Showing posts with label Gina Lollobrigida. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gina Lollobrigida. Show all posts

6 January 2022

Silvana Pampanini - actress and singer

Postwar pin-up who preceded Loren and Lollobrigida

Silvana Pampanini combined acting talent with star quality to become Italy's best paid actress
Silvana Pampanini combined acting talent with
star quality to become Italy's best paid actress
The actress and singer Silvana Pampanini, who starred in more than 50 films and was Italian cinema’s biggest box office draw in the 1950s, died on this day in 2016 in Rome.

She was 90 years old and had been hospitalized for some weeks following abdominal surgery. Her funeral took place at the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, in the Esquilino district to the southeast of the city centre.

Born in Rome into a family of Venetian heritage in 1925, she had ambitions to become an opera singer, inspired by the career of her aunt, Rosetta Pampanini, a noted soprano who sang at many of the world’s great opera houses.

She enrolled at the renowned Conservatorio Santa Cecilia in Rome, where her male teacher was so struck by her physical beauty that without her knowledge he entered her for the 1946 Miss Italy contest, the first to be staged after the end of World War Two.

Though taken aback at first, Pampanini was a confident young woman and went along with it. Indeed, the audience were so appreciative of her curvy figure, green eyes and long legs that when the jury awarded the title to Rossana Martini, another future actress, there was a near riot and police had to be called to restore order. Later, the result was amended and the contest declared a draw.

Pampanini was unashamedly promoted as a sex symbol during the 1950s Italian cinema boom
Pampanini was unashamedly promoted as a sex
symbol during the 1950s Italian cinema boom
Beauty contests were fertile ground for movie makers in search of the next starlet and although Pampanini wanted to be appreciated for her singing voice as well as her visual appeal it was the latter quality that producers were so keen to exploit.

After her screen debut in 1946, her fame grew steadily and her photo frequently appeared on the front covers of Italy’s booming weekly magazines. Her father, who initially disapproved of her dream of becoming a movie star, soon changed his mind and became her agent. By 1951, when she starred alongside Delia Scala in Carlo Campogalliani’s musical comedy Bellezze in bicicletta - Beauties on Bicycles - and as the Empress Poppea in Mario Soldati’s comedy, OK Nerone, she was the highest paid actress in Italy and was making up to eight films per year.

Those titles unashamedly showcased her pin-up status but Pampanini was not without talent as an actress. Titles such as Luigi Comencini’s drama La Tratta delle bianche - The White Slave Trade - Paolo Moffa’s La principessa delle Canarie - The Princess of the Canaries - Gianni Franciolini’s Racconti Romani - Roman Tales - and Dino Risi’s Il Gaucho - The Gaucho - saw her perform opposite major actors such as Vittorio Gassman, Marcello Mastroianni, Totò and Vittorio De Sica.

La strada lungo un anno won a Golden Globe in 1958
La strada lungo un anno won
a Golden Globe in 1958
In 1958 she took a part in Giuseppe De Santis's La strada lungo un anno - The Road a Year Long - which won the Golden Globe award for best foreign film and was nominated for an Oscar in the same category.

She became popular as far afield as Egypt, Mexico and Japan as well as in Spain and France, where she was known as Niní Pampan. She became a worldwide symbol of Italian beauty alongside such stars as Lucia Bosè and Silvana Mangano, and later Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida.

There were countless offers to take her appeal to Hollywood, but Pampanini baulked at the idea of spending hours learning English and turned them all down. 

Nonetheless, she travelled extensively, happy to be a smiling ambassador for Italian cinema In Europe, South America, North Africa and even the Soviet Union, often appearing on local TV shows or accepting invitations to be a guest panel member at film festivals. 

Although she was frequently linked romantically with co-stars such as Orson Welles, Omar Sharif, William Holden and Tyrone Power, she never married, despite having, in her own words, ‘more suitors than headaches’ in her life.

She rejected an offer of marriage from comic actor Totò because of his age - he was 27 years’ her senior. There were rumours of affairs with the Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, and Egypt’s King Farouk, who were both said to be smitten after meeting her.

