The 90-year-old Gina Lollobrigida, one of Europe’s biggest divas and a global sex symbol during the 1950s and ’60s worked with Hollywood heavyweights such as Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra, Errol Flynn and Rock Hudson. “La Lollo,” as the Italians call her, is best known among her countrymen for Luigi Comencini’s 1953 classic “Bread, Love and Dreams.” Outside Italy, she is famous for playing seductive gypsy Esmeralda in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1956) opposite Anthony Quinn, Queen Sheba with Yul Brynner in King Vidor’s hit epic “Solomon and Sheba” (1959) and Napoleon’s sister Paolina Bonaparte in “Imperial Venus” (1962). On Feb. 1, Lollobrigida received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Your first mention in Variety is a review in 1950 of Luigi Zampa’s “Campane a Martello” (Children of Chance). What’s your recollection of “Campane”?
It was a strange story, about two prostitutes who were very generous because they gave money to an orphanage … I remember acting opposite [Italian playwright, actor and director] Edoardo De Filippo — a heavyweight. It was the early days of my career when I wasn’t so sure about cinema. I didn’t realize yet how powerful cinema was.
In 1953, you starred with Humphrey Bogart in “Beat the Devil,” directed by John Huston. You were already a star by then.
That was my first movie in English … we were on the Amalfi coast …I was very excited about working with John Huston. Huston and Bogart would throw stuff at each other at the dinner table. Bogart would make fun of my English and talk tough to me, though he was actually saying some very sweet things. We had a crazy good time!
Your ties to Hollywood started in 1950 when Howard Hughes flew you to Los Angeles. He wanted to marry you. How did that go?
Hughes wanted me to go to Hollywood because he had seen some very sexy pictures. He knew I was married, but at the last minute instead of sending two plane tickets he just sent one. When I got off the plane there were already divorce lawyers waiting for me at the airport. I was taken to the Town House Hotel, which was miles away from Hollywood. There was a mansion at my disposal, but I didn’t dare go there because I would have been alone [with him] and I didn’t trust him that much … so I decided to come back.
You still made Hollywood movies including “Never so Few” with Frank Sinatra, in 1959.
Sinatra would start working at noon, because he liked to have fun at night; he would drink quite a lot. One day he showed up at 1 p.m. and, since I like to joke around, I said to him: “Frank, next time you’re late call me, so I can go back to bed too.” He got really touchy about that! Sinatra was so touchy! I have to tell you. Zero sense of humor.
You are best known in Italy for “Bread, Love and Dreams.” What memories does that film evoke?
De Sica taught me to understand cinema. He helped me to understand that cinema is an art; an art that can give you immediate gratification because the audience response is so wonderful.