Italian silent film star and diva Pina Menichelli, 1910s.
Giuseppa Iolanda Menichelli (1890-1984), known as Pina Menichelli, was an Italian actress and silent film star. After a career in theatre and a series of small film roles, Menichelli was launched as a film star when Giovanni Pastrone gave her the lead role in The Fire (1916). Over the next nine years, Menichelli made a series of films, often trading on her image as a diva and on her passionate, decadent eroticism. Menichelli became a global star, and one of the most appreciated actresses in Italian cinema, before her retirement in 1924, aged 34.
“A woman in the wardrobe department asked rather casually as if to make conversation, whether I could dance and I told her I could and loved to. She explained that James Ryan, a casting director, was looking for a certain type of girl and had made screen tests of more than 100, without finding the one he wanted. She suggested that I call on Ryan, which I did, and he told me to see Lambert Hillyer, the director, and tell him I had been sent.
“Hillyer looked at me and asked if I thought I could play the lead in a picture. I told him sure, I could. He gave me a screen test and had a man make me up – the first experience of the kind I ever had. The test was to be made at 1 p.m. and word passed around the studio that a girl who had never even seen a motion picture camera was to be tried out for a leading part. As a result, a great crowd gathered to see me make a fool of myself.
“I wasn’t afraid. Scores of people watched me as I attempted to register love, hate, fear and a lot of other things. At 2 p.m. Mr. Hillyer informed me I could have the role!
“I would have played the part for nothing, but they paid me $75 a week.” — Dorothy Janis, discussing how she went from an extra and bit player to her first starring role in Fleetwing (1928).