Scilla Gabel: The Sophia Loren Body Double We Never Knew We Needed

Entertainment | April 14, 2019

The Italian actress Scilla Gabel (Gianfranca Gabellini) doing stretching exercises in a gym. Rome 1970s. Scilla Gabel in a publicity photo. Sources: (Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images; IMDB)

Actress Scilla Gabel was Sophia Loren's body double in a couple of films in the 1950s -- not a bad claim to fame. But while her uncanny resemblance to Loren got her some jobs, it might have ended up hurting her career as an actress in her own right.

For fans of Sophia Loren the only thing that would be more astounding than someone unearthing an unseen film is the knowledge that there was a brief period in Italian cinema where there were two Sophia Lorens, sort of. One has to wonder whether Gabel might have had a bigger career as an actress if she wasn't so closely identified with Loren or even seen as a Loren knock-off.

Born Gianfranca Gabellini, Scilla Gabel went onto appear in films throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, and she starred in a handful of Italian mini-series on the 1980s, but her star never rose as high as Loren’s despite their similarities. 

Before Gabel Was A Body Double She Was Almost A Lawyer

Sources: (IMDB; Pinterest)

Prior to diving headfirst into the entertainment industry, Gabel studied law at Oxford University where she supposedly graduated with a doctorate, although that information is hard to ascertain. After studying law she returned to Rome where she attended school for acting at the National Academy of Dramatic Arts in Rome.

Even though Gabel was incredibly qualified, she was bitten by the acting bug and decided to pursue a life in front of the camera. This dedication to her craft would pay off, but her first film roles didn’t have the kind of glamour that she expected. They rarely do. 

She Worked Sophia Loren’s Body Double 

Sources: (Pinterest; IMDB)

After studying acting at the National Academy of Dramatic Arts Gabel earned herself a role in the film Boy on a Dolphin as Sophia Loren’s body double. It wasn’t exactly a star-making moment, but she was able to meet people and hang out on set, which is more than you can say for a lot of jobs. Gabel looked so much like Loren that she was quickly hired to work as Loren’s double again on Timbuktu.

Both Dolphin and Timbuktu were filmed in 1957, and during that time she also had a few small roles in minor Italian films, but in 1958 she moved onto the TV mini-series Capitan Fracassa where she was likely hired because of her uncanny resemblance to Loren. 

Scilla Gabel May Have Had Plastic Surgery To Look Less Like Sophia Loren

Source: (pinterest.com)

Much of Gabel’s life is shrouded in mystery but many of her fans believe that the parallels being drawn between her and Sophia Loren were too much for Gabel to handle and that she opted to undergo two different rounds of plastic surgery in order to make her look different than the international star. This is an interesting theory, but there’s no proof that she ever went through with plastic surgery.

Gabel’s never spoken about the alleged surgery in an interview and there are no receipts floating around. One day we’ll become scholars of the intricacies of bone structure and give you a definitive answer. 

She Had A Penchant For Dying On Film

Sources: (Ebay, Pinterest)

After her alleged plastic surgery, Gabel appeared in a series of adventure films that found her, unfortunately, typecast as a damsel in distress. In these roles, she tended to either require saving by heroes, or she bit the dust in increasingly brutal ways for the 1950s and ‘60s.

In Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (1959) she fell into a pit of snakes, she was poisoned in Mill Of The Stone Women (1960), and in Target For Killing (1966) she was blown up by a “small explosive keychain.” The woman just couldn’t catch a break. 

Gabel Transitioned To TV

Source: (pinterest.com)

After she was out from under the thumb of being Sophia Loren’s body double, Gabel began seeking out roles that would offer her something new and adventurous. Unfortunately, times being what they were, she continued to play ingenues who were in need of a savior, or a sexpot who only sought to seduce the film’s protagonist. This changed in the ‘70s and ‘80s when she moved into the world of Italian television.

In the 1980s she appeared in a collection of television mini-series based on novels. Most prominently, she starred as Liliana Balducci in Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana, or That Awful Mess on Merulana Avenue, a mystery that takes places during the 1920s.

Tags: Ladies | Scilla Gabel | Sophia Loren

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Jacob Shelton


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.