Elsa Martinelli was known as the Italian Audrey Hepburn. Elsa was born in the central Tuscan city of Grosseto she had to earn her keep from the age of twelve, delivering groceries in Rome. Looking older than her years suggested, she did part time work as a bar maid. At age sixteen she started modelling. She was spotted on a Life magazine cover by Kirk Douglas (or by Douglas's wife, according to another version of the story). She went to Hollywood to co-star opposite Douglas in The Indian Fighter (1955) (despite some as yet unresolved problems with her command of English). She returned to Italy, married Count Franco Mancinelli Scotti di San Vito attended lavish parties and created an image for herself which rivaled those of Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida.
Taken under the wing of Carlo Ponti, Elsa was able to eventually make a success of her screen career not merely because of her exotic good looks, but by deliberately varying the type of parts she took on and thereby avoid typecasting. Those included the titular Stowaway Girl (1957) who bewitches an embittered steamboat captain played by Trevor Howard. In stark contrast, she was also Carmilla, possessed by her vampiric ancestor Millarca in the film Blood and Roses (1960).
In Hatari! (1962) Elsa co-starred as a freelance wildlife photographer on a Tanganyika game farm. In The Pigeon That Took Rome (1962), Elsa was the romantic (mostly decorative) interest of Charlton Heston's army guy smuggled into Nazi-occupied Rome in 1944 to extract and send back secret military information via carrier pigeon. For the remainder of the 60's, Elsa appeared in a number of international co-productions which included a segment in The Oldest Profession (1967) as a Roman Emperor's wife discovered in a brothel; and as a gangster's daughter helping a bumbling American treasury agent in Rome (played by Dustin Hoffman in his first starring role) to recover Madigan's Millions (1968).
In 1968, Elsa married Paris Match photographer and furniture designer Willy Rizzo. By the 1980's, she was active as an interior designer in Rome while still making sporadic screen appearances, primarily in TV series. Described by the newspaper La Repubblica as "an icon of style and elegance", Elsa Martinelli died on July 8 2017 in Rome at the age of 82.
Music is from her 1962 film Hatari, by Henry Mancini.
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