Childhood & Early Life
Cardinale was born on April 15, 1938, in La Goulette, near Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, when Tunisia was under French rule. Her mother Yolande Greco, was the daughter of Sicilian immigrants. Her father, Francesco Cardinale, was born in Gela, Sicily, and worked with the railways. She spoke French, Arabic, and the Sicilian dialect of her parents. She learnt Italian only after entering the Italian film industry.
Cardinale grew up with two brothers, Bruno and Adrien, and a younger sister, Blanche. She studied at the ‘Saint Joseph-de-l’Apparition’ school of Carthage and graduated from the ‘Paul Cambon School.’ She initially wished to become a teacher.
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Cardinale was part of a short film named ‘Anneaux d’or.’ When the film was displayed at the ‘Berlin Film Festival,’ she was noticed by French director Jacques Baratier. She got her film break in a small role opposite Omar Sharif in ‘Goha’ (1958). The film won the ‘Jury Prize’ at the 1958 ‘Cannes Film Festival.’
During the 1957 ‘Italian Cinema Week’ in Tunis, she won the ‘Most Beautiful Italian Girl in Tunisia’ competition and earned a trip to the ‘Venice Film Festival.’ She was noticed by film producers and received an invitation to study at the ‘Experimental Cinematography Center.’ She left the institute after her first semester, as she faced language difficulties.
Refusing several film offers, she returned to her hometown. However, she changed her mind because of her personal situation and signed a 7-year contract with Italian film producer Franco Cristaldi’s production company, ‘Vides.’ Cristaldi supported her through her difficulties, acted as her mentor, and also married her.
She appeared in a small role in the successful criminal comedy ‘Big Deal on Madonna Street’ (1958) and was quickly accepted in the industry. The same year, she played a lead role in the comedy film ‘Three Strangers in Rome.’ She took a brief break and went to England.
In 1959, Cardinale starred in ‘Vento del sud,’ ‘II magistrato,’ ‘Un maledetto imbroglio,’ and the British film ‘Upstairs and Downstairs.’ Her voice was dubbed during her initial days in the industry.
During the 1960s, she featured in ‘Il bell'Antonio,’ opposite Marcello Mastroianni; the French film ‘Napoleone ad Austerlitz’; the sequel of ‘Big Deal on Madonna Street’; and the critically appreciated film ‘Rocco and His Brothers’ (1960). She made a name for herself with a lead role in Francesco Maselli’s ‘Silver Spoon Set’ (1960).
Because of her own experience, Cardinale authentically portrayed the role of ‘Aida,’ a nightclub singer and a young mother, in Valerio Zurlini’s ‘Girl with a Suitcase.’ This was followed by a number of films, such as ‘La Viaccia,’ Bolognini’s ‘Senilita,’ the French comedy ‘Les Lions Sont lâchés,’ and the French film ‘Cartouche.’ The last film made her a star in France.
In 1963, she was featured in a number of major productions, such as Visconti’s ‘The Leopard,’ which also starred Burt Lancaster. She also bagged the role of a film actor in Fellini’s ‘8 ½ .’ Both the films were critically acclaimed and regarded as two of the greatest films ever made. Cardinale soon became a top star. In 1965, she received her first ‘Nastro d’Argento’ award for the ‘Best Actress’ for her role of a prostitute in ‘Bebo’s Girl.’
'The Pink Panther,’ opposite David Niven, was her first American movie, although it was produced in Italy. After the 1964 film ‘Time of Indifference,’ she worked in several Hollywood films for the next 3 years, including ‘Circus World’ (1964), opposite John Wayne and Rita Hayworth; ‘Blindfold,’ opposite Rock Hudson; Mark Robson’s war movie ‘Lost Command’; and Richard Brooks’s Western ‘The Professionals.’ Despite many Hollywood movies, she could not become as popular as Sophia Loren or Gina Lollobrigida, as she did not sign exclusive contracts. By the end of the 1960s, she returned to Italy.
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In 1968, she won the ‘David di Donatello for Best Actress’ for her performance in ‘The Day of the Owl.’ One of her most well-known roles was that of a former prostitute in the epic Western ‘Once Upon a Time in the West.’ Cardinale worked with Brigitte Bardot in the French Western comedy ‘The Legend of Frenchie King.’ She won the ‘Best Actress Award’ at the 1972 ‘David di Donatello Awards’ for her role of a prostitute in the comedy ‘A Girl in Australia.’
Cardinale met director Pasquale Squitieri on the sets of his historical drama film ‘I guappi’ (1974). He was her companion till his death in 2017. She starred in many of his films, such as ‘Il prefetto di ferro,’ ‘Carleone,’ ‘L’arma,’ ‘Naso di Cane’ (1986), and ‘Stupor Mundi’ (1997). Her title role in ‘Claretta’ won her the ‘Nastro d’Argento’ award for the ‘Best Actress.’
She starred opposite Burt Lancaster in the war movie ‘The Skin,’ which was featured at the 1981 ‘Cannes Film Festival.’ Her 1982 film ‘Fitzcarraldo’ received immense praises. Cardinale’s role of a cancer-stricken woman in the 1987 film ‘A Man in Love’ was admired a lot. The film was also showcased at the 1987 ‘Cannes Film Festival.’ Her portrayal of a mother in the 1991 ‘Mayrig’ (mother) and its sequel, ‘588, rues Paradis,’ was described as “flawless.’ At the 1993 ‘Venice Film Festival,’ she won the ‘Leone d’oro alla Carriera’ award.
In 2000, Cardinale made her stage debut with Maurizio Scaparro’s ‘La Venexiana’ in Paris. In 2002, she went on a theatrical tour of Italy with the stage production of ‘Come tu mi vuoi.’ She has also been part of plays such as ‘Sweet Bird of Youth’ (2005) and ‘The Glass Menagerie’ (2006–2007).
She received the 2010 ‘Golden Orange Best Actress Award’ for her role of an elderly Italian woman in ‘Signora Enrica.’ Her work in ‘Gebo and the Shadow’ (2012), too, was highly appreciated.
Family & Personal Life
Toward the beginning of her film career, Cardinale became pregnant through a relationship with a Frenchman. Her mentor, Cristaldi, helped her by sending her to London for the birth and also kept the whole thing a secret. Cardinale’s son, Patrick, grew up with Cardinale’s parents. She revealed the truth to him much later.
In 1966, while she was working on her Hollywood films in the US, Cristaldi joined her. They got married in Atlanta. However, the marriage was not made official in Italy. Cristaldi adopted her son. The couple split in 1975.
Pasquale Squitieri was her companion from 1975 till his death in 2017. They also had a daughter named Claudia.
In 1995, she published her autobiography, ‘Io Claudia, Tu Claudia.’ Cardinale celebrated her 80th birthday by making a stage appearance in the play ‘La Strana Coppia.’