Pampanini with the comic actor Totò, one of a number of suitors she ultimately rejected
Pampanini with the comic actor Totò, one of
a number of suitors she ultimately rejected
Pampanini was pursued with particular ardour by the Greek-born producer Moris Egas, who showered her with jewels and furs and other valuable items. When she ultimately rejected him, he took legal action to try to recover his gifts but lost the case.

Later, in an autobiography entitled Scandalamente perbene - Scandalously Respectable - she claimed that the love of her life had been an older man - another actor - who had died a month before they were to wed, but she declined to name him. 

Pampanini had a fiery temperament. After the Miss Italy contest that shot her to fame, she gave a radio interview alongside her joint-winner that had to be curtailed when the two began to quarrel and pull each other’s hair. Years later, at the Venice Lido Film Festival, she physically attacked a journalist who had been unkind to her in a magazine article.

Her career effectively came to an end in her mid-60s, when she gave up full-time work to look after her elderly parents. After they died, she moved for a while to Monte Carlo and lived in relative obscurity.  She made some TV appearances, the last of which was in 2002.

Rome's Parioli district is an upmarket residential area notable for its tree-lined streets
Rome's Parioli district is an upmarket residential
area notable for its tree-lined streets
Travel tip:

The Parioli district, where Pampanini lived at the height of her fame, is one of Rome's wealthiest residential neighbourhoods. Located north of the city centre, it is notable for its tree-lined streets and elegant houses, and for some of Rome's finest restaurants. The Auditorium Parco della Musica and the Villa Ada, once the Rome residence of the Italian royal family and surrounded by the second largest park in the city, can also be found within the Parioli district, which takes its name from the Monti Parioli hills.

The entrance to the historic Conservatorio in Via dei Greci
The entrance to the historic
Conservatorio in Via dei Greci
Travel tip:

The Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia, where Silvana Pampanini trained as a singer, dates back to 1875. It was set up under the auspices of one of the oldest musical institutions in the world, now known as the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, which was established in 1565. The Conservatorio can be found in Via dei Greci, not far from the Spanish Steps in central Rome. The Academy is located at the Parco della Musica in the northern part of Rome in Viale Pietro de Coubertin in the Flaminio district, close to the location of the 1960 Summer Olympic Games.

Also on this day:

Befana - Italy’s 6 January tradition

1695: The birth of oboist and composer Giuseppe Sammartini

1819: The birth of painter Baldassare Verazzi

1907: The first Montessori school opens in Rome

1938: The birth of singer and actor Adriano Celentano


25 November 2019

Rosanna Schiaffino – actress

Dramatic life of Italian sex goddess

Rosanna Schiaffino became a movie goddess in the mould of Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida
Rosanna Schiaffino became a movie goddess in
the mould of Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida
Film star Rosanna Schiaffino, who for more than 20 years, between the 1950s and the 1970s, starred opposite the most famous actors of the period, was born on this day in 1939 in Genoa in Liguria.

Schiaffino worked for some of Italian cinema’s greatest directors, but in the 1980s turned her back on the cinema world to marry the playboy and steel industry heir, Giorgio Falck, entering a relationship that descended into acrimony after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Born into a wealthy family, Schiaffino was encouraged in her acting ambitions by her mother, who paid for her to go to a drama school.  She entered beauty contests and won the title of Miss Liguria when she was just 14.

She also took some modelling jobs and her photograph appeared in many magazines. She was spotted by the film producer Franco Cristaldi, who paired her with Marcello Mastroianni in Un ettaro di cielo (Piece of the Sky) in 1959.

Schiaffino made her name in her second film for Cristaldi, La Sfida (The Challenge), directed by Francesco Rosi, in which she gave a powerful, but sensitive performance as a Neapolitan girl, inspired by the real life character of Pupetta Maresca, a former beauty queen who became a famous Camorra figure after killing the murderer of her husband in revenge.  The film won acclaim at the 1958 Venice film festival.

She  won an award for her performance as Lucrezia in the film La Mandragola (The Mandrake), an adaptation of a play by Niccolò Machiavelli.

