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One of the sexiest and most stylish women of the past half century, Elsa Martinelli, has died at age 82.  

Dubbed “An Icon of Style and Elegance” by Italy’s leading daily La Repubblica,” the black-haired beauty’s passing prompted a lengthy obituary in America’s paper of record, The New York Times:

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The death was announced by her only daughter, actress Cristiana Mancinelli Scotti—who musta been a beautiful baby {below left with mama in 1958} cuz baby, look at her at age 18 (below right)!

nullAnd how could she have turned out any different—considering the looks of her privileged parents (below left), dad being Count Franco Mancinelli Scotti di San Vito. When ‘peasant’ Elsa became pregnant with Cristiana (inset) 3 months into the marriage, Franco’s furious mother—Countess Margherita—closed the palace gates forever to the couple and disowned her son. Pity she didn’t wait to see how granddaughter developed.

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As strong-willed and rebellious as her mom, equally elegant Christiana (below right) declared before making her first film: “I don’t want to be known as the daughter of Elsa Martinelli. I want to be Cristiana Mancinelli and that’s it.” Countered her fed-up mother: “I don’t disagree with her desires for independence, but I don’t like the sensationalism she is always involved in” (below left). Well, at least she was up frontal about it ...

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And at least Cristiana was circumspect about her mother’s death, saying only that “the cause was cancer.” Specifically, it was from lung cancer—since Elsa was seemingly never without a Marlboro in her hand:

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“In Bogart’s films, there were cigarettes all over the place!” the actress explained in 2012. “Nowadays, there would be a sign saying ‘No smoking.’ Look, we all smoked back then. I myself really stopped 9 years ago, cold turkey. I just got tired of it and said ‘Basta’ (‘enough’). But alas, not soon enough …  

… though somehow she kept her "fabulous" face and figure to the end!

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Born Elisa Tia on January 30, 1935 in Grosseto, Italy, she was the 7th of 8 children of a railway attendant. Leaving school at age 11, the Times of London recounted: “By the time she was 14 she was a waitress in a bar in Rome. One lunchtime, when she was 18, Elsa went to try on a bias-cut skirt that she could not afford in the shop of Roberto Capucci, then regarded as the best young designer Roman designer. He took one look at her and made her his house model.”

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Still living, Wikipedia considers Capucci “one of the most important designers of the 20th century” … but Sleuth envies the then-23-year-old for having an excuse to look up 18-year-old Elsa’s dress (above right)!  

Featured in his first collection (below left), the teen soon found herself modeling in Paris (below right).

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“The postwar feminine shape celebrated in Italy,” the UK Times notes, “was that which Sophia Loren attributed to the power of pasta. By contrast, Martinelli was slim, tall at 5 foot 9, long-limbed and angular of cheekbone.” Which made her perfect for Parisian runways (below left) … and a mirror image to behold.

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As one fashionista marveled, “Her features anticipated by a decade the Look of the Sixties”—which led an editor to suggest she “try New York.” Ever up for a challenge, adventurous Elsa flew to the Big Apple “knowing no English and with only $20 in my pocket to see about modeling.”

nullAnd when they saw her … jaws dropped. “Right away, I was really one of the top most photographed models in New York. With Eileen Ford, the great agency. I was just doing shots with some of their great photographers, and they appeared in Vogue—so it was difficult NOT to notice me,” she laughed.

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And lucky for her, one who noticed was Anne Buydens, wily wife of actor Kirk Douglas (below left). “One day,” Douglas described in his 1988 autobiography, “Anne was looking through Vogue magazine. There was a shot of an Italian girl—long dark hair, dark eyes—coming out of the water soaking wet, a man’s shirt clinging to her voluptuous body” (below right).

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“Anne said, ‘This girl would make a fantastic Indian’ {for his next film, 1955’s The Indian Fighter}. She did look terrific.” Especially in this behind the scenes candid we tracked down of Elsa being prepped for the pose!

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“I arranged for her to come out to California to test for the role,” Kirk continues. “She was gorgeous and had the potential to become a big star. I put her under contract and she was a big hit in the picture, got a lot of publicity, including the cover of Life magazine.” The first of three, in fact:

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The last, in 1963 (above right), confirms one critic’s comment that “there’s something about her of Diana Rigg.”  

