Home Entertainment Italian screen star Gina Lollobrigida dies at 95

Italian screen star Gina Lollobrigida dies at 95

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Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida, one of the biggest stars of European cinema in the 1950s and ’60s, has died at the age of 95.

Often described as “the most beautiful woman in the world”, her films included Beat the Devil, the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Crossed Swords.

She co-starred alongside the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra, Rock Hudson and Errol Flynn.

Her career faded in the 1960s and she moved into photography and politics.

Nicknamed Lo Lollo, she was one of the last surviving icons of the glory days of film, who Bogart said “made Marilyn Monroe look like Shirley Temple”.

Movie mogul Howard Hughes showered her with marriage proposals. Off camera, she enjoyed a feud with fellow Italian star Sophia Loren.

Culture minister Gennaro Sangiuliano wrote on Twitter: “Farewell to a diva of the silver screen, protagonist of more than half a century of Italian cinema history. Her charm will remain eternal.”

She died in a Rome clinic, her former lawyer Giulia Citani told the Reuters news agency.

Luigina Lollobrigida was born on 4 July, 1927. The daughter of a furniture manufacturer, Gina spent her teenage years avoiding wartime bombing raids before studying sculpture at Rome’s Academy of Fine Arts.

A talent scout offered her an audition at Cinecitta – then the largest film studio in Europe and Italy’s thriving “Hollywood on the Tiber”.

Lollobrigida wasn’t keen. “I refused when they offered me my first role,” she recalled. “So, they said they would pay me a thousand lire. I told them my price was one million lire, thinking that would put a stop to the whole thing. But they said yes!”

In 1947, she entered the Miss Italia beauty pageant – a competition that launched many notable careers – and came third. Two years later, she married a Slovenian doctor, Milko Skofic.

Skofic took some bikini-clad publicity shots of his new – and still relatively unknown – wife. Six thousand miles away in Hollywood, the world’s richest man sat up.

Hughes had just taken control of a major studio. He was more than 20 years older than Lollobrigida and famous for a string of affairs with the most glamorous women of the age – including Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner.

He tracked Lollobrigida down and offered a screen test. She accepted, expecting her husband to accompany her to America. On the day of departure, only one of the tickets Hughes had promised showed up.

Hughes had divorce lawyers waiting at the airport. She was installed in a luxury hotel, given a secretary and a chauffeur, and bombarded with proposals.

He had prepared everything. Even the screen test turned out to be a scene about the end of a marriage.

The trip lasted nearly three months. She saw him daily – fending off pass after pass. To avoid the press, they often ate at cheap restaurants or in the back of his car.

Although the behavior was clearly abusive, Lollobrigida said she enjoyed the attention. “He was very tall, very interesting,” she later recalled. “Much more interesting than my husband.”

Before she departed for Rome, Hughes presented her with a seven-year contract. It made it hugely expensive for any other US studio to hire her. “I signed it because I wanted to go home,” she said.

Hughes didn’t give up. His lawyers pursued her as far as the Algerian desert – where she was making a film. Her husband was understanding about the decade-long infatuation. He’d even play the lawyers at tennis.

Avoiding Hollywood, Gina worked in France and Italy – making films such as The Wayward Wife and Bread, Love and Dreams.

Her first English-language picture – opposite Bogart in John Huston’s Beat the Devil – was shot on the Amalfi coast, and was the beginning of a series of starring roles alongside the world’s most glamorous men.

In Crossed Swords it was Flynn; in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Antony Quinn. She realized her celebrity was global when 60,000 turned up to greet her in Argentina. They included the country’s dashing president, Juan Peron.

She won awards for Beautiful But Dangerous – as an orphan opposite one of Italy’s finest actors, Vittorio Gassman. She played a manipulative circus performer in Trapeze, with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis.

She disliked Sinatra, with whom she starred in Never So Few – a wartime romance shot in Myanmar and Thailand. He was late on set and got shirty when she complained. “Zero sense of humor,” she said.

And disaster struck her next project. Two-thirds of Solomon and Sheba had been filmed when her co-star, Tyrone Power, had a heart attack filming a sword fight in Madrid.

One version of the story says Power died in Lollobrigida’s car on the way to hospital. Another suggests he passed away in his dressing room and was “walked” out of the studio – a scarf tied round his jaw to stop it sagging.

Whatever the truth, Power’s scenes were reshot with Yul Brynner. The film shocked late-1950s Hollywood with an orgy scene, albeit one where all were fully clothed.


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