Italy’s pioneering comic actor, Franca Valeri, dies aged 100

Franca Valeri, an elegant, ironic and versatile actor who pioneered female comic roles in Italy’s post-war years and helped the nation laugh at its foibles, has died aged 100.

The Corriere della Sera newspaper quoted her daughter, Stefania Bonfadelli, an opera singer, as saying that Valeri died on Sunday in her sleep at her home in Rome, nine days after her 100th birthday.

Milanese by birth but Roman by adoption, Valeri will be honoured with a wake on Monday at a theatre in the Italian capital, Rome’s City Hall announced.

Beloved by Italians, especially for her roles in the 1950s to 1970s, first on radio, then on TV and in movies, Valeri was recently toasted by many celebrities and in interviews as her 100th birthday approached.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Valeri in 2007 with director Dino Risi (Virgini Farneti/LaPresse via AP)</figcaption>
Valeri in 2007 with director Dino Risi (Virgini Farneti/LaPresse via AP)

President Sergio Mattarella sent a condolence message, praising Valeri as a “versatile and popular actress who will remain in the hearts of Italians for her great talent and her extraordinary likeability”.

Valeri was a sophisticated, intelligent comic interpreter of post-war Italian society and often wrote the scripts or monologues for her performances, especially on stage.

Signature roles featured comic scenes in which she appeared solo, holding a phone, real or imaginary, including as Signorina Snob, a role for which she drew upon her Milanese bourgeois roots. Another popular comic character she created poked fun at Roman middle-class vulgarities.

After decades in which comic roles in Italy were virtually the exclusive province of men, Valeri held her own against top male comic actors, starring against Toto’ and Alberto Sordi. Of the six films she made with Sordi, arguably her most popular role came in Il Vedovo (The Widower), a 1959 hit directed by Dino Risi.

Valeri also worked with other leading Italian directors, including Federico Fellini and Mario Monicelli.