Claudia Cardinale Biography

Claudia Cardinale

First things first...

Claudia Cardinale has always strived to maintain a clear distinction between her vocation as an actress and her personal life, and has achieved this successfully with a career wholly devoid of gossip and scandal.

"I never felt scandal and confession were necessary to be an actress. I've never revealed my self or even my body in films. Mystery is very important."

In keeping with this, this site is dedicated to the public career of Claudia Cardinale. Images used are from films, posed photos or candid shots from public events - there are strictly no 'paparazzi' style photos. This biography also deals specifically with her career and touches on her personal life only when strictly relevant.


To heighten your enjoyment of reading this biography, Claudia Cardinale is pronounced 'CLOWD-YA CAR-DIN-ARL-AY'. Many pronounce her name 'CLAW-DEE-A CAR-DIN-ARL-EE' but I prefer the former, less English sounding, variant. As Claudia herself says:

"If you're not English, you're a foreigner - so you must be sexy. It's an old British cliché."
Listen to the correct pronunciation

And now down to business...

Claudia Cardinale was born April 15, 1939 in Tunis, Tunisia to Sicilian parents. Her planned career as a teacher came to an abrupt halt when, in 1957, she won 'The Most Beautiful Italian Girl in Tunisia' contest. She still laughs at that title as, at the time, she could barely speak Italian, having been raised with French as her first language.

The contest prize was a trip to Venice where she immediately caught the eye of the Italian film industry. After attending the 'Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia' in Rome for two months she was given a seven year contract with Vides Films, making her screen debut in Goha (1958), quickly followed by a role in the international hit Big Deal on Madonna Street.

Claudia with husband Franco Cristaldi The contract from Vides famously had several clauses forbidding her to cut her hair without approval, marry or gain weight. Her early career was adeptly guided by Vide's producer Franco Cristaldi, initially as her mentor, and later, from 1966 to 1975, as her husband.

One the early films to establish Claudia as a talented dramatic actress was Valerio Zurlini's Girl with a Suitcase (1960). In Mauro Bolognini's Il'Bell Antonio, also 1960, she had another important lead role starring opposite Marcello Mastroianni, an actor she worked with on numerous occasions.

1960 saw her work for the first time with acclaimed director Luchino Visconti in his celebrated neo-realist film Rocco and His Brothers. Although Cardinale had a minor role in this film, her talent did not go unnoticed by the director who subsequently gave her a lead role in The Leopard (1963) starring along side giants of cinema Burt Lancaster and Alain Delon.

In fact 1963 was very much a seminal year for Cardinale. As well as playing Maria in La Ragazza di Bube (Bebo's Girl), a role for which she would win a Nastro d'Argento (Silver Ribbon) for Best Actress, that year also saw her working with another master of Italian cinema, Federico Fellini, in what many consider to be one of the great movie masterpieces, 8-1/2.

It is in Fellini's 8-1/2 that Claudia Cardinale's distinctive voice was first heard by an Italian audience. Previous to this, in all her Italian films, she had been dubbed, initially due to her not being fluent in Italian and then, as her Italian improved, due to her French accent sounding strange to an Italian audience.

"When I arrived for my first movie, I couldn't speak a word [of Italian]. I thought I was on the moon. I couldn't understand what they were talking about. And I was speaking in French; in fact I was dubbed. And Federico Fellini was the first one who used my voice. I think I had a very strange voice." (1)
Claudia Cardinale in Cartouche
Listen to Claudia Cardinale speaking
French in 'Cartouche'
Claudia Cardinale in 8 1/2
Listen to Claudia Cardinale speaking
Italian in '8 1/2'

But Fellini loved this 'strange' accent, adding to the mystery of the actress that he uses to symbolize feminine beauty - an embodiment of the ideal woman. Claudia with Luchino Visconti In the film Claudia Cardinale actually plays herself, and it is therefore only fitting that her own voice is heard. Her screen-time in 8-1/2 is all too brief but distinctly memorable and, with it, her status as Italy's latest leading lady secured. She had followed in the footsteps of Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren to become an international star and sex symbol.

Brigitte Bardot famously remarked "I already know who's destined to take my place. There can be only one, and one alone. After BB comes CC, no?". Claudia, however, transcended the label of sex symbol and, not purely reliant on looks, proved herself time and again to be a talented and versatile actress.

The time was now right for Claudia Cardinale to make the move into Hollywood productions, even though her first role in that respect, as Princess Dala in Blake Edwards The Pink Panther (1964), was filmed in Italy. She shares much of her screen time in the film with David Niven who said "If you ask me, Claudia Cardinale is, after spaghetti, Italy's happiest invention".

Cardinale's voice was dubbed for The Pink Panther, but this was followed the same year by Samuel Bronston's production of Circus World in which her English speaking voice was first heard on celluloid.

(Many people doubt me when I say that Claudia was dubbed in 'The Pink Panther' - and admittedly the dubbing is very good. But don't take my word for it - this is what Blake Edwards has to say on the matter).

Claudia Cardinale in Circus World
Listen to Claudia Cardinale speaking
English in 'Circus World'
Claudia Cardinale in The Professionals
Listen to Claudia Cardinale speaking
English in 'The Professionals'

Other films that she made outside of Europe included the comedy thriller Blindfold (1965) with Rock Hudson, Lost Command (1966), another comedy Don't Make Waves (1967) with Tony Curtis, and The Hell with Heroes (1968). It is however The Professionals (1966) that she considers the best of her Hollywood films. Under the direction of Richard Brooks she co-starred once more with Burt Lancaster, and shares equal billing to Jack Palance, Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin and Woody Strode - a distinguished and veteran cast for her first western.

Claudia with Sergio Leone It was perhaps Cardinale's reluctance to leave her native and cinematic roots that lead to a relatively short lived Hollywood career as, during this time, she continued to work on many European productions including her third project with Visconti as Sandra of a Thousand Delights (1965).

"I don't like the star system. I'm a normal person. I like to live in Europe. I mean, I've been going to Hollywood many, many times, but I didn't want to sign a contract." (2)

As such, Claudia did not achieve the same international success as the likes of Sophia Loren, but it did assure her of a level of quality in her work that, no doubt, would not have been sustained through Hollywood.

Not surprisingly therefore it is a European production, and her second venture into the western genre, that she is most famous for internationally. This was Sergio Leone's epic homage to the western Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) - an Italian production that transcends the usual restrictions of the Western All'Italiana and a masterpiece that, over the years, has come to be regarded with the critical acclaim it deserves. Cardinale plays Jill McBain and is the central character in the film around which the other protagonists (Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson and Jason Robards) revolve. It is a shame that for this key role she was again dudded - the English language version of the film features the voice of Joyce Gordon, wife of Bernie Grant, himself heard in countless English dubbed films and the American voice of Marcello Mastroianni.

Claudia Cardinale remembers her time working with Leone fondly and particularly likes her character's "grit, and her determination. She knows what she wants and she sticks to it until she gets it. You don't find many women's parts like that in Westerns". (3)

(1) & (2) Interview by Adrian Wootton at the National Film Theatre, London, Saturday May 10, 2003 - source: Guardian website.
(3) De Fornari, pp 155-156 - source: Christopher Frayling's biography of Sergio Leone 'Someting To Do With Death', Faber and Faber Limited

To be continued ...