Valentina Cortese
Cortese in The Jester's Supper (1942)
Born(1923-01-01)1 January 1923
Milan, Kingdom of Italy
Died10 July 2019(2019-07-10) (aged 96)
Milan, Italy
Other namesValentina Cortesa
Years active1941–1993
  • (m. 1951; div. 1960)
  • Carlo de Angeli
    (m. 1980; died 1998)
ChildrenJackie Basehart

Valentina Cortese (1 January 1923 – 10 July 2019), sometimes credited as Valentina Cortesa,[1][2] was an Italian film and theatre actress.[3][4][5] In her 50 years spanning career, she appeared in films of Italian and international directors like Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, Franco Zeffirelli, François Truffaut, Terry Gilliam, Joseph L. Mankiewicz and others.[3]


Cortese in Appassionata (1974)

Cortese was born in Milan to a single mother and raised in the countryside, before being sent to Turin to live with her maternal grandparents in 1930.[3][4][5] After meeting conductor Victor de Sabata, then married with children and 31 years her senior, she quit high school and followed him to Rome, where she enrolled at (and later graduated from) the National Academy of Dramatic Arts (Accademia d'arte drammatica).[4] She first appeared on stage before receiving a contract at Scalera Film in 1941[4] and giving her film debut with a small role in L'orizzonte dipinto.[5]

Cortese's first important film roles were in Roma Città Libera (1946), Les Misérables and The Wandering Jew (both 1948).[3] 1948 also saw the end of her relationship with de Sabata.[4] Her appearance in the British production The Glass Mountain (1949) led to numerous roles in international productions, including Jules Dassin's Thieves' Highway (1949), opted by her then-partner Dassin over the originally cast Shelley Winters,[6] and Robert Wise's The House on Telegraph Hill (1951).[3] In 1951, she married her The House on Telegraph Hill co-star Richard Basehart, with whom she returned to Italy.[3] Cortese continued to appear in national and international productions; the most notable of this era include Joseph Mankiewicz's The Barefoot Contessa (1954) and Michelangelo Antonioni's Le Amiche (1955).[3] For the latter, she received the Nastro d'Argento for Best Supporting Actress.[7]

In 1960, Cortese and Basehart divorced, and Basehart returned to the US, leaving in her custody their only child, Jackie.[3] In the following years, she worked for directors as diverse as Mario Bava (The Girl Who Knew Too Much, 1963), Bernhard Wicki (The Visit, 1964), Federico Fellini (Juliet of the Spirits, 1965), Robert Aldrich (The Legend of Lylah Clare, 1968) and Joseph Losey (The Assassination of Trotsky, 1972).[3] For her performance in François Truffaut's Day for Night (1973) she received the BAFTA Award,[8] the National Society of Film Critics Award[9] and the New York Film Critics Circle Award,[10] and was nominated for the Academy Award which ultimately went to Ingrid Bergman.[3][4][11] In her acceptance speech, Bergman remarked that she felt Cortese should have won the award.[12]

While her later films were mostly of lesser artistic interest, Cortese was continuously successful on stage,[3] working with Giorgio Strehler, with whom she had a long-lasting relationship,[3][4] Franco Zeffirelli,[3][4] Luchino Visconti[3] and Patrice Chéreau.[5] In 1980, she married industrialist Carlo De Angeli.[4] Her last film was Zeffirelli's 1993 Sparrow.[3]

Cortese died on 10 July 2019, aged 96.[3][13] In 2017, Francesco Patierno documented her life in the film Diva!, based on her 2012 autobiography Quanti sono i domani passati ("How many tomorrows have gone by").[3]

Selected filmography


  1. ^ Crowther, Bosley (24 September 1949). "'Thieves' Highway,' One of Best Melodramas of the Year, Opens at the Roxy". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 January 2023.
  2. ^ Crowther, Bosley (30 September 1954). "'The Barefoot Contessa' Arrives at Capitol". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 January 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Bergan, Ronald; Lane, John Francis (10 July 2019). "Valentina Cortese obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 January 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Attanasio, Debora (10 July 2019). "È morta Valentina Cortese, la gran dama del cinema dal foulard perenne". Marie Claire (in Italian). Retrieved 6 January 2023.
  5. ^ a b c d Formenti, Christina (2019). Valentina Cortese: Un'attrice intermediale. Mimesis Edizioni. ISBN 9788857551043.
  6. ^ Lev, Peter (2013). Twentieth Century-Fox: The Zanuck-Skouras Years, 1935–1965. University of Texas Press. p. 156. ISBN 9780292744479.
  7. ^ Hammer, Tad B. (1991). International Film Prizes: An Encyclopedia. Garland. p. 256. ISBN 9780824070991.
  8. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1974". BAFTA. 1974. Retrieved 7 January 2023.
  9. ^ "Past Awards". National Society of Film Critics. Retrieved 7 January 2023.
  10. ^ "1973 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". New York Film Critics Circle. Retrieved 7 January 2023.
  11. ^ "THE 47TH ACADEMY AWARDS 1975". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 6 January 2023.
  12. ^ "Ingrid Bergman Wins Supporting Actress: 1975 Oscars". Archived from the original on 28 October 2021 – via
  13. ^ "Addio Valentina Cortese, l'ultima diva". ANSA (in Italian). 11 July 2019. Retrieved 6 January 2023.