Schiaffino and Marcello Mastroianni in a  scene from A Piece of the Sky
Schiaffino and Marcello Mastroianni in a
scene from A Piece of the Sky
Schiaffino was often referred to as ‘the Italian Hedy Lamarr’ but she was more of a sex goddess in the style of Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida.

In 1966 she married the film producer Alfredo Bini, with whom she had a daughter, Antonella. They would divorce in 1976.

After making more than 40 films, working with directors including Pier Paolo Pasolini, Roberto Rossellini and Jean-Luc Godard, Rosanna gave up acting to enjoy a new life mixing with the jet set, her activities often featuring in gossip magazines all over the world.

During the summer of 1980 in Portofino, she met Giorgio Falck, who was newly divorced, and they had a well publicised affair. They had a son, Guido, in 1981 and were married in 1982.

In 1991 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and the marriage then went into decline. They divorced after unpleasant disputes over the custody of their son and the allocation of money.

She died of the illness in 2009, aged 69, in Milan.

The maritime city of Genoa is the capital of Liguria and the sixth largest city in Italy
The maritime city of Genoa is the capital of Liguria and
the sixth largest city in Italy
Travel tip:

Genoa, where Rosanna Schiaffino was born, is the capital city of the region of Liguria and the sixth largest city in Italy. It has earned the nickname of La Superba because of its proud history as a major port. Part of the old town was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2006 because of the wealth of beautiful 16th century palaces there.

The picturesque fishing village of Portofino has become a draw for artists and celebrities
The picturesque fishing village of Portofino has become
a draw for artists and celebrities
Travel tip:

The region of Liguria in northwest Italy is also known as the Italian Riviera. It runs along a section of the Mediterranean coastline between France and Tuscany and is dotted with pretty seaside villages, with houses painted in different pastel colours.  The fishing village of Portofino, about an hour’s drive southeast along the coast from Genoa, has become famous for its picturesque harbour and for its associations with artists and celebrities. A novel published in 1922 is credited with making Portofino famous. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim was inspired by the author’s stay in Portofino and was made into a film in 1991 with a cast including Joan Plowright, Miranda Richardson and Alfred Molina. The film was nominated for three Oscars.

Also on this day:

1343: Amalfi is destroyed by a tsunami

1881: The birth of Pope John XXIII

1950: The birth of writer and entertainer Giorgio Faletti

1955: The birth of choreographer and dancer Bruno Tonioli


17 March 2019

Gabriele Ferzetti - actor

Starred in classic Italian films as well as Bond movie

Gabriele Ferzetti appeared in more than 160 movies and many TV dramas
Gabriele Ferzetti appeared in more than 160
movies and many TV dramas
The actor Gabriele Ferzetti, best known to international audiences for his role in the 1969 Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but in Italy for the Michelangelo Antonioni classic L’Avventura (1960), was born on this day in 1925 in Rome.

Ferzetti, who cut a naturally elegant and debonair appearance, was the go-to actor for handsome, romantic leads in the early part of his career and although he was ultimately eclipsed to some extent by Marcello Mastroianni, he seemed equally content with prominent supporting roles. Rarely idle, he made more than 160 films and appeared in countless TV dramas and was still working at 85 years old.

His intense performance as Antonioni’s wealthy yet unfulfilled playboy opposite Lea Massari and Monica Vitti in L’Avventura was the role that identified him most as an actor of considerable talent. Ferzetti had played a similar character in another Antonioni classic Le amiche (1955).

Outside Italian cinema, he was memorable as the unscrupulous Morton, the railroad magnate who hobbled around on crutches in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), and as Marc Ange-Draco, the sophisticated Mafia boss who joins forces with James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which was George Lazenby’s only outing as 007.

With Lea Massari in his most famous role in the  Antonioni classic L'Avventura
With Lea Massari in his most famous role in the
Antonioni classic L'Avventura
Although Ferzetti spoke very good English, his accent was heavily Italian and he was dubbed in both roles.

In Rome, Ferzetti won a scholarship to attend the Silvio d’Amico National Academy of Dramatic Art, although his studies were abruptly cut short when he was expelled for appearing with a professional theatrical troupe.

