Anna Magnani


1. – Clara Calamai, Obsessione, Italy, 1942.    Magnani was pregnant from her affair with matinee idol Massimo Serato.  Director Luchino Visconti told her to choose between film and baby!  Naturally, she chose her son (Luca, a future polio victim), saying the script (like Count Don Luchino Visconti Di Modrone) “had no heart.” This was The Postman Always Rings Twice – Italian Style (ie not paying for the novel’s rights). Visconti’s first film ran into loads of trouble.  First,  he couldn’t  get Magnani for  the adulterous Giovanna. Next, Mussolini’s Fascists destroyed the negative. Finally,  the  US publishers of author James M Cain halted  any US release for… 37 years! The sensual Calamai was the first Italian diva to go topless – in Blasetti’s La Cena delle beffe, 1942.  Visconti never forgot her: calling her back for Le notti bianche (White Nights), 1957, and his Witches sketch, 1967.

2. – Clara Calamai, L’Adultera (The Adulteress), Italy, 1946.      In 1945, La Magnani had replaced La Calamai in Rossellini’s celebrated Roma città aperta (Rome, Open City).  Now Clara replaced Magnani… and won the Nastro d’Artento as 1946’s best actress.  Revenge had never been so sweet. 

3. – Gina Lollobrigida, Campane a martello/Children of Chance, Italy, 1949.    The prostitute finding that her priest used all her savings to build an orphanage was written for Magnani until producer Carlo Ponti elected to save money on a more beauteous unknown. It was La Lollo’s tenth film, first of five for Ponti. “With him, I made my worst pictures. He didn’t believe in my possibilities.”  Rubbish! He  produced her 1954 breakthrough, La Romana/Woman of Rome… when she was no longer being dubbed as here by Adriena Pagrrella.  He just (later) believed more in the potential  of  his bride to be, Sophia Loren.

4. –  Ingrid Bergman, Stromboli, Italy, 1950.    What to do when a superstar offers to work for you?  Magnani was dropped from bed and Terra di Dio/God’s Earth. The ensuing Bergman-Rossellini love affair was not troubled by Anna making much the same script – but with a Hollywood director William Dieterle!  They called it  Vulcano, so Ingrid ‘s rapidly became Stromboli… as she was Hollywood blacklisted for something apparently  more heinous and harmful to  the powerful USA  than having had Communist  sympathies…  for being pregnant by her lover, before divorcing her husband.  Oh, the scandal! Oh, the horror!  Oh, the hypocrisy! She was finally  forgiven with an Oscar for Anastasia in 1956.

5. – Jo Van Fleet, The Sea Wall, Italy-France-USA, 1956.   Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis wanted James Dean as his hero – and had even  signed Jo Van Fleet to play his mother (as she had in East of Eden) after Magnani bowed out.

6. – Giulietta Masina, Le Notti di Cabriria, Italy/France, 1957.   “Fedrico, can you honestly see someone like me…  locked in the john by some bastard actor?”  Hard to imagine anyone other than Signora Fellini in his seventh film,  having already been Cabriria in his first, The White Sheik, 1952.  However, his little, Chaplinesque tart was created in two scripts – for Magnani. She chose the second (L’Amore, 1948), where she expects a divine baby by a vagabond (played by Fellini) she believes to be St Joseph.

7. –  Sophia Loren, La Ciorciara/Two Women, 1960.  

“Don’t  make  me  vomit,”  Anna howled at producer Carlo Ponti… Since netting the 1955 Oscar for The Rose Tattoo, Magnani’s career was in meltdown and she made the error of her life. Her fierce  jealousy of the rise of Loren (fostered by Ponti) was not helped when Carlo offered her  his  dream  package: George Cukor directing Alberto Moravia’s novel, with Magnani and Loren as  mother and 17-year-old  daughter. “I’m too young to be her mother.  [She  was 52, Loren’s mother was then 47]. That cow should play the mother.” Now there’s an idea, said then next director, Vittorio De Sica!  Result: Best actress awards at Cannes, Cork festivals, the British Film Academy and  the first Oscar won by an actress in a foreign language  film.  And sullen silence from Magnani.


  (Clic to enlarge)  

* “I’m too young to be her mother,” screamed Magnani when offered Two Women, 1960, with Sophia Loren as her daughter.  “Don’t  make  me  vomit… That cow should play the mother.” Sophia did resulting in an historic  first Oscar won by an actress in a foreign language  film…  and in a dress not unlike that worn  by Magnani in Bellissima,  1951.

[courtesy Daniel Bouteiller/
Telé Ciné Documentation]



7. – Regine Lutz,Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder, East Germany, 1961.   Not, as would be expected, for the title role!   German stage star Helene Weigel created her husband Bertold Brecht’s heroine on-stage, and would be Mother Courage in the film – no question about that since the first plans (by two Danes) tried to adapt Brecht’s play in 1949.   No script was ready until ’62,  when Anna Magnani was an inevitable choice for the hooker Yvette (even though Yvette was French). Except both Luchino Visconti and Giuseppe de Santis refused to party. Next choice was Simone Signoret.  German director Wolfgang Staudte lost control and fled after 12 days of La Weigel refusing to be on-set for any close-ups other than her own. Finally, the diva filmed her most famous role for   Peter Paliotzsch and German Manfred Wekwerth in ’61.

8. – Noel Coward, Boom!, 1968. How could she hope to compete with co-stars like the Burtons (Rich and Richer).And so, The Witch of Capribecame The Master’s penultimate role. 

9. – Virna Lisi, La Reine Margot, France, 1993.Back in 1953, French cinema legend Marcel Carné was preparing his version of the Dumas tale – with Magnani as Catherine de Medicis – when his producer’s bad health, physical and financial, aborted their three-film contract.  Forty years later in Claude Berri’s production, Lisi won various prizes for her Catherine, even beating the titular Isabel Adjani to Best Actress at the 1954 Cannes festival.

 Birth year: 1908Death year: 1973Other name: Casting Calls:  9