ROME — Italian actress Elsa Martinelli, who starred opposite Kirk Douglas in the 1955 Western “The Indian Fighter” and went on to gain international recognition working with such directors as Mario Monicelli, Roger Vadim, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, and Elio Petri, died Saturday in Rome. She was 82.
Born in the Tuscan city of Grosseto, Martinelli moved to Rome in the early 1950s and started a career as a model after her slim physique was noticed by fashion designer Roberto Capucci. She soon appeared in Vogue and Life, where she was noticed by Kirk Douglas’ wife, Anne Buydens.
Martinelli made her acting debut in 1954 in the Stendhal adaptation “Le Rouge et le Noir,” directed by France’s Claude Autant-Lara. But her breakout role came the following year in Andre de Toth’s “The Indian Fighter,” which Douglas produced.
“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 review said.
Martinelli went on to alternating roles in European and U.S. productions, working with Monicelli in “Donatella” (1956); with Vadim, opposite Mel Ferrer, in “Blood and Roses” (1960); with Hawks in “Hatari!” (1962); with Welles in Kafka adaptation “The Trial” (1962); and with Petri in campy social satire “The 10th Victim” alongside Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress (1965).
Martinelli’s role as a lower-class young woman mistaken for a high-society lady in “Donatella” won her the Silver Bear acting award at the 1956 Berlin Film Festival.
She appeared in more than 40 feature films and, starting in the 1970s, veered more toward TV work in Italy, most recently in hit miniseries “Orgoglio” in 2005, in which she played the Duchess of Monteforte.
Martinelli’s last role in an English-language film was as Carla the Agent in Eugene Levy-directed ensemble comedy “Once Upon a Crime,” in 1992.
Martinelli married twice, first to Franco Mancinelli Scotti di San Vito and subsequently, in 1968, to Paris Match photographer Willy Rizzo.
She is survived by a daughter from her first marriage, Cristiana Mancinelli, who is also an actress.