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!”