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Valentina Cortese (1923–2019), Italian cinema legend

by Kirk Fox

Oscar nominated for her role in Truffaut’s “Day for Night.”

Valentina Cortese was a cinema legend in her native Italy, gaining international acclaim in Italian films in the 1940s, which led to her signing a contract with 20th Century Fox. She starred in 1951’s “The House on Telegraph Hill” with American actor Richard Basehart, with whom she married that same year. She received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 1975 for her role as a fading alcoholic movie star in Francois Truffaut’s “Day for Night.” Cortese also appeared in films directed by cinema legends Frederico Fellini and Michaelangelo Antonioni. A fashion icon, she was known for wearing elaborate scarfs around her head.

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Died: Wednesday, July 10, 2019 (Who else died on July 10?)

Details of death: Died at the age of 96.

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Reflecting on her acting career in 1974: “People go to the movies to see beautiful young girls, but an older woman who has worked a long time has achieved something a young actress hasn’t. I don’t have ambitions. I just love what I do. How could I have become like Sophia Loren, where Ponti builds her and she says, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ I’m free to make my own mistakes. And at least I am myself.” —In an interview with the New York Times

Ingrid Bergman apologized to Cortese after winning the best supporting actress Oscar in 1975: “She gave the most beautiful performance. Please forgive me, Valentina.”

Full obituary: Washington Post

Birthdate: January 1, 1923 (Who else was born on January 1st?)

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