli". Media accounts state that the fortuitous pseudonym was selected from names in a local telephone directory. In some of her films, including the original release of The Third Man, however, she was billed simply as "Valli" - a name that is far cry from her very long and admittedly pretentious real name.

Alida Valli (second from the right) in Ore 9: lezione di Chimica, directed by Mario Mattoli, 1941. Venice Film Festival, 1941

In 1937, Mario Camerini inaugurated the "telefoni bianchi" (white telephones) film genre with his Gli uomino che mascalzoni. Described as sophisticated lightweight escapist comedies and musicals set in upper class circles, the "telefoni bianchi" depicted an opulence and luxury that was well beyond the reach of most Italians. The nickname was derived from the white telephones that were invariably used as props in the films rather than the more commonplace black telephone. Some critics called them the official cinema of the Fascist period.

During the years 1937 to 1941, Alida appeared in a rapid succession of feature films which soon made her one of the most popular actresses in the "telefoni bianchi". In 1937, Il feroce saladino was the most notable. In 1939, the most memorable were the comedies Mille lire al mese (named after the popular song by the same name) and Assenza ingiustificata, and the film Manon Lescaut in which she had the title role which made her a leading name.

Film Posters

PICCOLO MONDO ANTICO (1941) LE DUE ORFANELLE (1941)

Between 1939 to 1941, Alida Valli went from the lighthearted tones of Ore 9 lezione di chimica, to the pathetic ones of Le due orfanelle, to the modern melodrama of Stasera niente di nuovo and T'amerò per sempre, but she distinguished herself for her dramatic role as Luisa in Piccolo mondo antico (1941) directed by Mario Soldati. For that performance she received the Best Actress award at the Venice Film Festival.

 
1942 movie still from Noi vivi.

In 1942, Valli made an Italian film that has recently been "rediscovered," the film We the Living which was originally featured in two parts as Noi vivi and Addio Kira. In it, the 21-year-old Valli plays a Russian anti-communist who cozies up to a party official in order to get medical treatment for her lover, played by then-unknown Rossano Brazzi (later of "South Pacific" fame, as well as other notable films). The film was based on an Ayn Rand novel, and it was soon banned by the Italian fascists for its anti-authoritarian focus. (Coincidentally, Rossano Brazzi had attended law school in Florence. When his parents were killed by the Fascists, he moved to Rome in 1937 and joined a repertory company there. During World War II, he worked with resistence groups in Rome.)

In the fall of 1943, Alida temporarily retired from the screen rather than appear in Fascist propaganda films. She had to virtually go into hiding to avoid arrest and execution (ironically, in 1945 her mother was shot by anti-fascists for being a collaborator).

In 1944, Valli married the Triestine surrealist painter and jazz composer Oscar de Mejo, and in January 1945 the first of their two sons, Carlo, was born in Rome.

Resuming her work after the war, she played Eugenia Grandet in a 1947 film by the same name that was directed by Maro Soldati and for which she was named the best actress of the year, the Nastro d'Argento, one of many such prizes in cinematography that were awarded starting that year by Sindacato Nazionale dei Giornalisti Cinematografici Italiani (SNGCI).

Later in 1947, Alida and her husband left for the United States where she went under contract to David O. Selznick. In Hollywood, Valli made her American film debut in Alfred Hitchcock's The Peradine Case (1948). She  co-starred with Gregory Peck in a role that allowed her to show her true talents and rise above her image of just another pretty girl in mediocre films. Her role in The Miracle of the Bells (1948), however, with Frank Sinatra and Fred McMurray, was a bit more fluffy and not well received.

The Paradine Case (1948)
with Gregory Peck

It was the Selznick connection that then landed Valli the key role of the Czech refugee and femme fatale Anna Schmidt in Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949). With that film as the starting point, the producer was hoping to turn Valli into an Italian Ingrid Bergman. Although that never happened, her role in The Third Man was a major highlight in her career, and certainly her most notable performance in an English-language film - that is, until her much later role in the 1995 production A Month at the Lake with Vanessa Redgrave.

After her Third Man success, Valli was loaned out by Selznick to other film-makers and she appeared in two 1950 films, The White Tower and Walk Softly Stranger, before she broke her contract to return to Europe without De Mejo who had discovered a vocation as a painter and stayed on in the United States. They  divorced in 1952. She then made the odd film in France and Italy until the mid-1950s when her career entered a new phase with roles in auteur films such as Luchino Visconti's Senso (1954), in which she played the Italian countess Livia Serpieri who was in in love with an Austrian officer (Farley Granger). This role is considered her highest dramatic achievement, as well as Antonioni's Il Grido (1957), which have won her praise and almost cult status. Valli thrived in the Italian cinema.

Her success, however, was clouded over by her affair with a friend of her ex-husband, Piero Piccioni, the son of a Christian Democrat minister, who had been implicated in the Montesi case, an infamous drug, sex, and murder scandal reminiscent of “La dolce vita” 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.

