Gina Lollobrigida: Goodbye to ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’

Luigina "Gina" Lollobrigida, the Italian diva whose death at age 95 was announced on Monday, was routinely described as the most beautiful woman in the world at the height of her film career in the 1950s and 1960s.

Luigina “Gina” Lollobrigida, the Italian diva whose death at age 95 was announced on Monday, was routinely described as the most beautiful woman in the world at the height of her film career in the 1950s and 1960s.

But she was a more than a pin up from Italy’s Dolce Vita heyday: there was an artist’s soul and a capable mind behind her physical beauty, as well as a troubled personal life.

Born into a humble family in Subiaco, south of Rome, on July 4, 1927, Lollobrigida became famous for her hourglass figure, full lips and large almond eyes.

“They call me the most beautiful woman in the world. I only worry about being photogenic and as beautiful as other [stars],” Lollobrigida told Italian newspaper Il Giornale in January 2019.

Her arrival in Hollywood in the 1950s was saluted by People Today magazine with a cover story entitled “Sex from Italy invades USA,” and Americans dubbed her the Mona Lisa of 20th Century Fox.

She was said to have conquered the hearts of many, including Frank Sinatra, Henry Kissinger, Fidel Castro and Hollywood producer Howard Hughes.

According to Lollobrigida, while preparing for an official visit to Rome, Castro asked to meet two people during the trip: the pope and her.

“I knew he was one of my fans,” she told RAI state TV, dodging questions on whether things went further with Cuba’s revolutionary leader. She described him as “a handsome man, very charming.”

Gina earned her first pennies by selling portraits of American soldiers stationed in Italy after World War II. She initially dreamed of becoming an opera singer.

In 1947, she entered a local beauty contest – with only the first prize accordion in mind. Along with the accordion, she won a ticket to the Miss Italy contest, where she finished in third place.

A career in cinema followed: Lollobrigida went on to star in more than 60 movies, including Vittorio de Sica’s “Bread, Love and Dreams” (1954), “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1956) and “The Dolls” (1964).

She appeared alongside the likes of Marcello Mastroianni, Rock Hudson, Humphrey Bogart and Sean Connery and played a blue-haired fairy in Luigi Comencini’s “The Adventures of Pinocchio” (1971).

Known in her native Italy as “la Lollo,” the Italian diva had a lifelong rivarly with Sophia Loren, another sex symbol from the golden age of Italian cinema.

But in 2018, at the height of the #MeeToo scandal, she revealed a darker side to her life, as she spoke about the trauma of being raped by a Lazio football player at the age of 18, losing her virginity.

“I carried around this shame as a heavy burden. I felt destroyed and I quickly married the man who became my husband to overcome the trauma, not out of love,” she told Libero, an Italian daily.

Lollobrigida tied the knot in 1949 with a Yugoslav doctor, Milko Scofic, and they had a son, Andrea Milko, in 1957. The couple divorced in 1971.

She had no better luck with Javier Rigau, a Spanish businessman 34 years her junior who was her partner for years before their relationship ended acrimoniously in 2006.

Despite some provocative titles – notably “Wife For A Night” (1952), “Beautiful but Dangerous” (1955), and “Fast and Sexy” (1958) – Lollobrigida always refused to take her clothes off for the cinema.

That decision contributed to her decision to abandon acting in the late 1960s in favour of her other great passion, photography. Lollobrigida also proved to be an accomplished sculptress.

One time, she tried to photograph workers at Italian carmaker Fiat in Turin, but they immediately saw through her disguise and brought the entire production line to a halt.

Lollobrigida also had a reputation as a bit of a reckless driver. She had a 1969 crash in her Rolls-Royce in which filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli, to whom she had given a lift, was seriously injured.

Her long life included an unsuccessful European election run in 1999 for the centre-left Democrats of former Italian premier Romano Prodi, and lots of charity work. Last fall, she mounted a failed candidacy for the Italian parliament.

In 2013, the actress auctioned off her prized jewellery collection for 4.7 million francs (4.6 million dollars) to raise funds for research on stem cell treatment.

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