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Gina Lollobrigida: The Classic Italian Screen Siren, Then And Now

Entertainment | August 18, 2019

Left: Gina Lollobrigida in 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame,' 1956. Right: In 'Trapeze,' 1956. Sources: IMDB; Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Gina Lollobrigida, with performances as Esmeralda in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1956) and Sheba in Solomon And Sheba (1959), was hailed as one of the great European screen beauties of the '50s and '60s. She starred with some of Hollywood's elite leading men, including Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Frank Sinatra, Rock Hudson and Sean Connery. With fellow Italian Sophia Loren, as well as Anita Ekberg and Brigitte Bardot, Lollobrigida represented an exotic European glamour that fascinated American moviegoers.

Left: Gina Lollobrigida in 'Beautiful But Dangerous,' 1955. Right: In 'Strange Bedfellows,' 1965. Source: IMDB

Born Luigina Lollobrigida in Subiaco, Italy, Gina Lollobrigida has long been considered to be one of the most beautiful women on the planet. She first started turning heads as a model before appearing in small roles in Italian cinema when she was still a teenager. But it wasn’t until she started appearing in joint productions by America and Europe that her career truly took off.

Left: Gina Lollobrigida with James Mason and Lee Van Cleef in 'Bad Man's River,' 1971. Right: Lollobrigida as Sheba in 'Solomon and Sheba,' 1959. Source: IMDB

Over the course of her career she’s taken a lot of twists and turns, and never settled for second best. When she tired of acting she picked up photography, and later in life she turned to philanthropy. Lollobrigida is a true inspiration to anyone who’s ever thought about making a big change later in life. 

Gina Lollobrigida got her start in the Italian cinema

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Her first widely seen English language film was Beat the Devil in 1953, but audiences would have seen her earlier if Howard Hughes wasn’t such a jerk. In 1950 he signed her to a contract with RKO, but she didn’t like the final terms so she refused to move to Hollywood. Hughes wouldn’t let her out of the contract, so she mostly filmed European films for the first three years of her professional career.

In 1961 Lollobrigida’s work was finally lauded when she received a Golden Globe for her work in Come September where she played Rock Hudson’s Roman mistress alongside Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin. Even though her film career slowed down in the ‘70s, she was once again on screens in the 1980s when she scooped a role meant for Sophia Loren in Falcon Crest

She pivoted into a career as a photo journalist

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With her acting career waining Lollobrigida found a new love on the opposite side of the camera. She began taking photos of her celebrity friends and even politicians as a photo journalist. While she captured shots of stars like Paul Newman, Audrey Hepburn, and Ella Fitzgerald, her most fascinating triumph came from the interview she was able to snag from Cuban leader Fidel Castro. She said that she was able to get the interview because she didn’t care about his politics:

We spent 12 days together. I was not interested as a political leader, but as a man. He understood that I had not gone there to massacre him and accepted with joy.

Lollobrigida has never stopped finding love

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Gina Lollobrigida has had many lifetimes worth of romance in her time on Earth. She once said, “I’ve had many lovers and still have romances. I am very spoiled. All my life, I’ve had too many admirers.” That turned out to be the case in 2010 when a former flame named Javier Rigau Rafols allegedly tried to scheme her out of her fortune.

In 2015 Lollobrigida accused Rafols of staging a secret wedding in Barcelona with a lookalike in order to gain access to her fortune. She told the courts, “It was never a proper relationship. He was never very affectionate towards me. He kept his distance.” She claims that she didn’t even know about the marriage until she saw the court documents online. Unfortunately Lollobrigida lost the case in 2017, but she plans on appealing. 

She’s still feuding with Sophia Loren

Left: Gina Lollobrigida in 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame,' 1956. Right: Lollobrigida in 'Fast And Sexy,' 1958. Source: IMDB

What is it about a bitter rivalry that keeps us young? Is it the acrid venom for someone that makes us want to outlive our enemies even if it’s just for one day? Rather than bonding over the fact that they’re two Italian women who’ve managed to achieve fame in their home country and abroad, Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren have found themselves embroiled in a nasty feud for their entire adult lives.

Initially they sniped at each other in the press over bust size, and Lollobrigida even accused Loren of making up the feud in order to get good press. They remained silent on the issue until Lollobrigida turned 90 when she once again opened the floodgates of tea saying, “I was not looking for any rivalry against anyone: I was the No. 1. I succeeded only thanks to myself, without any producer supporting me. I did everything alone.”

Her jewelry collection helped fund stem cell research

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One of the best things that someone can do with their fortune is give it to charity and scientific research. Over her life Lollobrigida has accrued a lot of gorgeous jewelry and in 2013 she finally sold it all of to the tune of nearly $5 million which was donated to stem cell research. The most expensive piece of the night was a set of natural pearl and diamond pendant earrings that set a record by selling for almost $2.4 million. After the sale Lollobrigida explained why she waited so long to sell her jewelry:

Jewels are meant to give pleasure and for many years I had enormous pleasure wearing mine. Many people tried to persuade me to sell them, but for a very long time I was unwilling. What changed was seeing a little girl called Sofia suffering from a disorder, which could only be helped by stem cell treatment—treatment which she is unable to receive in Italy. Selling my jewels to help raise awareness of stem cell therapy, which can cure so many illnesses, seems to me a wonderful use to which to put them. It is my hope that the Italian parliament will approve this ground-breaking treatment, so that children and adults in Italy should have free access to it without having to travel abroad at great expense. It now gives me great pleasure to see that these jewels will create a legacy which will live on after me and continue to do good.

Tags: Gina Lollobrigida | Ladies | Then And Now

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.