When I can to Rome the first time with my family we were six in one room: father, mother and four children.
Gina Lollobrigida, who today celebrates her 90th birthday, has for many years lived in her grand villa on the Appia Antica, the long Roman road which now links villas and parks on the outskirts of Rome.
Lollobrigida wasn't intending to be an actress; she studied sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in via Ripetta in Rome and had singing lessons. As she couldn't practice in the tiny room where her family lived, surrounded by many other such families, she would go to the tunnel which connects via Nazionale to via del Tritone and sing to her heart's content.
When she played the role of opera soprano Lina Cavalieri — the “world's most beautiful woman” — Lollobrigida was not only beautiful enough to play the role, but had the voice too: she wasn't dubbed.
Even Maria Callas once asked me, “But was that really you?”
Maybe the rivalry with Sophia Loren was dreamt up by the media, but when asked about this by the Corriere della Sera journalist, Emilia Costantini, there is a like acidity behind her words:
It was the usual Callas-Tebaldi thing… but I didn't need the rivalry of anyone, I was the number one. I went ahead in my career by my own merits, I didn't have a film producer to protect me.
Loren met the Italian film producer Carlo Ponti, 21 years her senior, when she was 16. They married seven years later.
I did everything by myself. But when quality in cinema began falling off, I realised that there was nothing more for me.
But I've had many other rewarding endeavours… also with my photography.
Lollobrigida had an unusual relationship with Fidel Castro.
We spent 12 days together. He didn't interest me as a political leader but as a man. He realised that I hadn't gone there to attack him and he readily accepted me.
She'd gone to Cuba in the ‘70s as a photographer, the period that her career in cinema had begun to wane. She has always been coy about the presumed flirt.
90 years… that's a lot.
I prefer to say, 30 plus 30 plus 30. Advancing age for a woman is a handicap, but the difficult experiences that I've lived through give me the courage to confront difficulty.
Problems have included her only son and heir, Milko Skofic Jr, wanting to take over control of her estate four years ago, citing that she was in the grip of several young admirers. Lollobrigida won the right to control her own affairs, and she and her son and grandson are now estranged.
A son acting like that causes more hurt that if it were a stranger.
Then two years ago the marriage that wasn't, when Javier Rigau Rafols, 34 years her junior, conned her into marriage to lay claim to her £35 million estate.
Let's not even mention him! I wanted to get that story defeated in court… and look, here I am, I won!
The resistant Gina Lollobrigida also managed to get through a nasty bout of pneumonia last winter.
I think God must love me! We've asked the guests to my birthday party to not bring gifts, but to donate money to a medical charity.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.
A friend of mine, many years ago, saw Gina in the audience of the Metropolitan Opera House and said that she was even more beautiful in person than on the screen. Saw two movies of her’s lately on TV, and enjoyed her very much. She and Rock Hudson were a gorgeous couple! Happy Birthday Gina, stay healthy!
She’s quite beautiful even now. Not common at 90!
Such a personality! We haven’t enough such vibrant people !
Very happy 90th a vibrant woman