Anna Magnani (March 7th, 1908 – September 26, 1973) is not only an explosive force – an exceptional phenomenon because of the fire of her thousand gestures, her thousand instinctive expressions – but also an actress of the first rank who tempers every effect, filters her emotions and reactions through a careful construction of the character of the personage.
Born in Rome, daughter of Pietro Del Duce from Calabria and Marina Magnani from Romagna, was raised by her grandmother. After contemplating a career as a pianist, she studied for two years at the Academy of Dramatic Arts (Reale Scuola di recitazione Eleonora Duse) in Rome.
Magnani began her professional career in 1927 becoming part of Dario Niccodemi’s Italian Drama Company which she remains until 1930. During the thirties, her theatrical roles gradually increased as she alternated between serious drama and singing and clowning in satirical revues. It was in one of these plays that her fiery temperament aroused the attention of her future husband, film director Goffredo Alessandrini. Her first appearance in a film is in Nunzio Malasomma’s The Blind Woman of Sorrento (1934).
In 1941 Magnani appeared in Vittorio De Sica’s Doctor, Beware, which hinted at the satirical wit that had made her popular on the stage. It was Rossellini’s Open City (1945) and the birth of Italian neo-realism, however, that instantly made her a screen star acclaimed by critics and audiences alike on both sides of the Atlantic. Her performance on Open City won her the National Board of Review award as the best foreign actress of the year. In 1947 Magnani was awarded Italy’s Silver Ribbon (Italian Oscar) for Rossellini’s Love, a film in two segments (The Human Voice and The Miracle).
The seven years following Open City were the most prolific period in Magnani’s career; she made over a dozen films. Through her strikingly instinctual approach to acting, fueled by a primal emotional force, the actress came to symbolize the national spirit of her homeland during the postwar years. Celebrated for her candor, spontaneity, and naturalism Magnani became the first screen performer of her nation to achieve international stature.