Nationality: Italian. Born: Giulia Anna Masina in San Giorgio di Piano, 22 February 1920 (other sources say 1921 or 25 October 1920). Education: Attended the University of Rome. Family: Married the director Federico Fellini, 1943 (died 1993). Career: 1939—professional stage debut in Wilder's Felice Viaggio, Rome; worked as radio actress; acted with the University of Rome dramatic group: in the university's production of Angelica, with Marcello Mastroianni, 1948; 1946—film debut in Paisà; 1952—appeared in minor role in her first film directed by Fellini, Lo sceicco bianco; this led to critically acclaimed performances in La strada, 1954, Nights ofCabiria, 1956, and Juliet of the Spirits, 1965, all for Fellini; late 1960s through mid-1980s—in semi-retirement, appearing in infrequent Italian TV productions, and host of Italian radio show Open Letters to Giulietta Masina, 1966–69; 1985—movie comeback; 1986—swansong with Ginger and Fred. Awards: Best Actress, Cannes Festival, for Nights of Cabiria, 1957; also Italian Nastro d'argento Awards for Best Actress, 1957 and 1985–6, and for Best Supporting Actress, 1948–49 and 1950–51; Italian Grolle d'oro Award for Best Actress, 1957–58. Died: Of cancer, in Rome, 23 March 1994.
Films as Actress:
Paisà (Paisan) (Rossellini) (bit role)
Senza pietà (Without Pity) (Lattuada) (as Marcella)
Luci del varietà (Variety Lights; Lights of Variety) (Lattuada and Fellini) (as Melinda Amour); Persiane chiuse (Behind Closed Shutters) (Comencini) (as Pippo); Europa '51 (The Greatest Love) (Rossellini) (as Passerotto); Cameriera bella presenza offres (Pastina)
Lo sceicco bianco (The White Sheik) (Fellini) (as Cabiria)
Donne proibite (Angels of Darkness; Forbidden Women) (Amato); Cento anni d'amore (De Felice); Ai Margini della Metropoli
La strada (The Road) (Fellini) (as Gelsomina); Via Padova 46 (Lo Scocciatore) (Bianchi)
Il bidone (The Swindle; The Swindlers) (Fellini) (as Iris); Buonanotte . . . avvocato! (Bianchi) (as Carla Santi)
Le notti di Cabiria (Nights of Cabiria; Cabiria) (Fellini) (as Cabiria)
Fortunella (de Filippo); Nella città l'inferno (And the Wild, Wild Women; Hell in the City) (Castellani) (as Lina)
Jons und Erdme (Käutner)
La Grande Vie (Das kunstseidene Mädchen; La gran vita) (Duvivier)
Giulietta degli spiriti (Juliet of the Spirits) (Fellini) (title role)
Non stuzzicate la zanzara (Don't Tease the Mosquito) (Wertmuller)
The Madwoman of Chaillot (Forbes) (as Gabrielle, the Madwoman of Sulpice)
Frau Holle (Jakubisco) (title role); Perinbaba (Jakubisco) (as Perinbaba/Mrs. Winter)
Ginger e Fred (Ginger and Fred) (Fellini) (as Ginger/Amelia Bonetti)
Aujourd'Hui Peut-Etre . . . (A Day to Remember)
By MASINA: books—
Il diario degli altri, Torino, 1975.
Giulietta Masina (interviews with Tullio Kezich), Bologna, 1991.
By MASINA: article—
Interview with O. Volta, in Positif (Paris), September 1985.
On MASINA: book—
Kezich, Tullio, Giulietta Masina (la Chaplin mujer), Valencia, 1985.
On MASINA: articles—
Current Biography 1958, New York, 1958.
Wolf, W., "Italy's Movie Greats," in Cue, 6 November 1965.
Kast, P., "Giulietta and Federico," in Cahiers du Cinéma in English, no. 5, 1966.
Neubourg, M., and O. Dazat, "Ginger and Fred," in Cinématographe (Paris), January 1986.
Barabas, K., and others, "Fellinirol," in Filmkultura (Budapest), vol. 25, no. 6, 1989.
Harrysson, K., "Ett livsode ristat I ansiktet," in Chaplin (Stock-holm), vol. 34, no. 2, 1992.
Obituary in New York Times, 24 March 1994.
Landrot, Marine, "Gelsomina mia: La Strada," in Télérama (Paris), 11 January 1995.
Stars (Mariembourg), Autumn 1995.
* * *
Although she attained a virtually mythic status during the 1950s and 1960s, as the symbolic center of such films as La strada and Juliet of the Spirits, Giulietta Masina's performances are seldom discussed apart from the considerable directorial achievements of her noted husband, Federico Fellini.
Before she became the focus of his autobiographical outpourings, she was a highly regarded actress. She made her debut in Roberto Rossellini's Paisà in 1946 and, two years later, won the Italian film critics' award for best supporting actress in Senza pietà. Collaborating with Fellini in films of the early 1950s such as Luci del varietà and Lo sceicco bianco, she shaped a gamine screen persona often compared to Chaplin's little tramp. Some reviewers have criticized her for simply conveying the superficial feelings and sentimentality on which Fellini's slick and mechanical stories were based, but one need only view her performance in La strada to see a sensitivity and subtlety of expression that are anything but mechanical. Again, in Nights of Cabiria, she delivered a restrained but heartrending interpretation of a naive prostitute.
During the 1960s her husband elevated her to the status of resident muse in the Fellini household, and her filmic presence in those years cannot be accounted for by her performance alone. Fellini's films of that decade, particularly the masterpiece Juliet of the Spirits, obsessively examine the relationship of Masina to her husband's midlife artistic crises and achievements. Unfortunately, because these films so thoroughly established her as the feminine side of Fellini's psyche, other directors did not offer her the variety of roles deserved by her talent.
As a result, Masina effectively went into semiretirement following 1969's The Madwoman of Chaillot, appearing only on Italian radio and television for the next decade and a half. She returned to the screen in 1985, but her swansong occurred the following year in Fellini's nostalgic Ginger and Fred, which paired her with Fellini's favorite actor, Marcello Mastroianni, in a highly praised performance. Masina and Fellini became more reclusive after the release of Ginger and Fred, both falling into ill health. Fellini died in October 1993, the day after the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary; an increasingly despondent Masina succumbed to cancer less than five months later.
—Stephen L. Hanson, updated by David E. Salamie