Italian screen star Gina Lollobrigida dies at 95

Gina Lollobrigida, who was nominated for three Golden Globe awards and a Bafta and one of the biggest stars of European cinema in the 1950s and ’60s, has died at the age of 95.

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

Often described as “the most beautiful woman in the world”, the BBC reports, 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.

According to the report, Italy’s culture minister paid tribute, saying: “Her charm will remain eternal”.

Nicknamed La 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 Sophia Loren, a fellow Italian star.

Loren was “very shocked and saddened” by the death of her one-time rival, a statement said.

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.”

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.

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 1960, she moved to Canada – for lower taxes and a promise of legal status for her Yugoslav husband. One magazine gushed that it was “the most fetching argument ever advanced for liberal immigration policies”.

Her film career was slowing but there was still time to work with her favourite actor: Rock Hudson.

Her feud with Loren was coming on nicely. Egged on by her husband – the film producer Carlo Ponti – Loren had claimed she was “bustier” than Lollobrigida.

Gina hit back, saying Sophia could play peasants but never ladies. “We are as different as a fine racehorse and a goat,” she said.

Lollobrigida’s brief affair with heart transplant pioneer Christian Barnard spelled the end of her marriage. Divorce had just been legalised in Italy and she took early advantage.

“A woman at 20 is like ice,” she declared. “At 30 she is warm. At 40 she is hot. We are going up as men are going down.” She was certainly not short of admirers.

Prince Rainier of Monaco was one, in spite of his marriage to Grace Kelly. “He would make passes at me in front of her, in their home,” she claimed. “Obviously, I said no!”

Her last major film – alongside David Niven in King, Queen, Knave – came in 1972. There were tantrums on set and the production was halted three times for mysterious “eye problems”.

Lollobrigida took a few parts in American TV series – including Falcon’s Crest and Love Boat – but then reinvented herself as an artist.

In later life, she became reclusive. But – from time to time – she would hold court at her huge villa, with its flock of white storks, on Rome’s ancient Appian Way. She would glide down her magnificent staircase, bedecked in emeralds, to greet visiting journalists with her young lover. It was Sunset Boulevard come to life.

“I am only a film star,” she had a habit of saying in a full Norma Desmond purr, “because the public wanted me to be one.”

Gina Lollobrigida lived to an age at which memories of her glory days – as part of movie world royalty in the ’50s and ’60s – have grown dim. Few of her films are now regarded as classics.

But – in her time – she was one of the greats. Her life story was as exotic as any of the roles she played.

And the maxim by which she lived, she said, was simple: “We are all born to die. The difference is the intensity with which we choose to live.”


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