News travels so quickly nowadays — apparently the great Italian star Gina Lollobrigida (1927-2023) died TODAY at age 95 and the press release is already out. Usually, you know, it’s a few hours or the next day at least. Anyway, with Gilbert Gottfried also gone, I had to think up my own necrophiliac joke to match the occasion, and it wasn’t difficult but I’ll never share it with you. Does such a thing sound insensitive and crude? Amore e vita! Lollobrigida was one of the greatest beauties on the planet! (Though among the Italians, for me, no one could ever top Sophia Loren). When I was a kid in the ’70s, one still said “Lollobrigida” by itself, like you did with Olivier or Brando, such was her stature as an immortal. (To reinforce the practice, Lollobrigida referred to herself that way, too, in the third person. Now that is a STAR).
I called Lollobrigida an Italian star in my opening sentence, but she very rapidly became an international one, and looking down her list of films, I’m surprised at the large number of American and French credits she has in addition to her Italian ones. I’d seen many of these movies, but simply assumed there’d be a larger proportion of Italian ones relative to the whole corpus. Naturally Lollobrigida’s early films were all Italian. Initially there were several with opera themes like Pagliacci (1947), Mad About Opera (1948), and The Young Caruso (1951). In 1950 she starred in the film Miss Italia, which must have come as a triumph since she had participated in that pageant a few years earlier and only come in third. She also quickly established a signature presence in rom-coms and sex comedies, including The Bride Can’t Wait (1949); Bread, Love and Dreams (1953), and The Wayward Wife (1953). Woman of Rome (1954) was a drama, but played on her image as a sex symbol.
From here Lollabrigida became an international star. The movies she appeared in over the next couple of decades include Rene Clair’s Les belles de nuit (1952), John Huston’s Beat the Devil (1953), Robert Siodmak’s Le grand jeu (1954), Robert Z. Leonard’s The World’s Most Beautiful Woman (1955), Carol Reed’s Trapeze (1956) with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, the 1956 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Anthony Quinn, Vittorio de Sica’s Anna of Brooklyn (1958), Jules Dassin’s The Law (1959) with Yves Montand and Marcello Mastroianni, John Sturges‘ Never So Few (1959) with Frank Sinatra and a dozen other stars, King Vidor’s Solomon and Sheba (1959) with Yul Brynner, Go Naked in the World (1961) with Ernest Borgnine and Tony Franciosa, Come September (1961) with Rock Hudson, Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin, Imperial Venus (1963) with Stephen Boyd, Woman of Straw (1964) with Sean Connery, Hotel Paradiso (1966) with Alec Guinness and Robert Morley, Cervantes (1967) with Horst Buccholz and Jose Ferrer, Frank Tashlin’s The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell (1968) with Bob Hope and Phyllis Diller (!), Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (1968) with Janet Margolin, Phil Silvers, Peter Lawford, and Telly Savalas, the spaghetti western Bad Man’s River (1971) with Lee Van Cleef and James Mason, King, Queen, Knave (1972) with David Niven, and numerous others.
After about 1973, now in her ’40s and having aged out of the sort of roles she was accustomed to playing, Lollobrigida began a second career as a photographer, although she did return for guest starring roles on Falcon Crest and The Love Boat in the 1980s. She published several books of her photos. Over the past couple of decades she became increasingly involved in politics and even ran for office! Her final screen role was in the 1997 French comedy XXL.
Buona sera, Mrs. Campbell!
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