It did not set him back too severely. After playing the young shepherd Sylvius in Luchino Visconti’s 1948 stage production of As You Like It, he won small roles in several films and quickly worked his way up to becoming a leading man.

The first movie to bring him wide recognition was Mario Soldati’s La provinciale (1953), which was packaged for English-speaking audiences as The Wayward Wife. Despite the nature of the production as a vehicle for the rising star Gina Lollobrigida in the title role, Ferzetti was superb as her bespectacled science professor husband.

Monica Vitti in another scene from L'Avventura
Monica Vitti in another scene from L'Avventura
In the same year he landed the title role in the big-budget production Puccini, directed by Carmine Gallone, in which he portrayed the philandering Italian opera composer from his student days to a man in his 80s. He was Puccini again in House of Ricordi (1954), about the music-publishing house.

Ferzetti was first cast by Antonioni in Le Amiche (The Girl Friends) (1955), which won a Silver Lion at the Venice film festival.

When Antonioni summoned him again for L’Avventura, it ended a five-year period of rather mediocre films that did Ferzetti no favours, so the chance to play his weak and disillusioned character, a failed architect whose lover disappears while they are sharing a sailing trip around Sicily with wealthy friends, could not have come at a more opportune moment. L’Avventura won the jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Ferzetti was acclaimed for his portrayal of the the playboy composer Giacomo Puccini
Ferzetti was acclaimed for his portrayal of the
the playboy composer Giacomo Puccini
His career still had a long time to run but the consensus is that nothing Ferzetti did in subsequent films stood up particularly well next to his performance in L’Avventura, although his Draco, the gentlemanly mafia boss who helps Bond track down his arch-enemy Blofeld, was a memorable character.

Ferzetti was hailed later for his portrayal of a psychiatrist trying to cover up his Nazi past in Liliana Cavani’s controversial The Night Porter (1974), a study of a sadomasochistic relationship between another former Nazi (Dirk Bogarde) and the woman he raped in a concentration camp (Charlotte Rampling).

By the 1990s, Ferzetti was appearing more frequently on television but there were still a few big-screen triumphs to come, notably as the Duke of Venice in Oliver Parker’s Othello and, in 2009, by which time he was 84, as the head of a wealthy Milanese industrial family in Io sono l’amore - I Am Love - directed by Luca Guadagnino.

Married twice and with a daughter, Anna, Ferzetti died in December 2015 at the age of 90.

Parioli's tree-lined boulevards make it one of the most attractive residential areas in Rome
Parioli's tree-lined boulevards make it one of the most
attractive residential areas in Rome
Travel tip:

Rome’s Silvio D’Amico National Academy of Dramatic Art, which has been attended by many aspiring actors, can be found in Via Vincenzo Bellini where it meets Via Guido d’Arezzo in the Parioli district of Rome, between the Villa Borghese gardens and the vast Parco di Villa Ada. It was opened in 1936. D'Amico, a theatre critic and writer who was a friend of Nobel prize winner Luigi Pirandello and French theatre director Jacques Copeau, was appointed Special Commissioner for the reform of the drama school and led the academy for many years.The academy now has university status.  Parioli is regarded as Rome’s most elegant residential area.

Smoke and steam rising from the crater of the active volcano Stromboli during its 2008 eruption
Smoke and steam rising from the crater of the
active volcano Stromboli during its 2008 eruption
Travel tip:

L’Avventura was filmed partly on location in the Aeolian Islands, a cluster of eight small islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily. The best known is undoubtedly Stromboli, an active volcano known as the ‘lighthouse of the Mediterranean’ on account of the molten lava that streams down the side of the visible 3,000ft (914m) of the mountain with every eruption, of which there are many. The largest of the islands is Lipari, which has a population of 12,000 people and is not unlike Capri in appearance, but with a fraction of the tourists. Salina, famed for its capers and sweet Malvasia wine, was used for the movie Il Postino while Panarea, which has a resident population of only 280, has become a fashionable celebrity hang-out. Yachts owned by Giorgio Armani and Roman Abramovich have regularly been spotted in the small harbour.

