Anna Magnani Says Au Revoir to Town

“Maybe I will come back in October,” Anna Magnani said, shortly before departing here after the completion of The Rose Tattoo.


The Rose Tattoo, Anna Magnani on set

Hollywood, January, 1955

Many an actress may say that she has a devoted her life to art, rather than to money, but there’s only one whose co-workers have come forward to say they believe her.

The actress is Italy’s Anna Magnani, and the co-workers are at Paramount studios where Miss Magnani is making her Hollywood debut in The Rose Tattoo.

With Miss Magnani, it was agreed, a total lack of vanity permits her to dedicate herself completely to the role she is portraying. She rejects the usual makeup and doesn’t worry about camera angles, studio employers have learned.

The net result has been something of a surprise to personnel on the Hal Wallis production in VistaVision, especially to its director, Daniel Mann.

“Never — on stage or screen — have I seen an actress who trows herself into a part so completely that she loses all thought of herself,” Mann said. “She’s never conscious of how she looks, or thinks like how the camera angle hits her. The average actress will let a thought creep into her mind about her gestures or delivery but not Magnani. She loses herself in the character she’s playing.”

In one scene she smeared dirt on her face, wouldn’t let her hair be combed and personally selected ill-fitting slips and unattractive dresses.

In scenes where she is supposed to present Latin charm, Miss Magnani went all out in comparison. She wore an attractive dress, her hair was put up, and even some lipstick was added. For her this was nearly a revolution. For most Hollywood actresses it would be the same as no makeup.

“Maybe I will come back in October,” Anna Magnani said, shortly before departing here after the completion of The Rose Tattoo.

“I ask him (Wallis) something and he is happy to give me that I ask,” Italy’s greatest female star continued. One of her requests was for a 10 a.m. starting tome. She got it. In Europe, it seems, shooting begins at noon and then “goes on without stopping. I think is much better.”

I asked if Serafina, her Gulf Coast dressmaker role in Tattoo, was close to the Italian and Miss Magnani retorted, “She IS Italian woman — Sicilian, even stronger, more passionate than Italian.” And she reminded me that Tennessee Williams wrote his play originally with her in mind.

“I begin to learn English three years ago, for The Golden Coach. But role was so little compared to this I have to start all over again, three months before I come to America.”

Her best part? “I can’t tell dis. I love all parts even if didn’t come out, I like to play comical, too. Bellissima was comical, also tragical.” Tragical, of course, were Open City and The Miracle, her famous imports. An episode in We Women, not yet shown here, is comical, being based on her own experience with a taxi driver who insisted on collecting extra fare for her “tiny little lap dog.” Starred in other episodes are Isa Miranda, Alida Valli and Ingrid Bergman.

Miss Magnani, divorced from Film Director Goffredo Alessandrini, spoke tenderly of her 12-year-old son, a victim of polio.

“He likes pictures; he has little movie camera,” she said. “Now he wants projector. He writes, ‘Don’t be too tired.’ I’m so happy cause for him I am so beautiful. No one has told me I am beautiful as my son has.”

The boy is able to walk, but “not so good.” It is “too late” for Warm Springs, but Miss Magnani would like to bring him over to American doctors next time she comes. “They are doing here such wonderful operations.”

American audiences she found very intelligent, very sensitive. And Hollywood is “not so different” from Europe: “They have everything for to make a good picture in this country—why not!” But “Desiree was an insult;” she felt “so sorry” for Marlon Brando, a great artist in On the Waterfront.

Would she like to make a film with him?

The black eyes and white teeth flashed a smile: “Si!”

Anna Magnani: I like to be free, I want to be alone

“What is age?” she quipped, “If a woman is interesting, then she is interesting to a man at any age.”

Anna Magnani & Burt Lancaster, The Rose Tattoo
Anna Magnani & Burt Lancaster, The Rose Tattoo, publicity still.

Hollywood, California, January 1955

The impulsive Anna Magnani has completed Rose Tattoo and leaves for Italy next week. She’ll be gone but no forgotten. She has to return to Italy to do an independent picture called Grace, but she is coming back in October.
Her return to Hollywood is not because che is interested in living here or making motion pictures. She wants to bring her 12-year-old son, Luca, back with her for therapy to overcome the last effects of the little boy’s polio. She’ll enroll him in school here, and, of course, will make another picture.

