Gina Lollobrigida, ’50s Bombshell, Photojournalist, Tabloid Sensation, Dies @ 95

"She makes Marilyn Monroe look like Shirley Temple."

When Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957) says that about you, you're an icon.

"I didn't do daring pictures — never. You can't find it." (Image via movie still)

Gina Lollobrigida, the siren in question, died Monday, January 16, 2023, at an Italian clinic, The New York Times confirms. She was 95.

Lollobrigida, like Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000), was perhaps too beautiful for her own good, frequently typecast as a manipulator with va-va-voom. As an Italian bombshell, she was pitted against Sophia Loren (b. 1934), but failed to land meaty dramatic roles like La Loren.

In 2016, she appeared at the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood, where she explained her dreams were always pushed aside by men, and by the idea others had of her. "I had success despite everybody," she recalled.

Rather than becoming a sculptor, her first dream, her success in the Miss Italia beauty pageant (impossibly, she came in third) led to movie offers ... including from Howard Hughes (1905-1976).

Working in film from 1946 on — she gained attention from her debut Return of the Black Eagle (1946) — Lollobrigida's European movies of the period include Wife for a Night (1952), Beauties of the Night (1952), The Wayward Wife (1953), Bread, Love and Dreams (1953), Beautiful but Dangerous (1955) and The Law (1959).

Glamming it up in Solomon and Sheba (Image via movie still)

Her American breakthrough came via Beat the Devil (1953), directed by John Huston (1906-1987) in a screenplay he co-wrote with Truman Capote (1924-1984).

She went on to appear in Crossed Swords (1954) with Errol Flynn (1909-1959), did her own stunts for the smash Trapeze (1956) with Burt Lancaster (1913-1994) and Tony Curtis (1925-2010), and played Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1956) opposite Anthony Quinn (1915-2011).

While making Solomon and Sheba (1959), she was on set when Tyrone Power (1914-1958) collapsed and died, necessitating the hiring of Yul Brynner (1920-1985) as a replacement.

She received a Golden Globe for her performance in the rom-com Come September (1961) with Rock Hudson (1925-1985), with whom she also worked in Strange Bedfellows (1965). Her last big movie hit was Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell in 1968; its plot inspired Mamma Mia! thirty-plus years later, and her performance earned another Globe nomination.

Lollobrigida worked less and always in inferior fare in the '70s. By the '80s, she had turned to TV, but only rarely. She was fabulous as Francesca Gioberti on five episodes of Falcon Crest (1984), a part that had been conceived for — and rejected by — Loren. She also had a flashy role in the miniseries Deceptions (1985), and made her final U.S. TV acting appearance on a two-part episode of The Love Boat (1986).

How could they not play sisters?! (Image via CBS)

By 1997, she was almost completely retired from acting, but was no less busy for it.

Since the early '70s, frustrated fine artist Lollobrigida had been working at photojournalism, carving out a name for herself as a portraitist with excellent contacts. In 1972, she wowed with the short film Ritratto di Fidel, showcasing her exclusive access to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro (1926-2016). She published Italia Mia, a book of her work, in 1973.

She was also known for her generosity, including auctioning her jewels to raise almost $5 million for stem cell research in 2013.

Lollobrigida's fame and her flair for glamour never faded, and crystallized in countless tabloid appearances as she aged. Married to physician Milko Škofič from 1949-1971, her affairs with younger men captivated the media. Most infamously, she was engaged to a businessman later accused of having staged a phony wedding using a double. She had what was not considered an actual marriage annulled anyway — with a little help from the Pope (b. 1936) — in 2019.

In 2017, Lollobrigida gave an interview in which she was asked about #MeToo. He comments were sobering: "I've also suffered molestation — in fact, more than that — and I didn't say anything about it at the time. I should have complained but I didn't have the courage. The first time I was 19, I was still going to school. The second time, well, I'd rather not talk about it. I was married and I was starting out in films."

Honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she returned to photograph it in 2019. Lazy, she was not — in 2022, in spite of claims by her son that she could not manage her affairs, she ran for a seat in the Italian senate.

Having battled her only child, her son, Milko Škofič Jr., for control of her estate, he had been her guardian for the last year and a half, and survives her.

Here is a peek at her delightful interview with the whacky Leta Powell Drake (1938-2021) — what a sport she is here:

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