Catherine Spaak, darling of Italian cinema in the '60s, dies at 77

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Catherine Spaak, darling of Italian cinema in the '60s, dies at 77
Born in France, she moved to Italy as a teenager and began a long acting career, which extended to Hollywood in the movie “Hotel.”

by Annabelle Williams

NEW YORK, NY.- Catherine Spaak, a French-born actress who made her name crossing genres in Italian, French and occasionally American films, acting alongside stars like Jane Fonda and Rod Taylor, died April 17 in Rome. She was 77.

Her son, Gabriele Guidi, confirmed her death.

Born outside Paris, Spaak went to Italy as a teenager and began a long film career there. Her first major role in a feature film was as a 17-year-old student who has an affair with a middle-aged man in “Sweet Deceptions,” from 1960 (originally “Dolci Inganni”).

Four years later she appeared as a Parisian shopgirl in “La Ronde,” a French drama about marital infidelity directed by Roger Vadim, in which she acted alongside Fonda (who went on to marry Vadim). The film, a remake of Max Ophuls’ 1950 version based on an 1897 Arthur Schnitzler play, was released and dubbed in the United States as “Circle of Love.”

Spaak became an onscreen sex symbol as a young actress, winning the attention of many international magazines, including Playboy. With her long, straight hair and blunt-cut bangs, she also became something of a style-setter in the 1960s.

Her first film role in the United States came in “Hotel” (1967), an adaptation of the Arthur Hailey novel, starring Taylor. She played the mistress of an investor (Kevin McCarthy) who wants to buy a landmark New Orleans hotel. Variety called her performance “charming and sexy.”

In 1968 she had top billing, alongside Jean-Louis Trintignant, in “The Libertine” (originally “La Matriarca”) playing “a restless young widow” who “skips in and out of various sexual encounters,” as Howard Thompson wrote in an unenthusiastic review in The New York Times.

She had another leading role in 1971, in Dario Argento’s murder-mystery thriller “The Cat O’Nine Tails,” performing alongside Karl Malden and television star James Franciscus. In 1975 she took on a different genre playing a prostitute in “Take a Hard Ride,” an Italian-American “spaghetti Western” that also starred Jim Brown and Lee Van Cleef.

Spaak pursued a parallel singing career in the 1960s and ’70s, recording a handful of albums. She was often likened to French chanteuse Françoise Hardy, some of whose songs Spaak covered.

Later in her career she hosted a popular Italian talk show called “Harem.”

Catherine Spaak was born on April 3, 1945, in Boulogne-Billancourt, in the Paris area, to Charles Spaak, a screenwriter, and Claudie Clèves, an actress. After moving to Italy as a teenager, she remained there for the rest of her life and became a naturalized citizen.

She was married four times. Her first husband was Italian actor and producer Fabrizio Capucci; her second, Johnny Dorelli, was also an actor, and he and Spaak recorded music together, including the album “Promesse … Promesse …” (1970). She later married Daniel Rey, an architect, and, in 2013, Vladimiro Tuselli.

In addition to Guidi, she is survived by a daughter, Sabrina Capucci, and her sister, Agnes Spaak.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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