Gina Lollobrigida, now 90, gained global fame in an era when movie stardom took actors to different heights.
“I was born at a time when the cinema was really, really powerful; more than it is today,” notes the iconic Italian actress, who, starting in the 1950s, rapidly became one of Europe’s biggest divas and worked with Hollywood heavyweights such as Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra and Errol Flynn. “The stars from those days, including myself, have a long-lasting fame that I am amazed by,” she says.
“Gina is simply a legend,” says marketing guru and events organizer Tiziana Rocca, who is the driving force behind this long overdue honor.
“I’m happy [to be] on this boulevard that I have walked down so many times,” says Lollobrigida enthusiastically. “It’s fun; I love the idea that so many stars have been immortalized there.”
Lollobrigida recounts that Hughes invited her to work in Hollywood, but “also absolutely wanted to marry me, without hardly knowing me.” A relentless pursuit led to a swift return to Europe where her husband was getting nervous. She had signed a contract with Hughes’ RKO pictures that for years made it impossible to work on American pics in the U.S., but not on Hollywood productions made in Europe and elsewhere.
Her first movie in English was “Beat the Devil” in 1953 with Bogart, shot on the Amalfi coast and directed by John Huston, “who really gave his actors lots of freedom.”
“It was fun with Bogart,” Lollobrigida says. She recalls that, because her English “wasn’t perfect,” Bogart would tease her by “talking tough to me, even when he was saying some really sweet things.” The atmosphere on set, where Truman Capote was writing the screenplay day-by-day during the shoot, was playful. And “in the evenings Huston and Bogart would throw stuff at each other at the dinner table. We had a crazy good time!”
The next year, 1954, Lollobrigida was with Flynn at Rome’s Cinecittà studios making swashbuckler “Crossed Swords,” which Flynn self-produced. During a kiss scene, Flynn suddenly didn’t feel well. “He left the set,” went on a drinking binge, “and came back about a month later,” she amusedly recounts. “Swords” is not among her most memorable movies.
Among many roles in international productions that Lollobrigida remembers most fondly is seductive gypsy Esmeralda in which she played opposite Anthony Quinn in the 1956 adaptation of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” by Jean Delannoy. The director later cast her as Napoleon’s sister Paolina Bonaparte in “Imperial Venus,” (1962) another one of her favorites.
A year earlier, in 1961, Lollobrigida starred with Rock Hudson in Portofino-set romantic comedy “Come September,” and won an honorary Golden Globe Henrietta Award. In 1959 Lollo played Sheba with Yul Brynner as Solomon in King Vidor’s hit epic “Solomon and Sheba.”
“Gina Lollobrigida virtually portrays three different Shebas. First, the arrogant, fiery, ambitious queen; then the voluptuous, wily, seductress; finally, the Sheba who involuntarily falls in love with the king and risks all by denouncing her own gods,” read the Variety review which went on to note that “Lollobrigida not only looks stunning but shows the queen to be a woman of sharp brain as well as sensual beauty.”
The same year she co-starred in wartime romancer “Never So Few” with Sinatra, whom she describes as being “really touchy” and, unlike Bogart, having “zero sense of humor.”
Standout English-language titles also include “Woman of Straw” (1964) opposite Sean Connery; “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell” (1968) with Shelley Winters and Telly Savalas, for which Lollobrigida was nominated for a Golden Globe; “The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell” (1968) with Bob Hope; Jerzy Skolimowski’s Vladimir Nabokov adaptation “King, Queen, Knave,” (1972) with David Niven; and the TV show “Falcon Crest,” for which she was again nominated for a Golden Globe in 1985.
The film for which she is best known by Italians is Luigi Comencini’s “pink neorealism” classic “Bread, Love and Dreams” (1953) with Vittorio De Sica. “De Sica taught me to understand cinema, which was something I didn’t trust,” she says. “He helped me to understand that cinema is an art; an art that can give you immediate gratification.
“Because there was no TV then, the power of movies was truly tremendous: After a short while, I became known all over the world.” And she still is to this day.