Margherita Sarfatti (1880 - 1961) was an Italian journalist, art critic, patron, collector, socialite, and one of Mussolini's mistresses.
Born Margherita Grassini, the daughter of a wealthy Jewish lawyer, she grew up in a palazzo situated at the Canale Grande in Venice and was educated by private tutors. However, she was soon attracted by socialist ideas and escaped her parents' home aged 18 by marrying Cesare Sarfatti, a lawyer from Padua many years her senior. In 1902 the couple moved to Milan.
In 1911 Margherita Sarfatti met, and started an affair with, Mussolini. As a highly educated and intellectual woman, she played a significant role in the rise of fascism, only to be discarded when her lover turned to anti-Semitism, unable to credit a Jewish woman as his collaborator in the forging of a new, revolutionary ideology. In 1938 Sarfatti left Italy.
After the war, in 1947, Sarfatti returned to her home country and once again became an influential force in Italian art.
Actress Susan Sarandon portrayed Sarfatti in the 1999 movie Cradle Will Rock. About her role she said,
Margherita is someone who is a legitimate historical figure. She really existed. She really was Mussolini's mistress and was very involved in the cultural shaping of Italy's art movements. She was a patron of new painters in Italy. She came over to the United States to sell Mussolini to the American people, and she did that by using Hearst's column. She wrote a column, and that was how they prepared the United States people for the concept of entering the war on the side of Mussolini, I suppose. And also she was trying to fund the war. And the complication of this was the fact that she was Jewish, and she in fact was facilitating her own crisis, which eventually would make her flee the country and live in Argentina, I believe, for a number of years before it was safe for her to go back. Whether or not she was just in complete denial or she really truly believed that there was a way to sleep with Mussolini and not be held accountable, I don't know. But she ended up in an awkward position. She was hobnobbing with all these rich American people. I think in the context of the film, she's somebody who has a job to do and because she loved art, she sometimes finds herself to be giving all this art away to people she feels don't really appreciate it.