Francesca Bertini was an extremely careful guardian of her image and legacy throughout her whole life. A major star of the international silent screen, she has recounted her hugely successful career in different autobiographic writings and interventions. An invaluable source of information for the history of Italian cinema, these documents are notoriously reticent—and sometimes unreliable—about certain personal details of her life. For example, she never revealed to have been first registered in 1892 at an orphanage in Florence as Elena Taddei, the daughter of Adelina di Venanzio Fratiglioni, a single mother and possibly a stage actress (Jandelli 2006, 31-2). While many sources indicate her first surname to be Seracini, the only concrete information we have about her acquired identity is that she became Elena Vitiello in 1910, when her mother married Arturo Vitiello, a Neapolitan propman or furniture dealer. Bertini was introduced to the sprightly Neapolitan theatrical milieu at an early age. She got her first, supporting role on stage when she was just seventeen, in the widely acclaimed 1909 production of “Assunta Spina”—an intense southern melodrama by reputed author Salvatore Di Giacomo. One of the most representative texts of the new Neapolitan popular theater, “Assunta Spina” was later transposed on screen by Bertini in 1915. The final result is still regarded as one of the masterpieces of Italian silent cinema and an emblematic example of Verist cinema. By 1915, Bertini had already been cast in more than 50 films, including many one and two-reel historical reconstructions and a few features. The following years saw her continuing to grow in popularity, with her films gaining huge acclaim wherever they were presented, from Europe to Latin America and from Russia to the United States.
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