Hollywood is in mourning this week after an actress from the golden age of the industry passed away. Her death has sent fans all over the globe into mourning.
The New York Times reported that Elsa Martinelli, a former fashion model turned actress best known for her roles alongside Kirk Douglas in “The Indian Fighter” and John Wayne in “Hatari!,” passed away on Saturday in Rome. She was 82 years old.
Martinelli’s death was confirmed by her daughter Cristiana, who said the legendary actress died of cancer.
Martinelli was already a successful model in 1955 when a photo of her in Vogue was spotted by Douglas’s wife, Anne Buydens. At the time, Douglas was preparing to produce “The Indian Giver” and was looking for an actress to play Onahti, the daughter of a Sioux chief, who falls in love with his character, a scout leading a wagon train through Native American territory.
“There was a shot of an Italian girl — long dark hair, dark eyes — coming out of the water soaking wet, a man’s shirt clinging to her voluptuous body,” Douglas recounted in his autobiography “The Ragman’s Son” (1988). “Anne said, ‘This girl would make a fantastic Indian.’ She did look terrific.”
Though Martinelli had relatively few lines, she earned rave reviews.
“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,” Variety’s reviewer wrote.
A succesful film career in both Hollywood and Europe followed that lasted for decades. During that time, she worked with directors like Orson Welles (“The Trial”), Roger Vadim (“Blood and Roses”) and Elio Petri (“The 10th Victim”).
While being honored at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland in 2012, Martinelli was asked if she ever watches her own films. Though she said that she sometimes does, she said thinks of herself onscreen as somebody else.
“And then it happens that you say to yourself, ‘She could have done this,’ or ‘She could have done it that way,’” Martinelli said. “Yet mostly I say, ‘She was O.K.’”
Rest in peace, Elsa Martinelli!