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Claudia Cardinale

10 Best Actresses Who Contributed to the History of Italian Cinema

Part 7 Italian Beauties of the Cinema

The Italian cinema has produced a number of amazing actresses known both for their beauty and acting talents.

One would agree that the most famous and of all women is Sophia Loren. Born Sofia Scicolone in 1934 in Rome. She grew up in Pozzuoli, near Naples and was noticed at age 14 during a beauty contest by film producer Carlo Ponti who launched her career and later became her husband. In 1957, Sophia began a successful career in the United States, but returned to Italy in 1960 to star in La ciociara, for which she won an Academy Award for Best Actress. In America, La ciociara was called Two Women. Sophisticated and sensual, she was an international movie star throughout the 1960s and 1970s, starring in films both in Italy and the U.S. and remains one of the most popular and beloved film stars in the world.

Gina Lollobrigida was one of the most popular actresses and iconic sex symbols of the 1950s and 1960s. She was born in 1927 in the mountain village of Subiaco. When she was 20, she entered the beauty competition Miss Italia, but unbelievably only came in third. After her movie Beautiful But Dangerous (1955), she was named the “most beautiful woman in the world” and was considered the prototype of Italian beauty. Lollobrigida took a break from acting to concentrate on another career: photography. She published a collection of her work in 1973 entitled “Italia Mia.” In America, she starred in Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell.

Silvana Mangano was born in Rome in 1930. In 1947, she participated in the Miss Italia contest, the same year as Gina Lollobrigida; they both lost to Lucia Bosè. Her appearance in the beauty pageant led her to work in films. She reached international stardom thanks to her performance in Riso Amaro (Bitter Rice in the U.S.) in 1949. She later married famed Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis who took charge of most of her career. Although she never became as famous as her contemporaries Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida, she was one of the leading actresses of Italian cinema until the 1970s. She died of lung cancer in 1989.

Virna Lisi was born in 1936 in Ancona. She began her film career in her teens when she was discovered by two producers from Naples. She started by making musical films such as Questa è la vita in 1954, with Totò. In the beginning, she was cast more for her looks than for her talent. She made her entry onto the Hollywood scene when she starred in the comedy How to Murder Your Wife in 1965 and jumped out of a cake into American popularity. She returned to Europe a few years later and sought to obtain more challenging roles in order to change the perception about her. It was in the 1970s that her career renaissance began with a variety of award-winning performances, culminating with the role that brought her the Cannes Film Festival Award and the César Award, La Reine Margot in 1994, where she portrayed Catherine de’ Medici.

Monica Vitti was born in Rome in 1931 and is best known for her roles in films directed by Michelangelo Antonioni during the 1960s and gained international prominence thanks to his award-winning L’avventura in 1960. Vitti and the film were later commemorated on an Italian postage stamp. She switched to comedy and worked with director Mario Monicelli on many films. In 1970, she starred with Marcello Mastroianni in Ettore Scola’s highly successful romantic comedy, Dramma della gelosia. Throughout her career, Vitti has won five David di Donatello Awards for Best Actress, the Career Golden Globe and the Venice Film Festival Career Golden Lion Award.

Claudia Cardinale was born in Tunisia in 1938, of Sicilian parents. Her breakout film was Federico Fellini’s 8½ in 1963. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, she appeared in some of the most acclaimed Italian films, the most famous being ‘The Leopard,’ a tale of Italian politics costarring Burt Lancaster. Cardinale may be best known to American audiences for Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West in 1968. Cardinale has been honored at many film festivals, including the 1993 Venice Film Festival, although she never won an Oscar. In 2011, the Los Angeles Times Magazine named her among the 50 most beautiful women in film history.

Marisa Pavan and Pier Angeli were twin sisters, born in 1932, each achieving stardom in the Italian cinema. Pier’s American debut was in 1951 in the starring role of the film Teresa, for which she won a Golden Globe. Marisa’s breakthrough came in the film The Rose Tattoo in 1955, playing Anna Magnani’s daughter, for which she earned an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe Award.

Monica Bellucci was born in 1964, in Città di Castello, Umbria. She began her career as a fashion model before making a transition to Italian and later Hollywood films. Monica is best known to American audiences for her role in the Matrix films and portrayed Mary Magdalene in The Passion of the Christ in 2004. At age 51, Bellucci played the role of a Bond girl in the 2015 James Bond film Spectre and is often considered among the most beautiful women in the world.

Luciana Paluzzi was born in Rome in 1937. She is best known for playing SPECTRE assassin Fiona Volpe in the fourth James Bond film, Thunderball. Paluzzi expressed amazement at the level of fame, publicity and recognition she received from the movie; but as a result of being in such a popular film, she felt she was taken less seriously as an actress when returning to the Italian film industry.