Giulietta Masina

Giulietta Masina (22 February 1921 – 23 March 1994) was an Italian film actress, best known for her performances of Gelsomina in La Strada (1954) and Cabiria in Nights of Cabiria (1957). Both films won Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and were described by their director Federico Fellini as having been "inspired" by Masina's "humanity."[1]

Giulietta Masina
Masina in Nights of Cabiria, 1957
Giulia Anna Masina

(1921-02-22)22 February 1921
Died23 March 1994(1994-03-23) (aged 73)
Years active1942–1991
Federico Fellini
(m. 1943; died 1993)

Italian cinema historian Peter Bondanella described Masina's work as "masterful" and "unforgettable,"[2] and Charlie Chaplin, with whose work Masina's is often compared,[3][4][5] called her "the actress who moved him most."


Giulia Anna Masina, the oldest 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.[6]

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 began to work as a voice actress on 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 show screenwriter. 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 a month later. Masina and Fellini had no other children.[7]


Masina died from cancer on 23 March 1994 at age 73, five months after her husband's death on 31 October 1993.[8] For her funeral, she requested that trumpeter Mauro Maur play "La Strada" by Nino Rota,[9] 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.


Working together with her husband, Masina made the transition to on-screen acting.[10] Half of her Italian films, the most successful ones, were either written or directed by her husband. Masina made her film debut in an uncredited role in Rossellini's Paisà (1946), credit for the script being given to Fellini. She received her first screen credit in Lattuada's Without Pity (1948), which was another adaptation by Fellini and played opposite John Kitzmiller.

In 1954, she starred with Anthony Quinn in Fellini's La Strada, playing the abused stooge of Quinn's travelling circus strongman. In 1957, she won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival for her portrayal of the title role in Fellini's Nights of Cabiria. She played a prostitute who endures life's tragedies and disappointments with both innocence and a resilience of biblical proportions. The movie went on to receive the 1957 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Movie. In a 1998 New York Times review, Janet Maslin called the film "a cinematic masterpiece", and added that the final shot of Cabiria is worth more than "all the fire-breathing blockbusters Hollywood has to offer."

In 1960, Masina's career was damaged by the critical and box office failure of The High Life. 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.

In 1969, Masina did her first work in English in The Madwoman of Chaillot, which starred Katharine Hepburn. After almost two decades, during which she worked sporadically only in television, Masina appeared in Fellini's Ginger and Fred (1986). She then rejected outside offers in order 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.



Year Title Role Notes
1946PaisanYoung womandebut, Uncredited
1948Without PityMarcella
1951Variety LightsMelina Amour
Behind Closed ShuttersPippo
Seven Hours of TroubleFiglia de Romolini
Cameriera bella presenza offresi...Ermelinda
1952The Shameless SexNadina
The White SheikCabiria
Europa '51Giulietta
Position WantedPaola
1953At the Edge of the CityGina Ilari
1954Angels of DarknessRosita
100 Years of LoveThe Neighbour at the Rear Window(segment "Purificazione")
Lo scocciatore (Via Padova 46)Irene
La StradaGelsomina
1955Buonanotte... avvocato!Carla Santi
Il bidoneIris
1957Nights of CabiriaMaria Cabiria Ceccarelli
1958FortunellaNanda Diotallevi aka Fortunella
1959Nella città l'infernoLina
...and the Wild Wild WomenErdme
1960The High LifeDoris Putzke
1965Juliet of the SpiritsGiulietta Boldrini
1966Pardon, Are You For or Against?Anna
1967Don't Sting the MosquitoMaria Cristina, madre di Rita
1969The Madwoman of ChaillotGabrielle
1985The Feather FairyPerinbaba
1986Ginger and FredAmelia Bonetti "Ginger"
1991A Day to RememberBertille(final film role)


  1. Fellini, Federico (1978). "My Experiences as a Director". In Bondanella, Peter (ed.). Federico Fellini: Essays in Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 7.
  2. Bondanella, Peter (2009). A History of Italian Cinema. New York: Continuum. pp. 148, 151. ISBN 9780826417855.
  3. Crowther, Bosley. "The Screen: 'Cabiria'; Giulietta Masina Stars in Italian Import".
  4. Masina reference,; accessed 19 October 2018.
  5. Reference to Masina,; accessed 19 October 2018.
  6. Kezich, Tullio (1991). Giulietta Masina. Bologna: Cappelli. p. 22.
  7. Information on miscarriage and death from encephalitis cited in Tullio Kezich, Fellini: His Life and Work (New York: Faber, 2006), pg. 74.
  8. Cowell, Alan. "Giulietta Masina, Italian Actress Who Inspired Fellini, Dies at 73".
  9. gli amici ricordano Giulietta,; accessed 19 October 2018.
  10. "AllMovie - Movies and Films Database - Movie Search, Ratings, Photos, Recommendations, and Reviews". AllMovie.
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