Margherita Sarfatti

John Cusack as Nelson Rockefeller, Susan Sarandon as Sarfatti, Philip Baker Hall as Gray Mathers
Margherita Sarfatti with her daughter Fiammetta, ca. 1929
from the Archivio Della Scuola Romana
Vanessa Redgrave as Countess LaGrange

Margherita Sarfatti was born 1883 in Venice in the wealthy and cultured Jewish Grassini family. She studied art history under the guide of Anthony Fradeletto, married a lawyer Cesare Sarfatti, moved to Milan to 1902 and becamed politically active in the Socialist party when her husband became mayor of Milan. However, her father was a close friend of the anti-Socialist Giuseppe Cardinal Sarto, who would become Pope Pius X. She began a 20-year relationship with Benito Mussolini when they met at the Socialist Party Congress in 1911 and she became his mistress by 1913 and they would remain lovers until 1936. In 1918 she joined Mussolini's People of Italy newspaper as an editor, and presided over Friday night salons in one of the more exclusive intellectual living rooms in Milan. She promoted such futurists as Bontempelli, Ada Negri, the sculptors Medardo Rosso and Arthur Martini. She merged the futurist vision to cleanse the past and create a new Rome with Mussolini's fascism into the Novecento artists movement. In 1925 she published the first biography of Mussolini entitled Dux that was soon translated soon into several languages, was featured in the Paris Exposition of the Decorative Arts, and the following year received the Legion of Honor. She helped write Mussilini's speeches and helped plan the March on Rome. As Mussolini's publicist, she developed relationships with foreign journalists and for six years wrote articles for the William Randolph Hearst publications under Mussolini's name, earning a considerable income for both herself and Mussolini. It is also alleged that she smuggled artwork from Italy for sale to rich foreigners. After 1934, however, Italy joined with Hitler's Germany, invaded Ethiopia, began anti-Semitic policies, and by 1936 Margherita had fallen from favor. She fled to Argentina in 1938 and returned to Italy in 1947 to resume her career as writer and critic. She died in Cavallasca in 1961.
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History Department | Filmnotes | revised 1/22/2000 by Schoenherr