21 July 2017

Suso Cecchi D'Amico - screenwriter

Woman who scripted many of Italy's greatest movies

Suso Cecchi D'Amico, pictured in 1999
Suso Cecchi D'Amico, pictured in 1999
Suso Cecchi D’Amico, the most accomplished and sought-after screenwriter in 20th century Italian cinema, was born on this day in 1914 in Rome.

She collaborated on the scripts of more than 100 films in a career spanning 60 years and worked with almost every Italian director of note, particularly the pioneers of neorealism, the movement in which she was a driving force.

The classic films in which she was involved are some of the greatest in cinema history, including  Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948), William Wyler's Roman Holiday (1953), Mario Monicelli's I Soliti Ignoti (1958), which was released in the United States and Britain as Big Deal on Madonna Street, and Francesco Rosi's Salvatore Giuliano (1962).

She also worked with Michelangelo Antonioni on Le Amiche (The Girlfriends, 1955) and Franco Zeffirelli on Jesus of Nazareth (1977), but she was best known for her professional relationship with Luchino Visconti, for whom she was the major scriptwriter on almost all his films from Bellissima (1951) to The Innocent (1976), including his acclaimed masterpieces Rocco and His Brothers (1960) and Il Gattopardo - The Leopard (1963).

She was born Giovanna Cecchi in Rome. Just after her birth, her father named her Susannah, of which Suso is a Tuscan diminutive. Her mother, Leonetta Pieraccini, was a painter from a theatrical family in Tuscany, while her father, Emilio Cecchi, from Florence, was a journalist and literary critic. They lived for a while in Ariccia, in the Castelli Romani.

Anna Magnani and Luchino Visconti on the set of Bellissima, scripted by Cecchi D'Amico
Anna Magnani and Luchino Visconti on the set
of Bellissima, scripted by Cecchi D'Amico
For a few years in the early 1930s, her father had worked for Mussolini's government, running the state-backed film company, which brought her into contact with many prominent figures from the film industry and the theatre, including Italy's leading theatre critic, Silvio D'Amico, whose son, Fedele, would later become Cecchi’s husband.

Cecchi was educated in Switzerland and then at Cambridge University before her father pulled strings to find her a job in Mussolini's ministry of foreign trade, where she worked for seven years as a secretary and interpreter.

She left when she married, from which point she became known as Cecchi D’Amico, although it would have been difficult for her to continue to work for the Fascist government given Fedele’s politics.

Fedele was a prominent member of the Italian resistance during the Second World War and edited an anti-Fascist newspaper, which meant he had to go into hiding.

After the war, he was in poor health and went to Switzerland for treatment for tuberculosis. With three children to raise, Cecchi D’Amico was obliged to become the breadwinner. She helped her father translating English literary works into Italian, including Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure and Shakespeare plays, which in turn led her into writing scripts for the cinema. She and her father worked together, in fact, on her first film, in 1946.

In 1947 she worked on two films directed by Luigi Zampa -  Vivere in Pace (To Live in Peace) and L'Onorevole Angelina (roughly Angelina: Member of Parliament), the latter starring Anna Magnani, who she had met first during the filming of Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City in 1945, in which she had peripheral involvement, and who became one of her closest friends.

Cecchi D'Amico with her husband, Fedele, in 1943
Cecchi D'Amico with her husband, Fedele, in 1943
In 1948 she was one of several scriptwriters who shared credits with De Sica and Cesare Zavattini on Bicycle Thieves, based on Luigi Bartolini's novel, which followed an impoverished man who searches for his stolen bicycle with his young son. It was Cecchi D’Amico who contributed the moving final scene in which, in a departure from the book’s ending, the man attempts to steal a replacement bicycle but is caught by the crowd and humiliated in front of his son, which leads them, as it happens, to form an even closer bond. She would later work with De Sica on another neorealist masterpiece, Miracle in Milan, in 1951.

She was invited to work on Roman Holiday after Wyler became aware Ben Hecht's original script, about a princess (Audrey Hepburn) who meets an American reporter (Gregory Peck) in Italy, failed to capture the real mood of 1950s Rome.

Cecchi D’Amico made her first film with Visconti in 1951, a satirical look at the film business entitled Bellisima, again starring Magnani. Subsequently she wrote or co-wrote all Visconti's films except two.

