There she waves from the back seat of a convertible on the eve of the Cannes Film Festival. And here she is again, stepping onto the tarmac from a plane in Paris, her scarf fluttering perfectly in the evening breeze. And again, wrapped in emerald – dress and rings, both – in her villa outside Rome.
An actor, yes, but somehow Gina Lollobrigida was always more than that.
As Italy recovered from the rubble of World War II and the crushing oppression of fascism, Lollobrigida emerged as the face of The good lifea siren beckoning the Romans to enjoy, celebrate and embrace again.
“She represented something iconic, much more important than the actual talent she often displayed in her work as an actress,” wrote the late author Peter Bondanella in his book “Italian Cinema.”
Never out of the headlines for long and with a life captured on film and an endless array of celebrity photos – squeezed together alongside Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol or David Bowie – Lollobrigida remained firmly in the public eye until her death Monday.
Forever loved in her homeland, Lollobrigida died in Rome, the Italian news agency Lapresse said, citing Tuscan governor Eugenio Giani. Lollobrigida was an honorary citizen of a Tuscan town.
Her agent, Paola Comin, also confirmed her death but gave no details, the Associated Press reported.
Lollobrigida underwent surgery for a broken femur after a fall in September. She returned home and said she soon started walking again.
Lollobrigida’s rise to stardom was rapid. She made films in Europe and the US, signed a long-term Hollywood contract with Howard Hughes, co-starred with Yul Brynner, Frank Sinatra and Rock Hudson, interacted with Salvador Dali, Fidel Castro and pioneering heart surgeon Christiaan Barnard, and had an ongoing career . stage party with compatriot Sophia Loren, a rivalry so fierce you wondered if there was enough oxygen in Italy for the two of them.
“I am fire. I am a volcano. All the things I do, I do with passion, fire and strength,” she said in a 1994 interview with The Times. “That’s me.”
Born in Subiaco, Italy, in 1927 (although she sometimes claimed it was 1928), Lollobrigida was the second of four daughters of Giovanni and Giuseppina Lollobrigida. When Allied air raids destroyed their home in the early days of World War II, the family fled to Rome’s urban core.
Lollobrigida said her childhood memories were of hunger, deprivation and turmoil.
“I know what it’s like to be hungry. I know what it’s like to lose your home. I remember being scared,” she told the Associated Press in 1994. “I know what it’s like to grow up without toys.”
She was studying sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome when a talent agent spotted her and offered her a modeling and acting contract. When she was summoned to the Cinecitta studios, the center of Italian cinema, she was offered 1,000 lire to sign.
“I told them my asking price was 1 million lire, thinking that would end the whole thing,” Lollobrigida told Vanity Fair in 2015. “But they said yes!”
Lollobrigida was cast in several movies filmed in Italy, including some for which she was denied credit, before filming “Alina,” a melodrama in which Lollobrigida uses her beauty as her main weapon in a dangerous smuggling operation. It caught the attention of Hughes, the eccentric businessman, aviator and maverick film magnate, among others.
Hughes quickly invited Lollobrigida for a screen test in Hollywood. Although she asked for two plane tickets so that her husband could accompany her, when her travel package arrived in Rome, there was only one ticket.
Her husband, a doctor named Milko Skofic, was not pleased, but finally gave in. He said, “Go.” I don’t want you to say one day that I didn’t allow you a career.’ So I went alone.”
Hughes parked the 24-year-old in a suite at the Town House Hotel, then a luxurious brick and terracotta retreat on Wilshire Boulevard. She was handed scripts and had sessions with a voice coach and an English instructor.
The two went out to dinner, often at lesser diners, so Hughes could avoid the media he so feared. Several times, she said, they ate in the car.
“I knew very little English at the time,” he told Vanity Fair. “Howard Hughes taught me the swear words.”
After two and a half months of fending off his advances and tolerating his erratic behavior, Lollobrigida said she signed a seven-year contract so she could go home. The pact made it difficult and hugely expensive for any American film studio – except Hughes’ RKO Pictures – to hire Lollobrigida.
She never made a single film for Hughes and said she was content waiting for the contract in Europe, where there was no shortage of work.
Lollobrigida quickly became a star in Europe, appearing in nearly a dozen films before her role in “Bread, Love and Dreams” earned her a BAFTA award for Best Foreign Actress. It is considered by some critics to be her best, most natural role.
“I did it despite Howard Hughes,” she said in a 1999 interview with the Age, an Australian newspaper.