Variety raved in its review of the film: “Sex in the person of Elsa Martinelli, Italian actress introduced here, and the relationship of her Indian maid character with Douglas, is a story factor and ballyhoo point.”

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But the kisses weren’t confined to screen time, it’s believed, since the Italian immigrant and the star she called ‘Keerka Doogalas’ clearly grew cozy off the set as well {familiarly tousling his hair, below right}.

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And while the threesome was all smiles the premiere …

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… Anne had to be angry about the co-stars’ private picnic (below left) and Elsa’s all-eyes adoration of her husband at the cast party {below right, hand resting on his shoulder}.

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So perhaps Mrs. Douglas worked behind the scenes to release her rival from the contract. “I kept saying, ‘Elsa, if you are patient, I will make you a big star,” Kirk confides. “I wanted her to play the female lead in a book I had just bought—Spartacus.”  

But first Anne convinced him to loan her out to Universal Studios for 1957’s Four Girls in Town (below left), which Martinelli called “a very bad film. I thought if he would do this for money, I would leave”—and demanded to be released.

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Kirk tried to twist her arm to stay (above right)—but when his ‘squaw’ refused to do Spartacus, that was the last straw … prompting Douglas to tear up their contract.  

“The thing was that I was getting ready to have my first baby {the aforementioned Cristiana},” Elsa explained more than a half century later. “I suppose somebody else would prefer Spartacus to having a baby. But that was not my case.”  

In this case, it was Jean Simmons who assumed the role … and swapped face (below left, in the uncut version) in Elsa’ s place (below right).

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Freed from bondage, unlike Spartacus, Elsa returned to Italy to make Donatella—which won her the first Silver Bear award for Best Actress ever presented at the Berlin International Film Festival.

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The rags-to-riches comedy echoed the era’s epitome of the ‘gamine’ genre … which led to Elsa being dubbed ‘The Italian Audrey Hepburn.’

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But the com•pair•ison didn’t quite fit, with the Sydney Morning Herald describing Martinelli as “a kind of Audrey Hepburn with sex appeal” {Audrey's at right below}.

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So much so that the great Italian director Vittorio De Sica (with her, below left) subsequently called Elsa “the most stylish woman in the world” (below right).

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And she sheerly proved the point in this see thru dress at a Seventies soirée while upstaging fellow Italian eyeful Gina Lollobrigida.

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And the '60s trendsetter clearly practiced transparency into her late 70s (below right)!

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No wonder an ad compared her to the Colosseum {below left—like Rome, she was built …} while a leading movie magazine claimed: “The fabulous Elsa Martinelli combines a pixie-like face with a nearly perfect body.

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“In all, she comes closer to perfection than any girl has a right.” The term ‘Perfection’ just about covers it (below left) … and indeed, she does have a ‘right’:

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And a left (below right)—the bathing beauty’s face so smooth it was used to sell soap.

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Which is why the shot below left was dubbed ‘Beauty and the Beast’ – Elsa’s animal attraction attested to as catnip in 1962’s Hatari (below right).

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“I was lying behind the bathtub,” recalls the film’s game handler Jan Oelofse, “and I could see … I think I am one of the few guys that saw Martinelli’s buttocks,” he laughs.  

Fashion fans almost got to see it in this mesh dress …

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… though the artist cropped above her waist in this painting that today hangs in the upscale Saatchi Gallery.

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Sleuth restores the missing parts to this true work of art:

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Perhaps her only flaw was a Tuscan temper: In April 1957 Elsa “collected three suspended prison sentences for shouting at traffic policemen who had the temerity to give her a ticket” while speeding in her Alfa Romeo (below left). The unprintable language—she could cuss in four languages—got her sentenced to 18 months in jail … but her demure beauty in court (below right) got that separated into 6 months for each insulted officer—since “under Italian law, any sentence over one year cannot be suspended.”

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The shy virgin (below left) had evolved into a sensual vixen (below right) …

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… an eroticism Elsa enjoyed well into her later life:

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“Personality has no age,” she proudly proclaimed—and even in her 50s could flaunt that pert ‘personality’ with the flick of a feather.

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Those boots weren’t made just for walking (below left) … why, that booty is surely an END in itself !

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