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Giulietta Masina
Masina in the role of Cabiria, 1957
Giulia Anna Masina

(1921-02-22)22 February 1921
San Giorgio di Piano, Kingdom of Italy
Died 23 March 1994(1994-03-23) (aged 73)
Rome, Italy
Occupation Actress
Years active 1942–1991
(m. 1943; died 1993)

Giulia Anna "Giulietta" Masina (22 February 1921 – 23 March 1994) was an Italian film actress best known for her performances as Gelsomina in La Strada (1954) and Cabiria in Nights of Cabiria (1957), for which she won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival.

Cinema historian Peter Bondanella described Masina's work as "masterful" and "unforgettable," and Charlie Chaplin, with whose work Masina's is often compared, called her "the actress who moved him most."

Both La Strada and Nights of Cabiria won Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and were described as having been "inspired" by Masina's "humanity."


Giulia Anna Masina, the eldest of four children, was born in San Giorgio di Piano, near Bologna. Her father was a violinist and her mother was a schoolteacher. When Masina was four, her uncle took her to meet the Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello, who was later to win the Nobel Prize in literature. A few years later, when this uncle died, his widow, Masina's aunt, asked Masina's parents if they would allow her to come to Rome to stay with her. Masina's parents agreed, in part because they believed that in Rome Masina would have more success in the arts for which she was already demonstrating a unique talent.

Masina attended an Ursuline convent school and took lessons in voice, piano, and dance. Her first experiences acting took place during World War II as part of the theater section of Rome's Gruppi Universitari Fascisti, a state-sponsored but university-student-led arts organization. She graduated with a degree in Literature from Sapienza University of Rome. She found work as a voice actress in radio during the war, which earned her more money and attention than stage acting. It was as a radio artist that Masina met Federico Fellini, a radio scriptwriter. They married in 1943, and a few months later, Masina suffered a miscarriage after falling down a flight of stairs. In 1944, she became pregnant again; Pierfederico (nicknamed Federichino) was born on 22 March 1945 but died from encephalitis 11 days later. Masina and Fellini had no other children.


Masina in La Strada, 1954

Working together with her husband, Masina made the transition to on-screen acting. Half of her Italian films, the more successful projects, were either written or directed by her husband. Masina made her film debut in an uncredited role in Roberto Rossellini's Paisà (1946), which was co-written by Fellini. She received her first screen credit in Alberto Lattuada's Without Pity (Senza pietà, 1948), which was an adaptation co-written by Fellini, and played opposite John Kitzmiller.

She starred with Anthony Quinn in Fellini's La Strada (1954), playing the abused stooge of Quinn's travelling circus strongman. She won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival for her portrayal of the title role in Fellini's Nights of Cabiria (1957). Both films received the Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film. In a 1998 New York Times review, Janet Maslin wrote that there is more "grace and courage" in Masina's performance than "all the fire-breathing blockbusters Hollywood has to offer."

Giulietta Masina 1960c
Masina in 1960

Masina's career was damaged by the critical and box office failure of The High Life (1960) directed by Julien Duvivier. Subsequently, she became dedicated almost entirely to her personal life and marriage. Nonetheless, she again worked with Fellini in Juliet of the Spirits (1965), which earned both the New York Film Critics award (1965) and the Golden Globe award (1966) for Best Foreign Language Film. Roger Ebert stated that "Fellini lore has it that the master made "Juliet Of The Spirits" as a gift to his wife."

Masina performed in The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969), her first film in English, which also starred Katharine Hepburn. After almost two decades, during which she worked sporadically only in television, Masina appeared in Fellini's Ginger and Fred (1986) with Marcello Mastroianni in which the leads play Italian impersonators of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers reuniting for a television special. She then rejected outside offers to attend to her husband's precarious health. Her last film was Jean-Louis Bertucelli's A Day to Remember (1991). In the late 1960s, Masina hosted a popular radio show, Lettere aperte, in which she addressed correspondence from her listeners. The letters were eventually published in a book. From the 1970s on, she appeared on television. Two performances, in Eleonora (1973) and Camilla (1976), respectively, were particularly acclaimed.


Masina died from lung cancer on 23 March 1994 at age 73, five months after her husband's death on 31 October 1993. For her funeral, she requested that trumpeter Mauro Maur play "La Strada" by Nino Rota, a poignant leitmotif from the film. She and Fellini are buried together at Rimini cemetery in a tomb marked by a prow-shaped monument, the work of sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro.


  • Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists: 4 Silver Ribbon awards.
    • Best Actress: Nights of Cabiria (1957), Ginger and Fred (1986)
    • Best Supporting Actress: Without Pity (1948), Variety Lights (1950)
  • She was twice nominated for a BAFTA Film Award for Best Foreign Actress.
  • David di Donatello: David awards
    • David di Donatello for Best Actress award, for Juliet of the Spirits (1965)
    • David di Donatello for Best Actress award, for Ginger and Fred (1986)
    • Honorary award (1986).
  • Cannes Film Festival Best Actress award, for Nights of Cabiria (1957).
  • San Sebastián film festival Best Actress award, for Nights of Cabiria (1957).


Year Title Role Notes
1946 Paisan Young woman debut, Uncredited
1948 Without Pity Marcella
1951 Variety Lights Melina Amour
Behind Closed Shutters Pippo
Seven Hours of Trouble Figlia de Romolini
Cameriera bella presenza offresi... Ermelinda
1952 The White Sheik Cabiria
Europa '51 Giulietta
Position Wanted Paola
1953 At the Edge of the City Gina Ilari
1954 Angels of Darkness Rosita
100 Years of Love The Neighbour at the Rear Window (segment "Purificazione")
Via Padova 46 Irene
La Strada Gelsomina
1955 Buonanotte... avvocato! Carla Santi
Il bidone Iris
1957 Nights of Cabiria Maria Cabiria Ceccarelli
1958 Fortunella Nanda Diotallevi aka Fortunella
1959 Nella città l'inferno Lina
...and the Wild Wild Women Erdme
1960 The High Life Doris Putzke
1965 Juliet of the Spirits Giulietta Boldrini
1966 Pardon, Are You For or Against? Anna
1967 Don't Sting the Mosquito Maria Cristina, madre di Rita
1969 The Madwoman of Chaillot Gabrielle
1985 The Feather Fairy Perinbaba
1986 Ginger and Fred Amelia Bonetti "Ginger"
1991 A Day to Remember Bertille (final film role)

See also

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