Italian actress disclosed today she is living off with carrots and water in a last-ditch effort to achieve that American school girl figure.

“I want to be thin,” she confessed in her swank Beverly Hills hotel suite. “It is my dream
I am eating hardly nothing, not even spaghetti.”

Anna, who has picked up quite a bit of Yankee slang since her arrival in Hollywood three months ago, insists she is going to lose 10 pounds “or bust.” She now weighs 125 pounds.

“I never think too much about my figure before I come to this country, but now I am sure my shape is too continental, ” she said.

Other dream girls with continental contours include Gina Lollobrigida and Silvana Mangano, but actress Magnani thinks the ideal figure of all time belonged to the late platinum blonde, Jean Harlow.

“I should have a figure like that,” she nodded, “That was the most beautiful ever on the screen”.

So far as one can tell, this new desire to be thin is the only major change that has come over Anna Magnani since she arrived in Hollywood in co-star in Hal Wallis, The Rose Tattoo.

The Italian star was wearing the same casual clothes, the same un-hairdo and the same no-makeup.

“Just a little soap and water and a dab of powder, that’s alla any woman needs,” she said.

A friend who dropped by to say hello explained at this point that Paramount photographers practically had to force her to put on makeup for a series of glamour shots needed for publicity purposes.

The female figure is not the only subject Magnani has definite ideas about. She’s against marriage because it “is like a prison.”

“I like to be free.” she said, and like another famed thespian, added:

“I want to be alone.”

Anna may want to be alone, but she remains one of the most admired and sought after women. Although she is in her mid-40s, she flits madly about in a powerful racing car and often dances until dawn like the original 10-year-old skip-rope kid.

She has definite ideas about age, too.

“What is age?” she quipped, “If a woman is interesting, then she is interesting to a man at any age.”

Volcano with Anna Magnani

Anna Magnani, the well known Italian actress, is outstanding as the fallen woman, and one feels considerable sympathy for her

Volcano directed by William Dieterle with Anna Magnani

June 1953

An interesting but sordid and unpleasant melodrama of love and murder, produced in Italy and expertly dubbed in English. Its story about a prostitute who commits murder to prevent her younger sister from falling into a life of sin has a fascinating quality, mainly because of the unusual locale — a real barren volcanic island, where the natives depend on deep-sea fishing and pumice stone quarrying for their existence. Fascinating as they are, however, the stress placed on the authentic settings, the habits of the islanders and their industries tends to detract from the story’s emotional quality — a condition that could be corrected by some judicious cutting. Anna Magnani, the well known Italian actress, is outstanding as the fallen woman, and one feels considerable sympathy for her because of the manner in which she is shunned by the narrow minded islanders. Geraldine Brooks, too, turns in a fine performance as the head-strong younger sister, and so does Rossano Brazzi, as a deep-sea diver who pursues her. The direction is good, and the photography fine.


Back in 1949, while Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini were raising eyebrows with their Stromboli collaboration, Anna Magnani, an earlier Rossellini discovery, was furiously at work on another Aeolian island filming Volcano.
Stromboli has, of course, come and gone, a sorry testament to two great talents. Volcano, so far as can be ascertained, just got around to its American premiere at the Studio Saturday.
As a Magnani admirer since she made her screen mark in Open City, it would be a pleasure to be able to report that she scores a resounding triumph under the highly explosive conditions surrounding production of Volcano. The plan truth, alas, is otherwise. For neither the fiery Italian actress nor those involved with her in this jerrybuilt yarn of a strumpet returned by the Naples police to the island of birth, manage to breathe conviction into their roles.
The dialogue is in English—and such English!— while from the sound track comes a variety of weird and disruptive accents, some obviously from dubbed-in voices of off-screen players, some of the actual speech of English-speaking members of the cast. Twice, Magnani‘s own distinctive voice is recognizable: once in a drunken singing bout, again when after murdering her sister’s would-be betrayer she climbs toward the volcano’s crater muttering “mia culpa, mia culpa.” What comes from her embittered lips the rest of her time is astounding.
The script, hammered together by writers who should have known better, and embellished with additional dialogue by Erskine Caldwell who seems to have mistaken Italy for Tobacco Road, revolves about the tramp who turns out to be noblest person on her natal isle. The virtuous fiends kill her little dog, won’t speak to her or let her enter the church. But that doesn’t stop Maddalena from saving her sister from sin and for the boy friend who went off a few years ago to America.
Produced and directed by Hollywood’s William Dieterle (who probably by now wishes he had stayed home), Magnani‘s supporting cast includes Geraldine Brooks, Rossano Brazzi, Enzo Staiola (the Bicycle Thief‘s boy), and, in addition to numerous seeming amateurs, Eduardo Ciannelli.

