A glamorous presence in European and American films from the postwar period until the early 1990s, Oscar-nominated actress Valentina Cortese played both sultry and downtrodded women in films for such acclaimed directors as Orson Welles, Jules Dassin, Michelangelo Antonioni and Francois Truffaut. Born in Milan, Italy, she was the daughter of a single mother who left her in the care of a farming family in the Lombardi region. At the age of six, she was relocated to Turin, where she was raised by her maternal grandparents; they, in turn, sent her to Rome to study at the National Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she was taken under the wing of the academy's director, film critic Silvio D'Amico, who provided her with a pathway to acting in films. Uncredited roles led to juvenile character parts in genre films - light comedies, costume dramas - but a turn as a typist driven by postwar poverty into prostitution in "Rome: Free City" (1946) led to more substantive work, including a dual role as Fantine and her daughter, Cosette, in Riccardo Freda's 1948 film version of "Les Miserables." These and other films led to her first role in an English-language film, the British romance "The Glass Mountain" (1949), which cast Cortese as an Italian partisan who falls for pilot Michael Denison. Hollywood came calling after Orson Welles cast her as a Romani woman in "Black Magic" (1949), his co-directorial effort with Gregory Ratoff; a contract with 20th Century Fox - and a name change to "Cortesa" - led to a slew of appearances as exotic, occasionally tragic figures: a saloon singer in "Malaya" (1949), with Spencer Tracy and James Stewart; a prostitute in Jules Dassin's noir classic "Thieves' Highway" (1949); and a concentration camp survivor targeted by a murderer, played by Richard Basehart, in "House on Telegraph Hill" (1951). Cortese married Basehart shortly after the film's release, and both returned to Italy, where, after resuming use of her original surname, she played elegant women of means in a diverse array of arthouse-minded features, including collaborations with Joseph L. Mankiewicz ("The Barefoot Contessa," 1954) Michelangelo Antonioni ("The Girlfriends," 1955), Mario Bava ("The Girl Who Knew Too Much," 1963) and Federico Fellini ("Juliet of the Spirits," 1965). She also worked steadily in stage roles at the Piccolo Theatro in Milan, and became involved with its founder, Giorgio Strehler, after she divorced Basehart in 1960. In the late '60s and early '70s, Cortese traveled a journeyman actor's path, bouncing between prestige projects like Franco Zeffirelli's "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" (1972), television (Zeffirelli's "Jesus of Nazareth," RAI/ITV/NBC, 1977) and character turns in Italian "giallo" (thrillers), action films and crime dramas. She also experienced a career high point during this period, playing an aging film actress in Francois Truffaut's "Day for Night" (1973). Cortese's performance - equal parts comedic and heart-breaking - earned an Academy Award nomination, which she lost to Ingrid Bergman, who famously apologized to Cortese for the win during the ceremony. She then returned to steady work in largely unremarkable films and television projects, save for a minor role in Terry Gilliam's anarchic "Adventures of Baron Munchausen" (1988). Her final acting performance came in Zeffirelli's "Sparrow" (1993), though she remained active in Italian social circles and penned an autobiography, "Many Tomorrows Past" (2012), which served as the inspiration for a documentary about Cortese, "Diva!" in 2017. The Italian Association for the Performing Arts announced her death at the age of 96 on July 10, 2019.