When MAE WEST watched Rafaela Ottiano portray the sinister Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney Todd" during its 1924 Broadway run at the Frazee Theatre, she knew where to find an actress who could ably play a villainess.
• • Born in Venice in early March — — on 4 March 1888 — — of Italian parents, Rafaela Ottiano distinguished herself in Europe before relocating to New York City in 1910 when she was 22 years old. By 1912 she was winning critical praise for her performances onstage in Proctor's Fifth Avenue Theatre [31 West 28th Street].
• • By 1920, she was living in a boarding house in the theatre district — — 49 West 37th Street — — where many actresses and artists were in residence. In between bookings, the five-foot-five brunette worked as a sales lady in a department store.
• • For the acclaimed Broadway production of "Diamond Lil" [1928 — 29] Ottiano created the role of Spanish Rita. Notably, she was the only member of the Royale Theatre's cast who was retained for the filmed version, where she reprised her role — — renamed Russian Rita by cautious executives at Paramount Pictures who feared that they might possibly alienate Latino ticket-buyers.
• • Never married, and guiding her career entirely by herself, plucky Ottiano managed to stay employed in Hollywood from 1924 — 1942 in between theatre work.
• • Rafaela Ottiano died at age 54 of intestinal cancer in mid-August 1942 at the East Boston home of her late parents.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online: http://MaeWest.blogspot.com/
• • Photo: • • Mae West's co-star • • Rafaela Ottiano • •
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