New York Makes a Hit With Anna Magnani

I like your New York. I would like to come back to this country when I could be free to be free.

Anna Magnani New York April 1953

New York, April 1953

“I love your skyscrapers they are like stretching tentacles, pleading for the sky,” said the world’s highest paid actress.

Then Anna Magnani of Italy leaned back in bed and took a thoughtful puff on her cigar. So I leaned back, too—in a chair by the bed—and took a puff on the cigar she had given me.

It actually is called a cigarillo—a slender plastic-tipped cigar no larger than a king-size cigarette and popular with both men and women in parts of Europe. Anna likes them, but smokes inly two or three a week. “They are sento to me by my favorite admirer—my son, Luca,” she explained. Luca, who is 11, is in school in Switzerland.

Anna, who recently completed an Italian film called Bellissima, was so worn out by her first five days in America that when I called at her hotel suite she decided to be interviewed in bed.

She wore yellow pajamas trimmed in blue. She has a long midnight mane, framing a face od Roman gold, and as she learned back against the pillow she looked like a tawny, well-fed lioness—violence in repose.

“First, I interview you,” said Anna, “You like Italian women?”


That ender her interview. So I took up the questioning.

“Do you like American men?”

“I would like to marry one and find out. ”

If she does, he’ll be a lucky fellow, Anna is reported to get $125,000 a picture, plus $1000 a day overtime, and the Italian income tax is hardly even the nuisance that a sales tax is in this country. One American spaghetti manufacturer is said to have phoned her and asked what she would want to indorse his product.

“Oh, about $50,000,” said Anna.

The startled manufacturer murmured, “Wrong number,” and hung up.

Anna is willing to make a film here, even at financial sacrifice.

“It depends on the artistic freedom I would have,” she said. “With me freedom is everything. I must be free.”

A gleam came into her eyes—which look like two BB pellets or spots of black caviar sunk in amber pools. She is a temperamental as Tallulah Bankhead.

“I like your New York,” she said. “It has more personality than Paris. Rome lets herself be loved like a woman. But New York is fascinating, because it is so big and violent like… like… some men.
“But it is so noisy. Two pigeons on the ledge works me up this morning quarrelling. They were husband and wife. He was jealous. She must have betrayed him.”

Anna lives in a five-room penthouse built on an old palace in Rome. She says she prefers small towns, because she has a fear of distance and bigness, but loves to prowl cities at night.

“At night a city is free to live for itself,” she explained. “But in the daytime a city only works for the people in it.”

As I started to leave, Anna exploded like a volcano. She leaped to her feet, bounced up and down on the bed, shook hands, pulled a hank of her black hair across her face to make e Hitlerian mustache, and broke out in laughter.

Twisting her luxuriant hair is one of her child-like mannerisms. I asked her why she did.

“It keeps me company,” she said. “Goodby. They make me do too many things. Some time I would like to come back to this country when I could be free to be free.”

Hal Boyle

Anna Magnani in America

“In America mi sentirei sola come un cane senza padrone. Spaesata, sola, indifesa. Hollywood divora gli attori, con le tendini, le ossa e il cuore”

Anna Magnani ed il regista John Ford sull'Andrea Doria
Anna Magnani ed il regista John Ford sull’Andrea Doria

Aprile 1953

Anna Magnani è partita per Nuova York. Se le notizie diramate a proposito di questo viaggio sono esatte, l’attrice si ripromette il soggiorno di un mese in America, dove assisterà alla presentazione del film di Visconti, Bellissima, da lei interpretato. Altre notizie giunte da Genova (donde la Magnani è partita a bordo dell’Andrea Doria) aggiungono che non è da escludere una sua scrittura a Hollywood, dove la si vorrebbe protagonista di un film americano. Per quanto noi possiamo saperne, queste informazioni sono inesatte; saremmo più espliciti, asserendo che si tratta d’una sciocchezza.

