Paola Borboni, veteran Italian theater actress and one of the country’s most renowned interpreters of the work of Luigi Pirandello, died April 9 at a rest home in Bodio Lomnago, Varese, after suffering a stroke. She was 95.
Borboni was literally born with the 20th century, on Jan. 1,1900, in Parma. Her first stage experience was in Milan at the age of 16, followed shortly thereafter by minor film roles. During the 1920s, she consolidated her comedic skills as leading lady of Armando Falconi’s theater company.
She earned considerable notoriety in the role of a mermaid in a 1925 production of Carlo Veneziani’s “Alga Marina” by becoming the first Italian actress to appear topless on stage. Borboni strengthened her reputation as a dramatic performer in the early 1930s alongside Italo theater great Ruggero Ruggeri.
The most decisive encounters of her career were with the plays of Pirandello, obtaining notable successes in “To Clothe the Naked,” “Right You Are (If You Think You Are),” “Henry IV” and “As You Desire Me.” In 1942 she formed the first Pirandello theater company.
Partnered on and offstage in the mid-1940s by actor Salvo Randone, Borboni won acclaim in the works of Ugo Betti, George Bernard Shaw and Eugene O’Neill. In the 1950s, she began experimenting with solo recitals of monologues penned by contemporary writers and poets, again with great success.
Borboni became known to national television audiences in the 1960s with her popular show “Donna Paola Fermo Posta.” In 1972, she sparked scandal in the disapproving national media by embarking on her only marriage, with Bruno Vilar, an actor some 40 years her junior. He died a few years later in a car accident, in which Borboni was disabled.
Despite this, she continued to undertake legit roles throughout the 1970s and ’80s in works by Federico Garcia Lorca, Marguerite Duras and Marguerite Yourcenar. Her final professional stage appearance was in March 1994 in a production of Pirandello’s “Berretto a Sonagli.”
Borboni worked sporadically in films over the years, most memorably in Federico Fellini’s 1953 classic “I Vitelloni,” and as the cranky cleaning woman who surprised Audrey Hepburn in the bathroom of Gregory Peck’s apartment in “Roman Holiday.”