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Gina Lollobrigida, siren of 1950s Italian cinema, dies at 95

The Italian film industry after World War II was a juggernaut that rivaled Hollywood as one of the world’s leading film exporters. Poetic, poetic works like Roberto Rossellini’s “Rome, Open City” and Vittorio De Sica’s “The Bicycle Thieves” were masterpieces of neorealism that turned themes of deprivation and despair into great art.

But when Time magazine examined the power of Italian film production in 1954, it didn’t put Rossellini or De Sica on the cover. Instead, it starred Gina Lollobrigida, a ruby-lipped bombshell wrapped in clingy dresses, whose presence in comedies, romances and adventures fueled a rebellion against neorealism.

Ms Lollobrigida, who died on January 16 in Rome at 95, was for a time an international sensation with few equals.

In actor Humphrey Bogart’s opinion, her look made “Marilyn Monroe look like Shirley Temple”. Life magazine called “La Lollo” – as she was nicknamed – “the most appealing argument ever made for liberal immigration policies”. For New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther, she was “the original overloaded Italian star”, a pneumatic precursor to Sophia Loren, who would soon be ingrained in the public imagination as the quintessential Italian sex goddess. .

Ms Lollobrigida (pronounced lo-lo-BRIDGE-eeh-dah) was among the beauties of the European screen, along with Brigitte Bardot and Anita Ekberg, whose charms sparked the fantasies of a generation of moviegoers.

In a golden age that spanned a quarter century and more than 50 films, Ms Lollobrigida had a decidedly mixed reputation as an actress. “She’s handicapped by a lack of intensity, a lack of presence,” noted film historian David Shipman. He compared her sexiness to the dimensionality of a billboard.

She began her career on a lark in 1946, when a director watched the former art student on the streets of Rome and fell in love. And it was a photo of Ms Lollobrigida in a bikini that proved enough to inspire billionaire industrialist and film producer Howard Hughes to take her to Hollywood in 1950. He kept her virtually prisoner for weeks in a fancy hotel, she said later, until she accepted a contract. She said she refused his sexual advances and in return he made her prohibitive to other filmmakers in the United States.

As a result, young Loren conquered Hollywood first. Ms. Lollobrigida, who often stoked their rivalry, later remarked to Life, “We’re as different as a beautiful racehorse and a goat.”

His rise continued, but in European films or Euro-American co-productions such as “Beat the Devil” (1953) and “Trapeze” (1956). The first is a shaggy caper on con artists in which Bogart and Mrs. Lollobrigida have been cast as husband and wife. The latter presented her as a circus artist whose tricks and ambition threaten to break up the partnership of acrobats played by Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis.

Even after escaping Hughes, Ms. Lollobrigida has long been subject to the cinematic glow. In “Solomon and Sheba” (1959), she performed, as Sheba, a memorable pagan dance in Technicolor to the delight of her co-star Yul Brynner as Solomon. Her bathtub scene was the climax to an otherwise pallid World War II film starring Frank Sinatra, “Never So Few” (1959). In the drama “Go Naked in the World” (1961), she was a call girl courted by the son of a construction tycoon (Anthony Franciosa), and she played a nurse recruited for a murder scheme in ” Woman of Straw” (1964), starring Sean Connery.

His career gradually dwindled with pranks like “Strange Bedfellows” (1965), opposite Rock Hudson; “The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell” (1968), starring Bob Hope; and “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell” (1968), about an Italian woman entangled with three ex-GIs (Telly Savalas, Peter Lawford and Phil Silvers).

Over the years, Ms. Lollobrigida had acquired a reputation as a quarrelsome and demanding, a performer with insatiable vanity and an unbridled desire to control the set. She was also litigious, filing up to 10 lawsuits at once.

She sued the producers for what she claimed were broken promises and fired her attorneys over advertisers and publications she said had used her image without permission. According to Time, she prevailed over an Italian film critic for her derogatory description of her “udder”.

In interviews, Ms Lollobrigida has portrayed herself as one of life’s indomitable survivors: an Italian country girl who endured the hardships of war, sexual assault, deceptive producers and a vicious entertainment press .