Una sciocchezza, anzitutto, in linea di fatto: è noto che la Magnani ha assunto vari impegni a breve scadenza, in Italia, e fra l’altro, l’impegno di un ritorno agli spettacoli teatrali. (Come la Bergman, che sarà, quanto prima, al San Carlo di Napoli, la protagonista di Giovanna al rogo di Honegger, anche Nannarella è colta dalla nostalgia della ribalta). Ma si tratta, egualmente, d’una sciocchezza in linea d’ipotesi. Tempo fa, a Roma, in un colloquio che noi avemmo con la Magnani a proposito della possibilità di un suo temporaneo trasferimento all’estero, e particolarmente a Hollywood, appunto per partecipare all’uno o all’altro dei film che le erano stati proposti, ella ci disse un «no» che era una decisione definitiva. Definitiva e convincente.

«In America mi sentirei sola come un cane senza padrone. Spaesata, sola, indifesa. Hollywood, dice taluno, divora gli attori, con le tendini, le ossa e il cuore. Livella, sostengono, le personalità di ciascuno, togliendo loro i succhi vitali, ora, è chiaro che i miei succhi sono italiani e inaridirli significa inaridire tutta me stessa. Ammiro i film americani, quando sono belli, ma non vedo come possa inserirmi in essi. Comunque, se non ci andrò ad Hollywood — almeno se non ci andrò a lavorare — è principalmente per questo: per non sentirmi sola».

Chi conosce Anna Magnani — e conoscerla nell’arte sua significa un poco nella vita privata, tanto le due cose hanno modo di coincidere, in lei — non stenta a capire questo suo angoscioso timore della solitudine. Che abbia necessità, per esprimersi, di sentire fortemente avvinta alle sue radici è dimostrato dalla sua partecipazione a La carrozza d’oro, in cui la sua spontaneità, compromessa dal clima del film, a lei estraneo, fu messa a dura prova e si salvò, a stento, nelle risorse della classe. Pensiamo che, coerente con se stessa, ella non accetterà scritture americane. Che se invece cedesse alle lusinghe della tentazione sarebbe proprio lei a sbagliarsi. Ma non lo farà; è troppo accorta e giudiziosa per farlo.

Bellissima Human Drama

Anna Magnani prize-winning actress in striking interpretation of motherhood. Her vivid touching performance makes this film one of Italy’s all-time best.

Walter Chiari, Tina Apicella, Anna Magnani at the Cinecittà Studios in Rome

New York, May 1953

Il can be truthfully said that Bellissima, the new Italian film at the Trans Lux 60th St., glorifies motherhood, but —all praise to Anna Magnani the star; Cesare Zavattini, the writer of the screen play, and Luchino Visconti, the director— there isn’t an ounce of sentimentality in the picture. Sentiment, yes; vivid emotion, oh my yes; brillant handling of the relationship  of mother and child most decidedly yes. Bellissima achieves something that has often been reached for in a film; but is seldom realized: a characterization of universal womanhood at its best. With Anna Magnani as the mother, this universal woman is also an earthy character, aggressive, quarrelsome, passionate, loud violent, with a broad streak of humor. She’s a conniver, who will double-cross her own husband if she thinks it wild benefit her children: she’ll do anything for the youngster but —and this is the crux of the story— she’ll make any sacrifice rather than imperil her child’s happiness.

Bellissima is a fiery drama which has so little plot that its hold on the imagination os nothing short of phenomenal. It’s the story of a movie-fan of a mother, who tries to win security for her five-year old daughter by getting her into pictures. Just as she gets the offer she has been phenagling for, she realizes that, psychologically, it’s not, the best thing for the child, and turns down the contract.

The mother does not put in this way in explaining her action to herself and others. Her abrupt refusal to accept what she worked so furiously to get is based simply on her fact that studio heads find her child’s screen test comic. They laugh at the kid, make fun of her looks and awkwardness, not knowing the mother is within earshot. They find they have a place just such a comically unattractive child, bu the mother will have none of it. It one of the picture’s great scenes, the greatest of all, she says, with the quiet dignity, the of her and the child’s father the little girl is the most beautiful child in the world, and she won’t have her laughed at.

