Anna Magnani - Volcanic sex symbol
Anna Magnani is surely the most unusual sex symbol in film history. Short and not especially attractively built, with big bags under her eyes, she was more suited to one’s image of the prototypical character actress. However, in the 1950s she was unmistakably and undeniably the kind of star who could, without any difficulty, portray women who were able to twirl men around their fingers. In Jean Renoir’s The Golden Coach her charm was sufficient to rock a South American state, and in Wild Is the Wind she was pestered by Anthony Quinn and Anthony Franciosa, while in The Fugitive Kind the tired adventurer Brando loved resting in her arms. At a time when Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida and Silvana Mangano, actresses of much more bombastic erotic charms, ruled, Anna Magnani managed to get her hands on a piece of the crown, and not only because of her superior talent. She was even very sexy to Americans: with her role as a widow in The Rose Tattoo she enchanted Burt Lancaster and won an Oscar; twice she was a presenter at the Oscar ceremonies which, at the time, had not yet become a TV phenomenon. Not all her secrets lay in her legendary volcanic temperament: when she fell silent (which did not happen very often) and let the camera rest on her face, anybody could see that she was a beautiful woman.
Her days of fame came relatively late. She was already 37 when Roberto Rossellini chose her for the role of Pina in Rome, The Open City. What did she do before that? Not much. She mostly acted in theatre and first appeared in a bigger role in 1941 in Vittorio De Sica’s Teresa Venerdě. The breakthrough film of Italian neorealism, Rome, The Open City, was useful to both the director and the actress (they were in a relationship until he met Ingrid Bergman). In only a brief instant the whole world’s film and theatre elite gathered around her. Jean Renoir thought she was the greatest actress he had ever worked with, Luchino Visconti compensated for his oversight in Ossessione (she was supposed to play the leading role instead of Clara Calamai) in Bellissima. However, her most important friendship was with Tennessee Williams. The legendary dramatist wrote the character of Seraphine in The Rose Tattoo for her, secretly hoping she would play her on Broadway, for which she did not speak good enough English. When in the mid-1950s they began to work on the film adaptation of the play, her English was no longer a problem. The Fugitive Kind (i.e. Orpheus Descending) was another impressive collaboration between the two. Their friendship was the theme of a theater play Roman Nights by Franco D'Alessandro.
Even though the last important film in her career is Stanley Kramer’s war comedy The Secret of Santa Vittoria (she was nominated for a Golden Globe for that role), Anna Magnani began avoiding cameras after her 1962 role in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film Mamma Roma (it is possibly noteworthy that gay artists enjoyed putting her at the center of their dramas). She said she was tired of playing hysterical, loudmouthed working class women, which was a shame. From then on she devoted her career to theatre and television. She died in Rome, the city of her birth, in 1973. (Nenad Polimac)