Marpessa Dawn was directed by Marcel Camus and based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, “Orfeu Negro,” as it is called in Portuguese, brings together an innocent country girl, played by Ms. Dawn, and a trolley car motorman and gifted guitarist, portrayed by Mr. Mello. They meet amid the frenzy of Rio’s carnival and are soon swaying to a provocative samba among the crowds. But Eurydice is stalked by a man in a skeleton costume. Eventually, Orpheus finds her in the morgue. In the end, bearing her body in his arms, he falls to his death from a cliff.

Orfeu Nefro is part of the collection of The Museum of UnCut Funk

“Black Orpheus” became renowned for its soundtrack by the bossa nova legends Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfá, with songs like “Manhã de Carnaval” and “A Felicidade.” It won the Palme d’Or at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for best foreign film in 1960.

Gypsy Marpessa Dawn Menor was born near Pittsburgh on Jan. 3, 1934. As a teenager, she moved to England, where she had bit parts on television, and later to France, where she worked as a governess and danced and sang in nightclubs.

After her role in “Black Orpheus,” Ms. Dawn appeared in several less successful movies and on French television. She also starred in several plays, including “Chérie Noire,” a comedy that toured France, Belgium, Switzerland, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

Marpessa Dawn, died on Aug. 25, 2008 at her home in Paris. She was 74. The cause was a heart attack, her daughter Dhyana Kluth said. Ms. Dawn’s death followed by 41 days that of her “Black Orpheus” co-star, Breno Mello, who played the title role.

1 Comment

  • Russ Smith
    April 29, 2011

    She was such a beauty. Sorry to hear of her passing.

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