Most of the action takes place  at the Cinecittà Studios in Rome, the center of Italian film-making, with a few excursions to the tenement home where Miss Magnani and Gastone Renzelli, as her husband, are saving and making plans for a home of their own. The mother doesn’t hesitate to use her savings, unknown to her husband, to pay for diction and dancing lessons and beauty treatments for the youngster and to bribe a studio hanger-on, Walter Chiari, a young man who claims to have the contacts that will further the chid’s career.

A great deal of this realistic Italian import is very funny, but there is no straining for humor, it’s the natural result of the mistaken ambition of a not too well informed mother and the efforts of a plain, untalented child to do as she is asked. But under the broad comedy and the sharp  satire, aimed at too-ambitious mother and child stars in general, there is always an undercurrent of deep pathos.

Anna Magnani, who last year received the Italian Silver Ribbon, comparable to the Hollywood Oscar, for her performance in this film, lives up to her reputation as Italy’s most distinguished dramatic actress. In three scenes, in particular, she is superb. Two deal with her disillusionment with a film career for her child, and in one she tells off the studio heads in a wild burst of fury, the little girl clutched to her heart. In the other she refuses the contract in her own home, surrounded by her husband and neighbors, but this time her manner is one quiet dignity, following a storm of weeping on a park bench.
The third scene is in humorous vein and has Miss Magnani and Chiari, the studio opportunist, in a river bank, with the young man propositioning the woman and getting a most amusing brushoff.

The rest is an objet lesson in excellent casting. Besides those already mentioned, Alessandro Blasetti is a standout in the role of a director. He should be, since he is in real life one of Italy’s top film directors. Little Tina Apicella plays Miss Magnani child and she is just as she should be —plain, pathetic and childish. Luchino Visconti, the director, known as one of Italian realism, has given Bellissima vital direction, and Zavattini screen play is an understanding, witty human document. Dialogue is in Italian, with unusually spirited English titles.

Bellissima belongs among the top ranking Italian films. It is easily the best so far this year.

J. Corby

Anna Magnani Scores As Bellissima Star

Anna dominates the picture, but not to the extent that the other performers  are completely overshadowed.

Anna Magnani in Bellissima by Luchino Visconti

New York, May 17, 1953

Anna Magnani came, saw and conquered New York, leaving behind an impression of a tremendously vital personality. She is now back in Italy, but an aura of the great Magnani remains here on Bellissima, Anna‘s latest starring picture, which had its first American exhibition at the Trans-Lux 60th Street Theatre yesterday. It is being released by Italian Films Export Company.

Bellissima was written and designed to display Anna‘s virtuosity as an actress. In it, she runs the gamut of emotional histrionics as a determined mother whose frantic efforts to have the world acknowledge her little ugly-duckling of a daughter as a beautiful and accomplished child bring her only tears and near-heartbreak.

The idea conceived by Cesare Zavattini is a fine subject for satire but, like most Italian directors, Luchino Visconti has a fancy for crowding the screen with shrieking, hysterical people, so, some of the finer points of the story are lost in scenes that develop into sheer bedlam. This is Italian realism, no doubt, but it is hard on the nerves of an American audience.

In spite of the noise and hysteria that run rampant through the picture, Anna gives a fine and affecting performance of a woman obsessed by the idea that her homely, ungainly daughter, Maria, is so beautiful and graceful that she is destined to become a famous child star of the screen. She fights her way into a movie studio, after a call for a child actress has been broadcast, and keeps on fighting to have Maria  given consideration by the director of the picture. Everything she does to improve Maria’s looks and posture turns out disastrously, and the final humiliation comes when she makes her way into a screening room, where her daughter’s test is on display, and discovers that the child’s picture has sent the director and his cohorts into hysterical laughter.

Anna dominates the picture, but not to the extent that the other performers  are completely overshadowed. The child is well represented on the screen by an appealing youngster, Tina Apicella, Gastone Renzelli is good in his first screen role, as the child ‘s father and Anna‘s husband, Walter Chiari plays an unscrupulous actor effectively and Alessandro Blasetti and Tecla Scarano help to make Bellissima into a touching and amusing film.

Kate Cameron