Affairs and graces: Marina Cicogna's snapshots

The Italian film producer Marina Cicogna has been a friend to some of the biggest stars of the last 100 years. Now her private snapshots of lazy lunches on the Lido with the Mitfords and yachting holidays with Greta Garbo are going on show in London. She talks exclusively to Charlotte Cripps
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The Independent Culture

Countess Marina Cicogna, the venerable Italian movie producer whose films include Once Upon A Time In The West and whose grandfather, Count Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata, founded the Venice Film Festival, has dusted off some old photographs she took in the Sixties of her glamorous friends. Until recently these images were languishing in drawers and forgotten about in old albums.

The black-and-white holiday snaps of movie stars, writers and directors taken between 1960-67, include Greta Garbo dangling off the side of the Onassis yacht in the south of France and David Niven reading a newspaper on the Lido.

Before she produced films such as Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, directed by Eli Petri, and Brother Sun, Sister Moon directed by Franco Zeffirelli, Cicogna led an idyllic life, hanging out with Audrey Hepburn and Jeanne Moreau.

In one of her photographs, Cecil Beaton poses next to a stone statue of Medusa, taken whilst holidaying at the family's home in Libya. "There is a famous set of Roman ruins, Leptis Magna, in Libya and the Medusa's eyes seemed to resemble Cecil's eyes a lot," says Cicogna of the image.

The Mitford sisters, Nancy and Deborah (now Duchess of Devonshire), were also regulars at the raucous lunches her parents held in their cabin on the beach in Venice. "We always had a sit-down lunch in front of the cabin. Mostly the cabins next to ours were Americans, who would have liked to have a quiet snooze after lunch. They were very annoyed with our howling laughter," she recalls. Other Lido shots show Hepburn wearing a sun hat and a stripy swimming costume, and Rock Hudson, posing with Michael Butler, the Hair producer who had affairs with both Hepburn and Hudson.

Cicogna started gathering her photographs together a few years ago, when some friends, who owned a Paris gallery, decided to organise her first show, Snapshots. The French Minister of Culture Frédéric Mitterrand turned up to the June 2008 show and invited her to stage a further exhibition at the Villa Medici earlier this year, in his role as the director of the French Academy in Rome. But it was the fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, who had also seen the pictures in Paris, who encouraged Cicogna to compile her treasure trove in a book, Scritti e Scatti. Now some of these pictures will be exhibited at The Little Black Gallery in Chelsea. "I didn't take the pictures very seriously or even file them. I couldn't even find the negatives. When I took them I was not working. I was just playing with my friends," she says.

In another snap, taken during the filming of Louis Malle's Viva Maria! in Mexico, Bardot is carrying a little black lamb. The film also starred Jeanne Moreau. "Moreau was one of my closest friends, so I went travelling around Mexico with her before the filming started. There was a jealousy between Bardot and Moreau as they were the two biggest stars in France at the time. I had introduced George Hamilton to the director and that's how he got the principal male role in the film, as the good-looking Mexican boy." Another Moreau snap shows the actress on a windy day at sea with the director Tony Richardson leaning over her. "Jeanne managed to seduce whoever she cared for. At that time she was really very interested in Tony who was then married to Vanessa Redgrave. She signed for two pictures with him. They started having an affair. The first picture was The Sailor from Gibraltar and we went to Alexandria in Egypt, where this photo was taken. This is the yacht they used for the film and I was just there because I used to travel a lot with Jeanne."

Other photos of stars off-guard include the film director Bernardo Bertolucci sitting with the writer and film director Pier Paulo Pasolini, looking reflective, on a dusty road near Rome. "It was Pasolini's first film Accattone in 1961 and Bertolucci was not a director yet. He was still a scriptwriter and had written the script for this picture with Pasolini." Another photograph of Catherine Deneuve wearing a polka-dot dress was taken while she was waiting to go in to the premiere of Belle de Jour at the Venice Film Festival. "For Deneuve it was a tremendous breakthrough because she only played rather nice French pictures before," says Cicogna, who was co-producer. "It was her first big starring role."

Tomorrow to 14 November, The Little Black Gallery, London SW10 (020 7349 9332; www.thelittleblackgallery.com)

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