Gina Lollobrigida: Hero or Villain?


Gina Lollobrigida. Gee-nah loh-loh-breed-gee-dah: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of seven steps down the palate to tap, at the last, on the teeth. Apologies to Mr Nabokov and his associate Mr Humbert, but the original Italian siren – pre-Loren, pre-Cardinale – was possessor of a name as intoxicating as her talent.

Unlike these days, when we know what our celebrities had for breakfast, thanks to the glory of Twitter, and what they look like in a bikini thanks to the ignominy of the Sidebar of Shame, hers was a time when actors could remain a mystery, figures upon whom fantasies (never improper – how dare you, sir!) could be built. And La Lollo was a mystery above and beyond, thanks to her husky, exotic-sounding accent.

Tagged "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World", she made an impression – oh, what an impression – despite the fact that these days most people would be hard pressed to name a single film of hers beyond Trapeze. And how? Well, quite apart from the looks that brought her third place in Miss Italy, and a haircut that inspired the naming of a lettuce, acting was but one of her skills.

Taking a break from the field in the 1970s, she made quite the impact behind the camera, as a photojournalist, shooting such subjects as Paul Newman and Salvador Dalí and beating the world's press to an exclusive interview with Fidel Castro.

And now she's back in the news at the age of 85, courtesy of a bizarre story about her alleged second marriage – a liaison she claims she knew nothing about until she read of it online, but which "the groom", a former fiancé 34 years her junior, says she was complicit in. She is said to have been elsewhere when the "wedding" took place.

The courts must decide. But wouldn't it be nice to believe him? That, rather than being after her £35m fortune, he spent the past 22 years – yes, 22 years! – as intoxicated by her as men of a certain age have been for six decades?