In the 50s and 60s, Alida struggled to rebuild her career, working mainly abroad where she gradually matured from romantic roles to strongly etched character parts. Despite the scandal, Valli would again become one of Italy's most popular and successful movie stars. The modern media regards her as a "legend" of European film, a true "living" monument, and she is the undisputable "Grande Dame" of Italian cinema. 

In the mid 50s, together with two other actors, she also founded a company and began a stage career which took off in 1956 when Giancarlo Zagni directed her in Ibsen's Rosmersholm and Pirandello's The Man, the Beast and Virtue. She and Zagni married (date?), but then separated in 1969.

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). She was also directed also by Antonioni and Chabrol, thus becoming one of the leading protagonists of the new Italo-French cinema.

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.

In Italy, she had her own television show called "Music Rama". In the early 1960s, she moved to Mexico for three years, married Zagni (the union ended in 1970) and spent two years in movie and TV film making, appeared in several films and television plays in South America and Mexico. She directed a doumentary in 1964.

Her stage performances were in all of Italy, France and the United States in plays by the likes of Ibsen, Pirandello, Sartre, Williams, Miller, Archibald and Marlowe.

In all, she made over 100 [or 120?] films, most of them in Italy and Europe, participated in over 30 different TV productions (films, shows, series, not counting individual episodes), and performed in more than 30 theater works with hundreds of roles. 

She has had roles in at least seven additional films since her 1997 recognition at the Venice Film Festival. In 2000, she made an Italian television appearance in Vino Santo (2000) with Raf Vallone (it was his last film, he died in 2002 at age 86). The two famous actors played grandparents celebrating their golden wedding anniversary. The director Zaver Schwarzenberger, former assistant and cameraman for Rainer Werner Fassbinder, described it as a "tragicomedy". In 2002, she appeared in the German production of Semana Santa by Pepe Danquart filmed in Seville, Spain and starring Mira Sorvino. Her last appearance was in 2006 in La sconosciuta (details not yet known).

In the course of her long career, she has received many awards and honors. Among her most notable was the David in 1982 for her supporting role in  La caduta degli angeli ribelli, the Duse prize in 1989, the David for her lifetime achievements in 1991, and the Leone D'Oro at the Venice Film Festival in 1997 for her role in the success of Italian cinema. She received the "Laurea ad Honorem" from the University in Roma; "Chevalier des Arts e des Lettres" honors by the French minister of culture and, most recently, the "Vittorio de Sica 2001" award by the President of the Italian republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

1995 marked the year of the release of her biography, Il romanzo di Alida Valli, written by Lorenzo Pellizari and Claudio Maria Valentinetti, and published by Garzanti Editore (390 pages). A second biography, Alida Valli, was published in 1996, and it includes a detailed filmography. That biography was written by Ernesto G. Laura and Maurizio Porro, Gremese Editore (224 pages).

Alida Valli had made her home in Rome and she passed away there at 5:30 A.M. on April 22, 2006. She is survived by her two sons with de Mejo, Carlo (himself an actor) and Lorenzo (and five grandchildren?).

Valli received a special tribute as part of the Annual Memorial tribute at The 79th Annual Academy Awards (2007).

Articles

Literature: 

  • Alida Valli. Ernesto G. Laura, Maurizio Porro. Le stelle filanti 4. Gremese Editore, Roma 1996
  • Il romanzo di Alida Valli. Lorenzo Pellizzari, Claudio Valentinetti. Garzanti Editore, Roma 1995
  • "Starporträts": Enzyklopädie des Films
  • Di testa loro - Dieci italiane che hanno fatto il novecento. "Alida Valli e la magia del cinema" di Martha Boneschi
  • Celeste Alida. Film TV, Piccole storie del Cinema di Goffredo Fofi. Special thanks to Mario Gasperini for some notes.

See also:

Other links:

  • Sicilia Teatro - http://siciliateatro.org/sera/soggetto.htm
  • Alida Valli Tribute - http://www.alidavalli.net (the independent website of our team-mate, Michael Plass)
  • RAI (Real Video) - biografia (Italiano) - rtsp://mm3.rai.it/clip1/italica/cinema/telefoni/alidavalli.rm

Bibliography:

  • Images and text - courtesy of Michael Plass.
  • Biography - The German Hollywood Connection - http://www.german-way.com/cinema/avalli.html (no longer available)
  • Biography - http://www.raiuno.rai.it/raiuno/schede/9001/900140.htm (no longer available)
  • http://www.blockbuster.com/bb/person/details/0,7621,BIO-P+72697,00.html
  • TV Guide Movie Database - http://online.tvguide.com/movies/database/MovieSearch.asp?Name=Alida+Valli&SearchType=1

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The page compliments of Marisa Ciceran and Michael Plass

Created: Saturday, July 3, 1999, Last Updated: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
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