Two weeks before The Rose Tattoo was scheduled to be premiered, its brilliant leading lady, Anna Magnani, received a phone call in Rome.
“Annarella,” began Pilado Levi, Paramount’s representative in Italy, “the studio is opening Rose Tattoo in New York. They want to fly you there.”
“It’s impossible,” Anna Magnani said.
“But it’s very important,” Pilado Levi said. “You are the star. You must be at the premiere. They will pay everything.”
There was a pause, and then Annarella shouted, “You must be crazy. Christmas is coming. Christmas I spend with Luca. There is nothing, nothing in the world that would take me away from my son on Christmas.”
Anna Magnani has a thirteen-year-old boy named Luca, living with the family of Nina Gravatti in Lausanne, Switzerland. Luca is badly crippled, the result of a polio attack when he was two.
The boy cannot walk without heavy steel braces, and the doctors, for the most part, have given up hope that he ever will. But Anna Magnani fiercely insists that sometime her Luca will walk again.
Last December after she turned down the appearance at the New York premiere of Tattoo, she and a girl friend left for Switzerland.
They arrived the day before Christmas and were met at the Lausanne station by Professor Nicod and Luca. A few weeks previously, the professor had operated on the boy. As Magnani stepped down from the train Luca held out his arms. Magnani ran to him, covered his face with kisses. Excitedly Luca told about his latest operation. His feet, formerly pointing outward, were now straight. With leg braces he would soon be able to stand for longer periods of time.
Anna suggested an immediate celebration, but Professor Nicod told her the boy was too tired. Why not postpone the party until after Christmas?
Reluctantly, Magnani agreed. But on Christmas Eve, dining with her friend in one of Lausanne’s best restaurants, Anna was seized by a sudden, uncontrollable desire to see her boy, to be with him, to have Luca next to her. Jumping to her feet, she announced sharply, “It is impossible to be here without my son.” And with that she bustled out of the restaurant.
Less than an hour later, Anna Magnani and her smiling Luca were sitting in the Grappe D’Or. Luca ordered a chocolate sundae and downed it rapidly.
Next day at Gravatti’s, Luca opened the Christmas presents from his mother: books, clothes, and best of all a pellet-shooting air pistol. Watching her boy, Anna shamelessly shed tears of happiness. Bringing joy to her son meant so much more than any possible trip to New York, any joy to herself.
Christmas over, Anna Magnani returned to Rome, where much to her surprise she learned that a news magazine had awarded her “the golden violet” for being Italy’s most exemplary mother.
And then when she heard she’d won the coveted Oscar, Anna in her excitement said, “Everything I have done is for my Luca.” Whereupon she immediately put in a long-distance call to him, saying, “He’ll be crazy about this. It will be his greatest Easter present.”