When her screen career faded, she moved on with vigor. She became a sculptor, and she published books of her photography. “I may not be Cartier-Bresson, but I can do something good,” she later told The New York Times. She made a short documentary about Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 1972.

She also raised funds for UN humanitarian missions, work that led to her unsuccessful bid in 1999 to win one of Italy’s seats in the European Parliament. Through it all, she remained “La Lollo,” managing to spice up the tabloid sheets and celebrity magazines with private work prompted by her self-proclaimed “young man weakness.”

As an octogenarian, she sued a boyfriend 25 years her junior who she claims orchestrated an unauthorized marriage to siphon off her considerable fortune, estimated at tens of millions of dollars. Her son unsuccessfully tried to have her declared mentally unfit to manage her affairs. She emphasized her independence by comparing herself to the Colosseum, stating, “I will never crumble and fall apart.”

The second of four daughters, Luigia Lollobrigida was born in the Sabine mountain town of Subiaco on July 4, 1927. Her father lost his furniture factory to Allied bombing during World War II and moved the family to Rome, 80 km to the west. , where he began selling black market cigarettes and military blankets.

“We were so poor that I made my shoes out of stable straw,” she once told an interviewer. After Italy surrendered, she sang and sold skits to American GIs. She uses the money she earns to pay for singing lessons and gets a scholarship to the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome.

A chance meeting with a studio official led to extra roles in the film, and then to progressively bigger roles. She also worked as a model and won the title of Miss Rome before placing third in the Miss Italy pageant.

In 1949, she married a Yugoslav doctor, Milko Skofic, who became her manager. He took the saucy publicity photos of 23-year-old Ms Lollobrigida, which intrigued Hughes, who promptly provided her with a one-way ticket to Los Angeles.

Hughes had her driven to a luxury hotel, where guards were posted outside her door and she was not allowed any mail or phone calls. He told her to leave her husband and, to insist, assigned her divorce scenes for her screen test.

Tired after six weeks in gold-plated captivity, Ms Lollobrigida said she collapsed during a 2am meeting with Hughes and signed a contract. Only then was she allowed to return home.

Ms. Lollobrigida has progressed in the marquee of European films. She made a strong impression in “Fanfan la Tulipe” (1952), a swordsman starring French star Gérard Philipe. She had a breakthrough the following year playing a bubbly, barefoot peasant girl in the animated comedy “Bread, Love and Dreams” opposite De Sica, who was also a noted actor and portrayed the uptight but smitten Carabinieri officer.

She commanded $48,000 for the film, an amount that was doubled for the equally popular sequel “Bread, Love and Jealousy” (1954). When she held on for half the proceeds from the second sequel, “Scandal in Sorrento” (1955), Loren was hired instead and headed to Hollywood.

Meanwhile, Ms Lollobrigida has made headlines more for her romances than her film roles. In the 1960s, she had a brief engagement with New York real estate heir George S. Kaufman and a torrid affair with South African heart surgeon Christiaan Barnard, whom she later called “a bona fide publicity seeker.” walked” for revealing that she once drove him to his hotel in a Jaguar while wearing nothing but a mink coat. She said she tried to seduce Hudson, who was gay and who she later told CNN host Larry King had “fallen asleep” in her bed.

In 2006 Ms Lollobrigida said she had called off a planned wedding to Javier Rigau y Rafols, a Spanish businessman. But in 2010, Rigau arranged the wedding in Barcelona with a “substitute” wife by proxy. She called the case a “horrendous and vulgar fraud” perpetrated by a fortune hunter.

Rigau produced witnesses who testified that she signed a power of attorney authorization. After a Rome court ruled against Ms Lollobrigida in 2017, she continued to seek an annulment. Meanwhile, as her son, Andrea Milko Skofic, challenged her skills, she was often seen in the company of her new manager, Andrea Piazzolla, who was 60 years her junior and whom she called “the best person I have ever had.” never found in my life”. so far.”

Gennaro Sangiuliano, Italy’s culture minister, announced the death but did not give further details. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.

Ms Lollobrigida once told Vanity Fair magazine that, whatever her public image, she basically saw herself as a lonely soul, needing nothing but art. “I never compromised, remaining independent and always alone,” she said in 2015. “My strength is my free spirit, and my great imagination gives me strength and vitality.”

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