She eventually chafed under the contract she signed with Mr. Douglas. He wrote that he ended the deal because she was impatient about the money she was being paid. But she insisted that she ended it after he lent her to Universal Pictures for “Four Girls in Town,” which she called a “very bad film.”
“I thought if he would do this for money, I would leave,” she told United Press International in 1961.
In “Hatari!” (1962) she portrayed a photographer nicknamed Dallas working with a group, led by Wayne, trapping African wildlife for sale to zoos. Her character’s attachment to the film’s scene-stealing elephant calves was captured memorably in scenes featuring the composer Henry Mancini’s song “Baby Elephant Walk.”
She told the website Cinema Retro in 2012 that she had gone to the location a month before the rest of the cast when the elephants were being born. “You see, the trick is to feed them right away,” she said. “That’s how you become their ‘mother.’ So they got used to me and would follow me everywhere.”
Her character was also Wayne’s love interest. “Signorina Martinelli not only attracts elephants,” A. H. Weiler wrote in The New York Times, “but also has eyes for that rugged ‘bwana,’ Mr. Wayne.”
Elsa Martinelli was born in Grosseto, in southern Tuscany, on Jan. 30, 1935. Her father Alfredo, was a railway station chief; her mother, Santina, was a homemaker. Young Elsa delivered groceries and worked as a bar cashier before her modeling career took off in her midteens after she was discovered by the rising designer Roberto Capucci. She was featured in his first collection and modeled in Paris and New York for Ford Models.
In 1956, she was described by The Sydney Morning Herald as “a kind of Audrey Hepburn with sex appeal.” The great Italian director Vittorio De Sica subsequently called her “the most stylized woman in the world.” Life magazine, in a photo spread, extolled her fashion sense but noted how limited her film wardrobe had been.
In “The Indian Fighter,” the magazine said, “she took off the squaw dress only long enough to cause a momentary sensation by wearing nothing at all.”
In 1957, she married Count Franco Mancinelli Scotti di San Vito — his…