Biography of Italian Actress Eleonora Duse Part 2

About the famous Italian actress Eleonora Duse considered to be one of the greatest performers of all-time.


ELEONORA DUSE (1859-1924)

In the 1890s she won at least a half-share of the world's-greatest-actress mantle by convincing many critics in London and Paris that she could outact the older and more famous Bernhardt even in the Divine Sarah's own favorite roles. But Duse's affair with writer Gabriele D'Annunzio became an international scandal when he fictionalized it in erotic detail in a novel called Il Fuoco (1900). Although D'Annunzio cheated her in both business and love, Duse continued to invest her money and her acting genius in his unprofitable plays. "I am 40-and in love," she explained to her dismayed manager, Joseph Schurmann.

In addition to the D'Annunzio dramas, Duse starred in such plays as Ibsen's Ghosts, Rosmersholm, A Doll's House, and Lady from the Sea; Dumas's La Femme de Claude; and Goldoni's La Locandiera. Tubercular lungs forced her retirement in 1909. Seven years later, Duse made her only film, Cenere, but it displeased her so much that she had it destroyed. (Only a few fragments of it remain, but they are enough to convince viewers today of the genius of Duse.) Inflation wiped out her savings, and the woman who had always coveted privacy offered to write her memoirs to save herself from destitution. But because she had offended Benito Mussolini by pridefully declining the dictator's offer of a pension, no Italian publisher dared bid on her autobiography.

In 1921 poverty prompted a tired, weak, 61-year-old Duse to return to the stage. Although only one lung still functioned, she attracted large audiences in England and the U.S. Duse died of pneumonia in 1924 after being drenched by a cold rain in Pittsburgh. In the downpour, she had had difficulty locating an open door at the theater where she was to perform. Ironically, Duse was starring in Marco Praga's The Closed Door.

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