Gina Lollobrigida, the Italian screen star, dies at 95

"A woman at 20 is like ice," she declared. "At 30 she is warm. At 40 she is hot. We are going up as men are going down."

Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida, one of the biggest stars of European cinema in the 1950s and ’60s, has died at the age of 95.

Often described as “the most beautiful woman in the world”, her films included Crossed Swords, the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Beautiful But Dangerous.

She co-starred alongside the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra, Rock Hudson and Errol Flynn.

Her career faded in the 1960s and she moved into photography and politics.

Nicknamed La Lollo, she was one of the last surviving icons of the glory days of film, who Bogart said “made Marilyn Monroe look like Shirley Temple”.

Movie mogul Howard Hughes showered her with marriage proposals. Off camera, she enjoyed a feud with fellow Italian star Sophia Loren.

Culture minister Gennaro Sangiuliano wrote on Twitter: “Farewell to a diva of the silver screen, protagonist of more than half a century of Italian cinema history. Her charm will remain eternal.”

She died in a Rome clinic, her former lawyer Giulia Citani told the Reuters news agency.

Luigina Lollobrigida was born on 4 July, 1927. The daughter of a furniture manufacturer, Gina spent her teenage years avoiding wartime bombing raids before studying sculpture at Rome’s Academy of Fine Arts.

A talent scout offered her an audition at Cinecitta – then the largest film studio in Europe and Italy’s thriving “Hollywood on the Tiber”.

Lollobrigida wasn’t keen. “I refused when they offered me my first role,” she recalled. “So, they said they would pay me a thousand lire. I told them my price was one million lire, thinking that would put a stop to the whole thing. But they said yes!”

In 1947, she entered the Miss Italia beauty pageant – a competition that launched many notable careers – and came third. Two years later, she married a Slovenian doctor, Milko Skofic.

Skofic took some bikini-clad publicity shots of his new – and still relatively unknown – wife. Six thousand miles away in Hollywood, the world’s richest man sat up.

Hughes had just taken control of a major studio. He was more than 20 years older than Lollobrigida and famous for a string of affairs with the most glamorous women of the age – including Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner.

He tracked Lollobrigida down and offered a screen test. She accepted, expecting her husband to accompany her to America. On the day of departure, only one of the tickets Hughes had promised showed up.

Hughes had divorce lawyers waiting at the airport. She was installed in a luxury hotel, given a secretary and a chauffeur, and bombarded with proposals.

He had prepared everything. Even the screen test turned out to be a scene about the end of a marriage.

The trip lasted nearly three months. She saw him daily – fending off pass after pass. To avoid the press, they often ate at cheap restaurants or in the back of his car.

Although the behaviour was clearly abusive, Lollobrigida said she enjoyed the attention. “He was very tall, very interesting,” she later recalled. “Much more interesting than my husband.”

Before she departed for Rome, Hughes presented her with a seven-year contract. It made it hugely expensive for any other US studio to hire her. “I signed it because I wanted to go home,” she said.

Hughes didn’t give up. His lawyers pursued her as far as the Algerian desert – where she was making a film. Her husband was understanding about the decade-long infatuation. He’d even play the lawyers at tennis.

Avoiding Hollywood, Gina worked in France and Italy – making films such as The Wayward Wife and Bread, Love and Dreams.

Her first English-language picture – opposite Bogart in John Huston’s Beat the Devil – was shot on the Amalfi coast, and was the beginning of a series of starring roles alongside the world’s most glamorous men.

Lollobrigida’s brief affair with heart transplant pioneer Christian Barnard spelled the end of her marriage. Divorce had just been legalised in Italy and she took early advantage.

“A woman at 20 is like ice,” she declared. “At 30 she is warm. At 40 she is hot. We are going up as men are going down.”

She was certainly not short of admirers.

Prince Rainier of Monaco was one, in spite of his marriage to Grace Kelly. “He would make passes at me in front of her, in their home,” she claimed. “Obviously, I said no!”

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Her last major film – alongside David Niven in King, Queen, Knave – came in 1972. There were tantrums on set and the production was halted three times for mysterious “eye problems”.

Lollobrigida took a few parts in American TV series – including Falcon’s Crest and Love Boat – but then reinvented herself as an artist.

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