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Claudia Cardinale, Young Italian Beauty Of American Westerns, Then And Now

Entertainment | September 5, 2019

Left: Claudia Cardinale on the set of 'The Adventures of Gerard' at Cinecitta Studios in 1968. Right: Cardinale in '8 1/2' (1963). Sources: Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images; IMDB

With her turn in Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 (1963), Claudia Cardinale secured a place in film history -- it's acclaimed as one of the best films of all time, and arguably Fellini's masterpiece, and she played opposite Marcello Mastroianni, the ultimate Italian leading man. She made some memorable English-language movies as well, including The Pink Panther (1963) and the westerns The Professionals (1966) and Once Upon A Time In The West (1968) -- but like many European actresses of her day, she had an on-and-off relationship with Hollywood. 

How Did Claudia Cardinale Compare With Her Contemporaries?

Claudia Cardinale and Brigitte Bardot in 'Frenchie King,' 1971. Source: IMDB

In terms of celebrity, Cardinale has been described as a cut below the uber-famous leading Italian sirens, Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida, although some would say she made better movies than those two. She was also compared to Brigitte Bardot, with whom she would end up making one film (the 1971 French western Frenchie King). 

Claudia Cardinale Is One Of Italy's Most Accomplished Stars

Source: (imdb)

With more than 120 acting credits to her name and 37 awards, Claudia Cardinale has been one of the most prominent Italian actresses, working with some significant actors and directors over the course of her career. She began acting in the ‘50s and continues today, despite the fact that this was not her first career choice.

Cardinale Wasn't Born In Italy, Nor Did She Speak Italian

One of her early appearances, With George Chakiris in La Ragazza di Bube. Source: (imdb)

Cardinale was born in 1938 in Tunisia. She won “Most Beautiful Italian Girl in Tunisia” contest; the prize was a trip to Italy and this led to film contracts starting with her formal acting debut in 1958 in a small role in Goha, opposite Omar Sharif.

Her first language was French; she only started speaking Italian when she was cast in Italian films. Because of her difficulty with the Italian language, she decided to stop acting early on. However, a pregnancy led her to return to acting. She had been in a relationship that started when she was 17, with a man 10 years older than her. The relationship only lasted for about a year, but she became pregnant. Although he wanted her to get an abortion, she kept the child and signed a seven-year contract with Vides, the production company owned by Franco Cristaldi.

A Pregnancy Nearly Derailed Her Career

Left: Cardinale with Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin in 'The Professionals,' 1966. Right: With David Niven in 'The Pink Panther,' 1963. Source: IMDB

With the new contract, she had a minor role in Big Deal on Madonna Street. Because the comedy was a success, newspapers began calling her “Italy’s sweetheart.” She continued working until she was seven months pregnant, and, fearful that she could no longer hide her pregnancy, she asked Cristaldi to end the contract. He refused but sent her away to have her son, Patrick. He then drew up a contract that stipulated she keep her son’s existence private; Patrick was raised by her parents. The truth was finally revealed by a journalist, Enzo Biagi. Cristaldi also kept most of her earnings because she had signed them away to him.

1963 Was The Year Cardinale Became A Star

Working with Fellini on 8 1/2. Source: (imdb)

1963 was a significant year for Cardinale’s career, as she starred alongside Burt Lancaster in The Leopard. The film was not a success upon its release but has gained a following with age; Martin Scorsese considers it one of the best films ever made. Her big moment of 1963, at least in European cinema, was her performance in Federico Fellini’s 8 ½, one of the two films by Fellini (the other being La Dolce Vita) most often cited as his "masterpiece." This marked the first time her voice was used on a film, as her voice was considered too hoarse. For The Leopard, Cardinale had dark hair, while in 8 ½, Fellini wanted her to be blonde. Since they were filmed at the same time, this created complications for Cardinale, who had to change her hair color every few weeks. Also in 1963, she was cast with Peter Sellers and David Niven in The Pink Panther.

Claudia Cardinale Goes To Hollywood

In Once Upon a Time in the West. Source; (imdb)

In 1964, after her appearance with Rod Steiger and Shelley Winters in Time of Indifference, Cardinale began acting in Hollywood. She acted in a number of films during this period, including The Professionals (1966), a successful western starring Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode and Jack Palance. In 1968, in addition to acting in The Day of the Owl, A Fine Pair, and The Hell with Heroes, she had one of her best-known roles, as a prostitute in Once Upon a Time in the West, a spaghetti western directed by Sergio Leone and starring Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, and Charles Bronson. Her career in Hollywood didn’t last though, and she made the choice to return to Europe and act there.

Cardinale's Life Away From The Camera

Cardinale in 'Once Upon A Time In The West,' 1968. Source: IMDB

In 1966, Cristaldi came to the U.S. and arranged a surprise wedding ceremony and they were married in Las Vegas; however, she did not formalize the marriage in Italy. She met Pasquale Squitieri and they entered into a romantic relationship. They did not marry but were together from 1975 to 2002 and they had a daughter, Claudia, in 1979. She has two grandchildren as well.

Where She is Today

Cardinale in 'All Roads Lead To Rome,' 2015. Source: IMDB

Cardinale continues to act and was cast in films and a television series, set to be released in 2020. She fights for women’s rights and is a Goodwill Ambassador for UNESCO.  

Tags: Claudia Cardinale | Federico Fellini | Ladies | Then And Now | Once Upon A Time In The West

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Cyn Felthousen-Post

Writer

Cyn loves history, music, Irish dancing, college football and nature. Social media is also her thing, keeping up with trends and celebrities with positive news. She can be found outside walking or hiking with her son when she's not working. Carpe diem is her fave quote, get out there and seize the day!