She was popular with directors because she was content to make creative suggestions and let them believe the ideas were their own. She had a special relationship, both professionally and in private, with Visconti, who generally conceived the outline of films himself but looked to Cecchi D’Amico for suggestions and advice.

The story of her life, Suso, aired
on Italian TV in 2007
She helped further the careers of many Italian stars. For instance, the comedy Big Deal on Madonna Street made a star of Marcello Mastroianni and gave Gina Lollobrigida her first significant part.

Cecchi D’Amico scripted several projects for Mario Monicelli. Indeed, her last work was on a Monicelli film, The Roses of the Desert (2006), a war movie set in Libya.

Given a lifetime achievement award at the Venice Film Festival in 1995, she explained that had there been more newspapers in the post-War years she might have been a journalist and that the neorealist movement was in essence another way in which she and others could write stories about the Italy they saw around them.

She died in Rome in 2010, having survived her husband by 20 years. Their three children have all made contributions to Italian cultural life - Silvia as a film producer, Caterina in directing the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia film school in Rome, and Masolino as a translator, critic and teacher.

Masolino's daughter, Margherita, interviewed her grandmother for the 1996 book Storie di Cinema (e d'Altro) – Stories About the Cinema (and Other Things), the closest Cecchi D’Amico came to an autobiography.  In 2007, a film about Cecchi D'Amico's life, entitled Suso, featuring conversations with Margherita and directed by the actor Luca Zingaretti was shown on Italian TV.

The Liceo Chateaubriand in Rome
The Liceo Chateaubriand in Rome
Travel tip:

Cecchi D’Amico went to school in Rome at the Liceo Chateaubriand on Via di Villa Ruffo, not far from Piazza del Popolo at the start of the fashionable Flaminio district, a chic residential area but also home to the Auditorium Parco della Musica, a venue designed by Renzo Piano, the Maxxi Museum of Modern Art and the Ponte della Musica, the modern foot and cycle bridge across the Tiber.

A stall at the Porta Portese market
A stall at the Porta Portese market 
Travel tip:

Many of the sights of Rome have been used for movie locations but some are less well known than others.  The exterior shots for Gregory Peck’s apartment in Roman Holiday were filmed in Via Margutta, a street not far from Piazza di Spagna and the Scalinata di Trinita dei Monti, otherwise known as the Spanish Steps, where Federico Fellini once lived.  Many of the scenes in Bicycle Thieves were shot around Porta Portese in Trastevere, which still hosts the largest Sunday market in Rome.

25 December 2016

Lina Cavalieri – soprano

Christmas Day baby became singing beauty

Lina Cavalieri was described as 'the world's most beautiful woman'
Lina Cavalieri was described as 'the
world's most beautiful woman'
Singer and actress Lina Cavalieri was born Natalina - meaning 'Little Christmas' - Cavalieri on this day in 1874, in Viterbo in Lazio.

During her career she starred opposite Enrico Caruso in operas and earned the title of ‘the world’s most beautiful woman', while many of her female contemporaries tried to attain her hour-glass figure by using tight-laced corsetry.

Raised as one of five children in humble circumstances, she was expected to work to supplement the family income.  To this end, she sold flowers and sang on the streets of Rome.

After a music teacher heard her singing, she was offered some music lessons.  Subsequently, she found work as a café singer and then in theatres in Rome.

Increasingly popular both for her voice and her physical beauty, she made her way from Rome first to Vienna and then Paris where she performed in music halls including the Folies-Bergère and worked with singing coaches to develop her voice.

The progression to opera came in 1900, when she made her debut in Lisbon as Nedda in Pagliacci, by Ruggero Leoncavallo. It was in the same year that she married her first husband, the Russian Prince, Alexandre Bariatinsky, whom she had met in Paris and who had encouraged her to believe she should not be content with working in mere music halls.

The Lisbon audience gave her a difficult time, however, and the production was abandoned after only a few nights, at which point Bariatinsky left her.  Cavalieri returned to Paris and might have given up her operatic ambitions without the encouragement of her sister, Ada, who helped her rebuild her confidence.