In 1953, she returned to Hollywood and was paired with Humphrey Bogart in “Beat the Devil,” an adventure/comedy directed by John Huston and written daily by Truman Capote while filming in Italy. It was Lollobrigida’s first English language film and – as her destiny would turn out – called for her to play the part of the seductress. While the film helped introduce Lollobrigida to America, it was a box office failure.
Three years later, she fared better when she was cast as the manipulative, scheming Lola in “Trapeze,” the story of a crippled acrobat who tries to coax greatness out of his brash, easily distracted protégé, roles played by Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. . The film, shot in Paris, was a financial success.
Lollobrigida next teamed up with Yul Brynner in “Solomon and Sheba,” a sexed Bible story, and with Rock Hudson in “Come September,” a 1961 romantic comedy about a married man and his mistress who discover that the villa where they each meet year has been turned into a youth hostel. Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin are among the young tourists staying at the hostel. Despite a wafer-thin plot, the movie did well.
And so went the ’60s – romantic comedy after romantic comedy matching Lollobrigida with stars like Ernest Borgnine, Frank Sinatra, Sean Connery, Peter Lawford and Bob Hope. If the movies were forgettable at times — and Lollobrigida later admitted there were many — they only seemed to polish off her star power. You might not be able to name any of her movies, but everyone knew about La Lolla.
As Hollywood movie offers slowed down, Lollobrigida returned to Italian cinema, though she did take on a role in the 1984 primetime soap opera “Falcon Crest” and made a mandatory appearance in “The Love Boat”.
For all her courtships and friendships and all the tabloid fodder floating in her wake, the person who came to be known as “the most beautiful woman in the world” had only been married once, a union that ended in 1971. .
But a man more than three decades her junior said the two quietly married in 2010 in Barcelona, Spain, and that a surrogate took Lollobrigida’s place because she feared the ceremony would become a media frenzy.
The man, Javier Rigau y Rafols, claimed that Lollobrigida signed the marriage documents and that witnesses were able to verify the union. Photos of the two together have been circulating for years.
However, she denied the marriage and dismissed the license and other paperwork as a “heinous and vulgar fraud.” She filed a lawsuit in Italy and Spain and promised to launch “an international investigation”. The truth, wherever it could be found, soon became embroiled in legal disputes still ongoing at the time of her death.
Men seemed to flow through Lollobrigida’s life like a fast-moving stream. They pursued her and—she insisted—she kept them all at bay.
“It would be good for me as a human being to have a man to advise me,” she told the New York Times in 1995. ‘But I can’t have everything. I have many interests, and maybe that’s enough.”
One of her interests was jewelry, which she collected as if she were a museum curator. She toured diamond mines in Africa and came home with a handful. She bought gold bracelets inlaid with a galaxy of rubies, sapphires and emeralds. She went to India to buy necklaces. And she openly wondered if her pursuit of such opulence was the downside of a deprived childhood. She eventually sold a large part of her collection and donated the proceeds to stem cell research.
She dabbled in sculpture and pursued a second career as a photographer, producing five photography books. In 1973, she flew to Cuba — armed, she said, with eight cameras, 200 rolls of film and 10 pairs of jeans — and landed an interview with Fidel Castro, which was published in the Italian magazine Gente and billed as an exclusive.
“I was sunbathing naked in the garden of the residence when a man appeared and announced Fidel’s presence. He smiled at me and pretended not to notice my skimpy clothes,” she wrote. “He shook my hand and welcomed me to Cuba.”
In 1999, Lollobrigida ran for a seat in the European Parliament, admitting that she had little interest in politics and only campaigned because she was invited to do so. She shrugged as voters cast their ballots for more serious candidates. In 2022, she announced she would run for a Senate seat, citing Italy’s political turmoil, but lost her bid for the office.
During her career she won more than a dozen awards. She was nominated three times for a Golden Globe, winning one in 1961. In 1985, she was nominated for the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, normally reserved for French citizens who have made significant contributions to the arts. French President Francois Mitterrand awarded her the Legion d’honneur for her achievements, and the National Italian American Foundation gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
When she turned 90, the city of Rome celebrated in the historic Piazza di Spagna, and Lollobrigida unveiled a sculpture commissioned in her honor. For decades she had lived in a villa near the ancient Via Appia (not to mention a farm in Sicily and a house in Monte Carlo) and the people of Rome saw her as a lifelong ambassador for all things good and was glorious in Italy.
“It’s just 30 plus 30 plus 30,” she told reporters when asked about her longevity.
And when La Lolla was La Lolla, she reignited her feud with Loren.
“I was never looking for rivalry with anyone,” she said. “But then again, I was always number 1.”
Lollobrigida is survived by her son, Milko Skofic Jr.