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Italian Actress Valentina Cortese Passes Away

Italian Actress Valentina Cortese Passes Away

By James Zeruk

Italy’s Dame of Stage & Screen, Valentina Cortese has passed away. Her friend and former manager, Budd Burton Moss, called her “Italy’s Helen Hayes.” 

Mentioned in the many tributes pouring out around the world today is the time that Valentina was up for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Day For Night (Roger Ebert called it “The best movie ever made about the movies”). But the Oscar went to her friend and fan, Ingrid Bergman for Murder On The Orient Express.

And in her acceptance speech, Miss Bergman addresses Valentina in the audience and sincerely apologized for winning and insisted that Valentina should have won it. But her friend Budd Moss said there was more to the story: “At the Governor’s Ball later that night, Ingrid walked up to Valentina’s table with her Oscar in hand. She placed it on the table in front of Valentina and said, ‘I meant what I said. This belongs to you. And I trust that when I come to visit you in Milan, I shall see it on your fireplace mantle.'”

Budd told me that when he last visited Valentina in Italy, the Oscar was indeed there in her home! Addio, cara signora! 

In Day For Night

Frome Author and Film Historian Eve Golden: Italian actress Valentina Cortese, 96, died on July 10 in Milan. Entering films in 1940, she became a star with 1948’s Les Misérables (playing both Fantine and Cosette) costarring Marcello Mastroianni.

Hollywood came calling, of course, and she appeared in The Glass Mountain, Thieves’ Highway, The House on Telegraph Hill, The Barefoot Contessa and a handful of other US films. 

But Cortese worked mostly in Europe, with such directors as Federico Fellini (Juliet of the Spirits), François Truffaut (Day for Night), Franco Zeffirelli and even Terry Gillam (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen).

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen with Robin Williams.

She was married (from 1951-60) to actor Richard Basehart. Cortese recently recalled her Hollywood years as “Lights and shadows, like all things. I remember the endless array of cocktails in the homes of famous actors who would become friends. You could see Orson Welles, always with his glass of whiskey and hunting for producers; Walt Disney, and even Thomas Mann, who had finished his exile from America exile. Especially in the beginning it was nice.”

She remembered meeting Marilyn Monroe at an awards ceremony: “She looked like a cloud of whipped cream.”

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