Delia Scala, an Italian dancer and actress who after debuting in movies and stage musicals became one of the country’s most beloved TV stars –among those few emblematic of the advent of Italian television — died Jan. 16 in the northwestern port city of Livorno. She was 74.

The cause of Scala’s death was not disclosed, but Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, who called her career “a model of vivacity and rigorous professionalism,” said Scala had been bravely fighting “a grave illness.”

Born Odette Bedogni, she took the stage name Delia Scala after graduating from the ballet school of Milan’s La Scala theater, where she debuted at age 8, performing in Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.”

She got her first big break at 17, landing a role in Luigi Zampa’s 1948 neorealist pic “Anni Difficili,” (Difficult Years), the first of 40 movies she starred in during the following 12 years.

These include Mario Monicelli’s “It’s a Dog’s Life,” in which Scala played a pretty young woman who quits her factory job to seek fame and fortune as a showgirl; and Eduardo De Filippo’s “Napoli Milionaria,” which saw her alongside the hugely popular comic actor known as Toto, with whom Scala subsequently also starred in “Signori Si Nasce.”

In 1956 — two years after pubcaster RAI began beaming its signal –the classically trained ballerina with the girl-next-door look and spontaneous personality rose to household-name status, dancing the cancan on RAI’s variety show “Canzonissima,” which she hosted in 1959 in tandem with Nino Manfredi.

At the time, Scala’s high kicking drew Vatican admonishment for being too risque.

“This young girl burst onto Italian television screens like a gust of fresh air, with genuine originality and drive,” veteran TV personality Pippo Baudo said. “She was petite, but she could do anything and always with great irony.”

Scala’s long stint on small-screen variety shows segued into starring roles in sitcoms, most recently in “Io e La Mamma” (Me and Mom), which ran in 1996-98 on Mediaset.

Scala’s third husband, Arturo Fremura, died in 1991. Other survivor information was not available.