Italian screen legend Gina Lollobrigida died on Monday at the age of 95. This is reported by the Italian news agency Ansa. With her, a great film diva of the 20th century passed away. Lollobrigida had to be treated in hospital for a broken thigh back in September. After the sad news, Italian Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano (60) tweeted: “Goodbye to a diva of the big screen, protagonist of half a century of Italian film history. Your charm will last forever. Bye, Lollo.”
Lollobrigida made her Hollywood breakthrough in the mid-1950s in the role of the beautiful Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. She was considered one of Italy’s greatest film icons, but turned her back on the film industry in the early 1970s and tried her hand at photography. She also made a name for herself as a sculptor. In the 1950s and 1960s, Lollobrigida was considered a sex symbol – and was in constant competition with younger women like Sophia Loren and Claudia Cardinale.
For large parts of the media it was just the “war of the breasts”. At a press conference in London in the mid-1950s, a cheeky journalist even dared to go a long way: “Who has more, you or Lollo?” he asked Sophia Loren, who was almost unknown internationally at the time, bluntly. In terms of chest size, Loren, who was seven years younger, won with a wafer-thin lead over “Gina Nazionale”, who had just reached the zenith of her film fame at the time. The alleged competition between the two curvaceous acting divas caused considerable noise in the tabloid forest for a long time. Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren, the supposed rival in the favor of the film audience, have always been left with the artificially exaggerated hype. No wonder, since they have a lot in common both professionally and privately.
Both divas successfully participated in beauty contests before starting their acting careers, were deified as sex symbols, not only achieved film fame in their home country and even made it to Hollywood. Even at 88, Sophia Loren is anything but an honorably gray older lady. Likewise, Gina Lollobrigida recently kept fit with a strict diet. “I don’t eat meat, only chicken and salad, don’t drink alcohol and don’t smoke,” reveals Lollo, while her equally attractive colleague swears by liters of mineral water and enough sleep.
However, this is where the similarities stop. Sleep? For a busy artist like Gina Lollobrigida, who had a habit of referring to herself in the third person, it was almost a nonsense. Even in old age, the racy Italian had little time to rest. “I look my best when I’ve only slept two or three hours,” the Rome-based acting icon confessed in an interview before her 80th birthday.
Gina Lollobrigida had long since renounced the film hype. When her star was slowly sinking after a few failed projects, she said goodbye to the business in the early 1970s. For the multi-talented beauty, this farewell was by no means a broken leg. The daughter of a Subiaco furniture manufacturer became an actress more by chance. In Rome, young Gina studied at the art academy shortly after the war and earned her family a little extra income through drawings that she sold to various magazines. She also took singing lessons and dreamed of a career as an opera singer at La Scala in Milan. For the film, Lollo was discovered after a young man – one of many – approached her on the street. However, Mario Costa was more than just one of her many admirers, he was also a film director and producer. A rapid career in front of the camera took its course.
After the first national successes, Hollywood knocked on the door in the late 1940s in the form of film tycoon and notorious playboy Howard Hughes. But America had to wait a few more years for Gina Lollobrigida because she wasn’t ready to sign a long-term contract with Hughes. So the beauty of the country of her homeland stayed for a while, where, after several popular roles, such as Bersagliera in “Love, Bread and Fantasy” (1953) and the sequel “Love, Bread and Jealousy” (1954), she returned to her compatriots much acclaimed “Gina Nazionale”.
Her international breakthrough came in the French production “Fanfan, der Hussar” (1951). Just like in the successful Hugo film “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1956), Lollo slipped into the role of a spirited and mysterious gypsy. She fondly remembered working with Anthony Quinn, who played the hunchbacked hunchback Quasimodo. He remained her favorite film partner to the end. “He was upbeat and professional,” gushed Gina Lollobrigida, “and most importantly, he was so manly.”
“I still like men,” the actress said in an interview on the occasion of her 70th birthday. “No guy over 40 comes into my bed,” she shocked the public at the time. “Loyalty? I don’t think so at all. True fidelity does not exist. Infidelity is built into us.” Really? In 2006, the then 79-year-old caused a stir again and introduced the press to her secret lover, with whom she had been together for 22 years. Javier Rigau, a real estate entrepreneur from Spain, is a proud 34 years younger than the film goddess. The liaison is said to have broken up later due to media pressure. Or maybe he was just too old for her.
Gina Lollobrigida’s marriage to Yugoslav doctor Milko Skofic lasted 22 years. In 1971 the couple divorced. “I can’t remember a single night,” she unflatteringly sums up this episode in her life. Her son, Milko Skofic Jr., made “Gina Nazionale” a grandmother in 1994. However, when you called her grandmother, she reacted extremely allergic.
For example, when she greeted the actress Francesca Dellera with “Ciao Oma” during filming, the grande dame briefly lost her composure and gave her colleague a resounding slap in the face. Her reason for the tangible derailment: “Grandmothers have one foot in the hereafter. But I am on this side.” She proved that in 2012 with a quite spectacular performance in Munich: La Lollobrigida was the surprise and guest of honor at the 20-year anniversary of the television station kabel eins and was not at a loss for a witty bon mot.
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*The contribution “Anyone who called Gina Lollobrigida “grandma” received a resounding slap in the face” is published by Teleschau. Contact the person responsible here.