Cavalieri starred opposite Enrico Caruso in Paris and New York
Cavalieri starred opposite Enrico Caruso
in Paris and New York
After successes at Teatro San Carlo in Naples, in Warsaw, Ravenna, Palermo and St Petersburg, a breakthrough moment came when in 1905 she starred opposite Caruso in Umberto Giordano’s opera, Fedora, at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre in Paris.

The performance was so successful they took the production to the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Cavalieri stayed with the Met for two seasons, performing again with Caruso in 1907 in Giacomo Puccini’s opera Manon Lescaut. She became one of the most photographed stars of the time and women everywhere tried to copy her figure.

She had a brief, second marriage to Robert Winthrop Chanler, an American artist and a member of the Astor and Dudley-Winthrop families.  Married in 1910, the had separated within weeks and were divorced in 1912.

During her career she sang with many famous singers, including the French tenor Lucien Muratore, who became her third husband in 1913.

After retiring from the stage, Cavalieri ran a beauty salon in Paris and wrote an advice column on make-up for a magazine. She also launched her own range of beauty products and perfumes.

A poster for the film 'The World's Most  Beautiful Woman' with Gina Lollobrigida
A poster for the film 'The World's Most
 Beautiful Woman' with Gina Lollobrigida
In 1915 she returned to Italy to make films and then went back to America, where she starred in silent movies, many of which have since been lost.

She moved to Italy again after marrying her fourth husband, the writer Paolo d’Arvanni.

Despite being in her sixties when the Second World War began, she became a volunteer nurse.

Tragically, Cavalieri and her husband were both killed in 1944 after an Allied bombing raid destroyed their home near Florence.

After her death, Cavalieri was painted repeatedly by the Italian artist Piero Fornasetti, who found her face in an old magazine and became obsessed with her, creating hundreds of versions of her image.

In 1955 she was portrayed by Gina Lollobrigida in the film Beautiful but Dangerous, which was alternatively called The World’s Most Beautiful Woman, a French-Italian production directed by Robert Z Leonard.

Travel tip:

Viterbo, where Lina Cavalieri was born, is the largest town in northern Lazio, situated about 80km (50 miles) north of Rome. In the 12th and 13th centuries, with Rome often chaotic as rival families engaged in feuds, Viterbo became a favourite refuge for embattled popes. Much of its most notable architecture, such as the Papal Palace, has echoes of that period. It was bombed heavily during the Second World War but much of its historical centre remained intact and nowadays it is a somewhat overlooked city.

The Villa del Poggio Imperiale outside Florence
The Villa del Poggio Imperiale outside Florence
(picture by Sailko via Wikimedia Commons)
Travel tip:

Lina Cavalieri was killed at her home just outside Florence at Poggio Imperiale, near the imposing neoclassical Villa del Poggio Imperiale, which was once the home of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany. It was seized from the Salviati family by the Medici and was then later given to Napoleon’s sister before becoming a girl’s school. Some of the frescoed state rooms are open to the public by appointment.

More reading:

Giuseppina Strepponi - the inspiration for Donizetti and Verdi

How Ruggero Leoncavallo created one of the world's favourite operas

Renata Tebaldi - soprano with the 'voice of an angel'

Also on this day:

Christmas in Italy


4 July 2016

Gina Lollobrigida – actress

Movie star who became photo journalist

Gina Lollobrigida at the peak of her fame in the 1960s
Gina Lollobrigida at the peak of her
fame in the 1960s
Film star Gina Lollobrigida was born Luigina Lollobrigida on this day in 1927 in Subiaco in Lazio.

At the height of her popularity as an actress in the 1950s and early 1960s she was regarded as a sex symbol all over the world.

In later life she worked as a photo journalist and has supported Italian and American good causes. In 2013 she sold her jewellery collection and donated the money she raised, in the region of five million dollars, to fund stem cell therapy research.

One of four daughters of a furniture manufacturer and his wife, as a young girl, Lollobrigida did some modelling, entered beauty contests and had minor roles in Italian films. She studied painting and sculpture at school and claimed in later life that she became an actress "by mistake".

