Ninalee Allen Craig, Center of a Famous Photograph, Dies at 90
Posted May 4, 2018 11:17 p.m. EDT
On an August morning in 1951, two American women met for the first time in the corridor of the Hotel Berchielli in Florence.
Ninalee Allen, who was known as Jinx, was a vacationing nursery-school teacher. Ruth Orkin was a freelance photojournalist who, after chatting with Allen, asked if would she would pose for a photo essay about women traveling alone.
Jinx agreed, and they set off on what Jinx called a “photographic lark.” As they came to the Piazza della Repubblica, 15 men were loitering. Some were leaning on a wall. Two sat on a motor scooter. Nearly all were staring at the 6-foot-tall Allen. One leered and grabbed his crotch.
Orkin snapped Allen twice walking that testosterone-charged gantlet. The first time, Orkin told The New York Times in 1979, Allen “clutched at herself and looked terribly frightened.”
“I told her to walk by the second time, ‘as if it’s killing you but you’re going to make it,'” she said.
The final shot, “American Girl in Italy,” captured Allen with her head tilted slightly up, her eyes cast a bit down and her right hand holding onto her sweater. For the rest of her life she insisted that she had been enjoying herself and had not felt harassed. Indeed, she said, she had imagined herself as Beatrice in Dante’s “The Divine Comedy,” striding past the men with dignity, refusing them her glance.
“The last thing you would do would be to look them in the eye and smile,” she said in an interview with The Guardian in 2015. “I did not want to encourage them. This image has been interpreted in a sinister way, but it was quite the opposite. They were having fun, and so was I.”
Both women insisted they had come upon the men at the piazza serendipitously, and that nothing had been posed.
Ninalee Allen Craig — as she had been known since her second marriage, which ended in divorce — died of complications of lung cancer Tuesday in Toronto, her stepson, Alex Passi, said. She was 90.
Craig reveled in her starring role in the photograph, which was first published in Cosmopolitan magazine with travel tips and other photos of her from the Florence shoot and became Orkin’s most popular picture in a distinguished and successful career, especially after it was reproduced as a poster in the 1980s.
When the photograph was celebrated in 2011 at the Stephen Bulger Gallery in Toronto, Craig smiled at the suggestion that the men’s behavior had concerned her.
“Italian men are very appreciative, and it’s nice to be appreciated,” she told The Toronto Star. “I wasn’t the least bit offended.”
She was born in Indianapolis on Nov. 6, 1927, and grew up in Bronxville, New York. Her father, W. Rowland Allen, was personnel director for a department store, and her mother, Mary (Church) Allen, was a homemaker.
At Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied art, she earned a bachelor’s degree. She then taught at a nursery school in Manhattan.
After six years as an advertising copywriter at J. Walter Thompson in Manhattan, she married Achille Passi and moved to Milan. They divorced, and she returned to New York and to copywriting at William Esty & Co. Her second marriage, to R. Ross Craig, a Canadian steel executive, also ended in divorce.
In addition to her stepson, Passi, she is survived by two other stepsons, David and Robert Craig; a stepdaughter, Gaye Craig; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Craig and Orkin met in Paris soon after their earlier encounter in Florence, and more photographs were taken. They remained friendly until Orkin’s death in 1985 at 63. Craig was also friendly with Orkin’s daughter, Mary Engel.
“Jinx was the kind of person who, the minute you met her, was in your life forever,” Engel said in a telephone interview. “She was just an amazing, larger-than-life person.”
In an article looking back at “American Girl in Italy,” Craig said she encouraged young people to follow Orkin’s example.
“You’ve got to be alert and quick as Ruth was,” she was quoted as saying. “She had the camera in her hands night and day. She was always thinking and looking. She lived to shoot pictures.”