33 Stunning Images Of Claudia Cardinale — And The Little-Known Story Behind The 1960s Sex Symbol

Published June 25, 2023
Updated November 13, 2023

Born in Tunis, Tunisia to Sicilian immigrants in 1938, Claudia Cardinale never intended to become a movie star — but fate had other plans.

Starting in the late 1950s, a dark-haired beauty started to appear in Italian and French movies. Husky-voiced and alluring, she was soon dubbed the “Italian Brigitte Bardot.” But Claudia Cardinale was a legendary actress and sex symbol in her own right — as the photos above prove.

Born in Tunisia, Cardinale was literally plucked from a crowd, entered into a beauty competition, and thrust into stardom as a teenager. Molded — and controlled — by the powerful Italian producer Franco Cristaldi, she soon starred in a number of Italian and French films, where her beauty and glamour transfixed movie audiences around the world.

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33 Stunning Images Of Claudia Cardinale — And The Little-Known Story Behind The 1960s Sex Symbol
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Over the course of more than 60 years, Cardinale appeared in over 100 films alongside the likes of Tony Curtis, Charles Bronson, and Burt Lancaster. Her life wasn't always Hollywood perfect, but Cardinale never tired of the work — and she never lost herself in the film industry's bright lights.

See some of the most iconic photos of Claudia Cardinale in the gallery above, then learn more about her life story below.

Claudia Cardinale's Sudden Rise To Fame

Born on April 15, 1938, in Tunis, Tunisia, to a French mother and an Italian father, Claudia Cardinale didn't initially set out to be a movie star. Originally, she wanted to be a teacher. But in 1957, fate intervened when Cardinale was crowned the "Most Beautiful Italian Girl in Tunisia."

According to The Guardian, Cardinale, then 18, had not even entered the beauty contest and was instead plucked out of a crowd. But she agreed to accept the glamorous prize — a trip to the Venice Film Festival in Italy.

Claudia Cardinale Photos

Bettmann/Getty ImagesClaudia Cardinale was named the "Most Beautiful Italian Girl in Tunisia" at the age of 18.

There, Claudia Cardinale made a strong impression while posing for photos in a green bikini.

Italian writer Masolino D'Amico described her as "splendid in all her youthfulness," adding: "She seemed to think that small shower of camera clicks was like a game... She was not — I understand this clearly now — trying to be sexy, and maybe not even attractive. She was simply happy to be there."

Offers from movie producers quickly came pouring in, but Cardinale initially refused every single one. Her carefree attitude at the Venice Film Festival had obscured a difficult truth: As Cardinale later told a French magazine, she'd been raped and was pregnant with her son.

But one Italian producer, the powerful Franco Cristaldi, soon broke through. He would later go on to marry Cardinale and adopt her son Patrick (who was initially passed off as her younger brother). And though Cristaldi exerted tight control over her life, he also made Claudia Cardinale into a star.

Becoming The "Italian Brigitte Bardot"

With Franco Cristaldi pulling the strings behind the scenes, Claudia Cardinale made her film debut in Goha (1958), which starred the Egyptian actor Omar Sharif. Other roles rapidly followed, and Cardinale later appeared in Rocco and His Brothers (1960), The Leopard (1963), and (1963).

According to the Los Angeles Times, movie directors initially found that Cardinale spoke too huskily, and with too much of a French accent, so her voice was dubbed in her early films. In Federico Fellini's , however, Cardinale's unique speaking voice appeared on screen for the first time.

As her roles piled up, Cardinale charmed her co-stars as well as movie audiences. David Niven, who starred alongside Cardinale in Pink Panther, declared that she was Italy's best invention besides spaghetti, and many of Cardinale's famous co-stars tried to woo her.

"They tried," she told The New York Times. "I turned down seducers."

Claudia Cardinale And Rod Taylor

Donaldson Collection/Getty ImagesA photo of Claudia Cardinale and Rod Taylor, taken while filming the movie The Hell with Heroes (1968).

Seen as the Italian answer to France's Brigitte Bardot, Cardinale soon found movie roles outside of Italy. She starred alongside American actors Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and the notorious German actor Klaus Kinski in Fitzcarraldo (1982).

Kinski more than lived up to his controversial reputation, Cardinale told the Los Angeles Times. He was "totally crazy. When we started [a scene], he took the mirror to see if the light was better on him or me."

Along the way, Cardinale eventually broke free from her restrictive relationship with Cristaldi when she fell in love with director Pasquale Squitieri on the set of Blood Brothers (1973). The New York Times reports that both Cardinale and Squitieri suffered professionally for crossing the powerful Cristaldi, but Cardinale luckily continued to find work.

In fact, Claudia Cardinale never really stopped.

The Still-Shining Star Of Claudia Cardinale

By the time she was in her 70s, Claudia Cardinale had appeared in 135 films — and continued to do two to three a year. "I don't want to stop!" she told The Guardian in 2013. "This is fantastic, to continue to work. It's important."

But Cardinale's work was no longer limited to films. Passionate about women's rights and the environment, she's been a UNESCO good will ambassador since 2000 in order to advocate for girls and women, and she supports the environmental advocacy group Green Cross Italy.

Claudia Cardinale Today

FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty ImagesA photo of Claudia Cardinale in 2022.

Looking back at her career, Cardinale seems grateful for the opportunities that acting gave her, and that she never lost herself in the glitz and glam of stardom. Unlike Brigitte Bardot, Cardinale never appeared naked on film, and she hasn't resorted to plastic surgery to maintain her famous looks.

"When I was young, my dream was to explore the world. And I did it," she said. "I was never naked and I never did anything to change my face. I don't like that at all. I like to be what I am, because you cannot stop time."

After looking through these photos of Claudia Cardinale and learning about her life, peruse these photos of the famous actress and model Raquel Welch. Or, discover some of the worst movie set disasters in history.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "33 Stunning Images Of Claudia Cardinale — And The Little-Known Story Behind The 1960s Sex Symbol." AllThatsInteresting.com, June 25, 2023, https://allthatsinteresting.com/claudia-cardinale-photos. Accessed June 15, 2024.