I have a penchant for referring to actors and actresses by their last names. I remember when I did a piece on Grace Kelly, I needed to call her Grace for some reason. Also, I wrote about one of Hollywood's saddest denizens, Barbara Payton, and I felt the need to call her Barbara. I know I cannot keep typing Lollobrigida over and over again lest my fingers cripple up. I just don't know her well enough to use the G word, so it's Lollo, which does just happen to be a moniker she's been known by.
The first time I ever saw her, in 1956, was on the silver screen in New York City where my folks and their friends had dumped off a bunch of us kids so they could go off and do adult things involving their Navy reunion. The film was Trapeze, obviously a circus movie and let's remember yours truly and his love of circuses and circus movies. The Greatest Show on Earth was only four years earlier... as if I have to tell you. The added presence of Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis was enough to get me revved up, but then came Lollo. OMG. She may have started my lifelong love affair with European actresses that continues to this day. She was bloody gorgeous to my young, untrained eye, with a knockout bod in those skimpy circus outfits. And that attitude... damn, she spewed and pouted and her eyes flashed and her red lips pursed. In other words... she was Italian.
She was one of several Italian exports of the time who was making it across the pond and into American movies. I had an awareness of Anna Magnani, who, back then, scared the Milk Duds out of me but I could see that she was good at her job. Sophia Loren was to bounce on the scene in no time and she would eclipse both of her countrywomen in fame and film output, but still, there was only one Lollo. She had the fire of Magnani and the lusty packaging of La Loren, perhaps more so in some ways.
She was born in 1927 in the picturesque mountain village of Subiaco, Italy, the second of four daughters, all quite fetching. Her furniture manufacturing father hoped his girls would go on to make something of themselves. Lollo's good looks and adult manner got her quickly into modeling and then beauty contests and from there it was a quick leap into films... Italian films. She was just 19 when she began acting. By 1949 and newly married, she had hit Howard Hughes's radar (no surprise there) and he asked her to come to America and work for him. She had already made 10 films in Italy and declined his invitation to make more at home.
By 1953, however, American films captured her attention as she decided she wanted to be as big worldwide as she was in Italy. She knew her ticket was in American films and few were left with any doubt that it could happen. Some may have questioned whether she would get to the top of the acting ladder but no one doubted that her looks and sassy manner would carry her a long way. In those days she had cameras snapping everywhere and she gave off those come-hither looks that made grown men turn into horny teenagers. And actually that last name didn't hurt in the slightest. I think it made her more famous.
We know I am passionate about a lot of movies but not as well known is that I loathe maybe 10 or so. Her first American film is one of those. With a cast that included Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones and Peter Lorre and directed by John Huston and written by Truman Capote, one would think Beat the Devil would be an international sensation. But the story of a ragtag group of crooks on the road to Africa with the devil in their souls was wretched. It played like a house that is continually being added onto.... ill-conceived, misshapened, confusing, irritating, unfunny when it was supposed to be funny, and funny when it wasn't supposed to be. Lollo is lucky she had any American career at all.
She returned to Italy to make six more films and then returned to American films with Trapeze. She became the third member of an aerial troupe, unwanted by one of them and loved by the other. Of course she would get in the way of the friendship of the two men. I thought it was a wonderful film when I first saw it and having seen it again yesterday, I still do.
Throughout her career there would be stories about Lollo's tempestuousness. Sure she was passionate (hey, she's Italian!) and single-minded in her pursuit of fame and fortune, but she apparently had a reputation for being difficult. It's a wonder how she pulled that off being paired with such control-freak costars as Lancaster, Brynner and Sinatra.
The same year as Trapeze she made a very alluring Esmeralda opposite Anthony Quinn in the title role of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, although the film was not a great success. Nor was Fast and Sexy (now there's a title), an America movie filmed in her own country and forgotten by everyone concerned.
The excitement she created with Trapeze was blown out of the circus tent when she was signed to do Solomon and Sheba, a dull biblical epic filmed in 1958. It initially became famous due to the death of its star, Tyrone Power, who had a heart attack while filming a sword fight scene with George Sanders. But it garnered even more press due to the apparent duel of temperaments between Lollo and Power's replacement, Yul Brynner. And Lollo's famous dance with veils, castanets and baubles, bangles and beads was way over-hyped with its clunky dance moves and horrible set decoration. However, she was the only worthwhile part of the entire affair. My oh my, what a babe.
She was wasted as Sinatra's girlfriend in a very good war film, Never So Few (1959). I quite liked her as a whore trying to make a stab at respectability as Anthony Franciosa's wife in Go Naked in the World (1961). But costar Ernest Borgnine, in his autobiography, said that he and Franciosa hated her.
That same year, on home ground, Lollo would join Rock Hudson, Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin in Come September, a romantic-comedy that I actually liked. (Write down the date and time. I said I liked a rom-com?) The plot, about an American's Italian villa being turned into a posh hotel, while he's away, without his consent, was silly but the locales were gorgeous as were the leads. Despite what some others have said about her, Hudson once told me that working with Lollo was great fun. It must have been so because they would work together four years later in the not-so-successful, Strange Bedfellows.
Hotel Paradiso (1966) is not a perfect film, but its chief morsel is the comic genius of Alec Guinness. Lollo is mainly decorative in the sometimes-stilted story of a writer who takes up residence in a 1900 Paris hotel to observe people.
Two years later she had her best role, one that showcased all the traits that Lollo was famous for... passion, fire, fury, and put them to comedy. Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell was a funny piece about a mother of a college-age daughter living in Italy who has hoodwinked three ex-boyfriend soldiers into thinking each one is the father of her child. Now, years after the war has ended, all the principles are going to meet up again at an army reunion in the small Italian town... and let the comedy begin. It was a plot so humorously realized that is was recycled for Mamma Mia years later. Lollo, older now and even more radiant as a redhead, gives a virtuoso comic performance.
I wouldn't be surprised if Lollo might have questioned her joy for movie-making. On the other hand, she doesn't appear to be a person who spends much time with regrets. Whether she wanted more opportunities or not, I don't think she got them. She must have felt some ambivalence about the sexpot aspect. One might like to be thought of as a bit of a sexpot, but only a sexpot? She certainly was never the equivalent of the American bubble-headed blonde. Her fiery, earthy demeanor set her apart from that and yet in the end, I suspect most Americans thought of her as just one more European (s)export. I suppose it would be fair to say she was a limited actress but I'd prefer to follow that up by adding it was a wonderful limitation. What she sold to us, she sold well. And I was always, always entertained.
It is going on 20 years since she's made a film. Her lifelong passions took her into photography and sculpting and her professional standing in both has far exceeded that of movie goddess. She once said I studied painting and sculpting in school and became an actress by mistake.
Long divorced from her only husband, she has owned a ranch in Sicily since 1949 but also has a smaller home in Rome and a villa in Monte Carlo. Apparently, she has allowed no visitors since 2009. I find it a little odd that we even know that. I suppose it's a vanity thing. But in her usual style, she has said I've had many lovers and still have romances. I am very spoiled. All my life I have had too many admirers.
Yes, and I'm one of them.
Favorite Movie #2