When she was 20 she entered the Miss Italia competition and came third. The publicity she received helped her get parts in European films but she turned down the chance to work in America after initially agreeing a seven-year contract with the American entrepreneur Howard Hughes. After she refused the terms of her contract, it took nine years for a legal dispute to be resolved.

She received a BAFTA nomination and won a Nastro d’Argento award for her performance in Bread, Love and Dreams (Pane, amore e fantasia), a comedy directed by Luigi Comencini, in 1953. She later starred in the English language film Beat the Devil, which was shot in Italy, and she also worked in the French film industry.

Lollobrigida's looks brought her much work  but she was also a talanted actress
Lollobrigida's looks brought her much work 
but she was also a talanted actress
Her appearance in The World’s Most Beautiful Woman (1955), a French-Italian comedy also known as Beautiful But Dangerous led to her receiving the David di Donatello - the award presented by the Academy of Italian Cinema - for Best Actress. She played the part of Italian soprano Lina Cavalieri and sang arias from Tosca herself.

In the 1950s and '60s, her talent and vivacious good looks put her in demand with the major studios and she was cast alongside many of the big box-offices names of the era, including Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Anthony Quinn, Yves Montand, Marcello Mastroianni, Frank Sinatra, Yul Brynner, Sean Connery and Rock Hudson.

More awards came in the shape of a Golden Globe for the romantic comedy Come September (1961), a Nastro d'Argento and David di Donatello awards for the historical drama Venere Imperiale (1962), and a third David di Donatello for another comedy, Buona Sera, Mrs Campbell (1968), which also starred Shelley Winters, Phil Silvers, Peter Lawford and Telly Savalas. 

In the mid 1980s her role in the American television series Falcon Crest earned her a Golden Globe nomination. By then, she was making only occasional movie appearances, her last coming in 1997.

At the end of the 1970s Lollobrigida started working as a photojournalist as well as continuing with acting. She obtained an exclusive interview with Cuban leader Fidel Castro and also photographed many famous film stars, as well as publishing a number of books of her photographs.

Married twice, she has one son, Andrea Milko, by her first marriage to a Slovenian physician. In retirement, she divided her time between her country house in Sicily, her home in Via Appia in Rome and her villa in Monte Carlo.

UPDATE: Gina Lollobrigida died in Rome in January, 2023 at the age of 95.

The abbey of Santa Scolastica near Subiaco, Lazio, home town of actress Gina Lollobrigida
The Abbey of Santa Scolastica near Subiaco, Lazio,
home town of actress Gina Lollobrigida
Travel tip:

Subiaco, where Gina Lollobrigida was born, is a town in Lazio, about 40km (25 miles) to the east of Tivoli, alongside the Aniene river. It is famous for its two ancient abbeys, St Benedict’s and Santa Scolastica. The area has had a monastic community since the sixth century. The first printed books in Italy were produced on a printing press set up in the town in the 15th century.  Subiaco is also the birthplace of 16th century femme fatale Lucrezia Borgia.

Stretches of the original Via Appia are preserved as the Via Appia Antica
Stretches of the original Via Appia are
preserved as the Via Appia Antica
Travel tip:

Gina Lollobrigida’s home in Rome is in Via Appia, the Appian Way, which is one of the earliest and most important of the Roman roads. It connects Rome to Brindisi in southern Italy. The road is named after Appius Claudius Caecus, who directed the construction of its first section in 312 BC after it was deemed that a road was needed to ease the movement of military supplies and troops to and from Rome. Stretching for approximately 400 miles (645km), it was the first long road made for this purpose. Today, following the route is an ideal way to see several major monuments of ancient Rome, including the Tomb of Priscilla, the Catacombs of Callixtus and St Sebastian, the Circus of Maxentius, the baths of Capo di Bove and the Villa dei Quintili. Today a modern road, the Villa Appia Nuova, runs close to the original route, while there are many stretches of the original route preserved, known ad the Villa Appia Antica.

Also on this day:

1914: The birth of car designer Giuseppe 'Nuccio' Bertone

(Photo of Gina Lollobrigida by Ivo Lollobrigida CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of the Abbey of Santa Scolastica by Livioandronico2013 CC BY-SA 4.0)