RAFAELA OTTIANO (1888 – 1942)

Rafaela Ottiano

Rafaela Ottiano

One of these great character actors . A face you would recognise in many films,severe looking,intense,sinister. That was the Hollywood character of Rafaela Ottiano who is probably best known as Garbo’s faithful maid in GRAND HOTEL

Rafaela was born in Italy and emigrated with her parents to America in 1910. They were processed at Ellis Island.

She died at the Boston home of her parents , of cancer, age 54.

She was in the stage play of GRAND HOTEL in 1930 and was also in Mae West’s DIAMOND LIL in 1928, reprising her roles in the film versions.(Diamond Lil becoming SHE DONE  HIM WRONG.)

Her character in She Done Him Wrong was ‘Russian Rita’, maybe the only time Rafaela got   to ‘dress up’!


Mae West,Rafaela Ottiano

Gilbert Roland,Mae West,Rafaela Ottiano

She was with Garbo in AS YOU DESIRE ME, Irene Dunne in ANN VICKERS, and Shirley Temple in CURLY TOP.

I recently saw Rafaela in ONE FRIGHTENED NIGHT, a good ‘old dark house’ film in which she is yet again, a maid.

One of her biggest roles was as Lionel Barrymore’s costar in DEVIL DOLL – which is a film I enjoyed a lot. In this, she may be demented but still sympathetic. Devil Doll showed casting directors missed out, not using Rafaela in bigger roles.

Rafaela Ottiano,Lionel Barrymore

Rafaela Ottiano,Lionel Barrymore


One Frightened Night

One Frightened Night


One of her films I’d love to see is THE LAST GENTLEMAN, with Edna May Oliver.

Her last film was I MARRIED AN ANGEL in 1942.

One story I love about Rafaela happened in 1989 when the musical version of Grand Hotel opened on Broadway and her character of the maid was renamed Rafaela Ottiano in her honour .



11 responses »

  1. Wow. I didn’t know anything about her, but I love reading pieces like this about all the actors and actresses who tend to get overlooked too often. I do remember her as Garbo’s maid in Grand Hotel, which is a movie I love.

  2. It’s interesting how Hollywood careers would sometimes be jump-started by a studio buying the rights to a play in New York and taking some of the stage cast to the West Coast, especially when the Talkies began.

    • Raphael was great in all of her films. She was actually my mother’s cousin once removed. She was a wonderful actress.

      • Gwen, I was shocked to see your name as I was reading about Aunt Rafaela. She was my grandfather’s (Augustine W. Ottiano) sister, but she died before I was born. I am Jacqueline’s daughter, your mother’s first cousin.

  3. I love the story of Grand Hotel the musical naming the maid after her.

    I am one of those who recognizes her on screen but, I am ashamed to say, I never bothered to look her up. Thanks for this thoughtful tribute a talented woman.

  4. She was also a nasty, busybody neighbor in Night Court (1932). I always like seeing her! She’s so memorable, even though her roles are often small. Sad to read she died so young, though.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s