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The Italian Bombshell Who Proved That Life Is About Much More Than Curves

Portrait of actress Gina Lollobrigida. - Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Portrait of actress Gina Lollobrigida. Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Gina Lollobrigida, who called her rivalry with Sophia Loren a creation of the gossip machine, has had a long and storied life in the limelight

Portrait of actress Gina Lollobrigida. Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Lollobrigida at the vegetable market. Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Caption from LIFE. Visiting an Italian market in city, Gina accepts bold overtures of an admiring vegetable vendor. "See, a fine, beautiful Italian girl," he said. "They all speak very bad Italian here," Gina noted later. Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Lollobrigida inspecting chickens. Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Caption from LIFE. "I don't care if a thousand people look at me," says Gina of oglers she attracted on a walk down King Street. The only unforgivable sin is to mistake her for Sophia Loren. "We are as different as a fine race horse and a goat," Gina says, without specifying which is which. Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Caption from LIFE. A nervous Gina sallies forth for driving lesson in Toronto's traffic, wearing new high-crowned straw hat, piloting a borrowed Cadillac. Milko's coaching rattled her, but she passed test for Canadian license. Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Caption from LIFE. Mobbed by costumed members of a junior theatrical group at a Toronto park, she patiently signs autographs for them. She is resigned to these jobs. "What can I do?" Gina asks, "They all adore me." Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Lollobrigida and her husband Milko Scofic sitting on boat. Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Caption from LIFE. Nuzzled by a tame deer, Gina enjoys a five-day trip to the woods. Her biggest thrill came from seeing northern lights for the first time. "Everything is so peaceful here," she said. "This is good for us all." Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Lollobrigida and her son Milko feeding a deer. Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Lollobrigida taking a photo with one of her cameras. Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Lollobrigida and her son Milko. Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Caption from LIFE. An enthusiastic and expert photographer, Gina pursued son Milko relentlessly during vacation, using four brand-new still and movie cameras. Here her husband, Milko Scofic, helps corner the boy. Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Caption from LIFE. Parting the curtains she bought especially to hide her bedroom on first floor, Gina looks out at knots of people who gathered in front of house. City finally provided a policeman to keep crowds moving. Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Caption from LIFE. Game of hide-and-seek occupies actress and Milko on porch of Toronto home. "I have to be away so much," she says, "that when I'm home I want to take him everywhere, be with him all the time." Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Lollobrigida relaxing at her home in Toronto. Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

When Gina Lollobrigida left her native Italy for Toronto in 1960, LIFE Magazine called her “the most fetching argument ever advanced for liberal immigration policies.” Intended as a compliment then but reading much more like objectification today, the statement certainly captured the mania that surrounded the actress at the height of her career—or at least, the first of her several careers.

Affectionately nicknamed La Lollo and Gina Bambina by her fans, Lollobrigida emerged as a star at around the same time as Sophia Loren, despite being eight years her senior. After placing third in the Miss Italia pageant in 1947, she began acting in Italian films, and then opposite some of America’s biggest leading men: Errol Flynn, Rock Hudson, Frank Sinatra.

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Lollobrigida and Loren shared good looks, sometimes-scarlet coiffures and successful international acting careers, leading to intense speculation about a rivalry. Though Lollobrigida later chalked it up to rumors fanned by Loren’s publicity team, she didn’t quite deny it at the time, telling LIFE, “We are as different as a fine race horse and a goat.”

When LIFE featured the actress at the time of her move to Canada (for the purposes of lower taxes and legal status for her Yugoslavian husband), she was well into a film career that would last another decade before slowing significantly. But Lollobrigida was a reluctant star to begin with, later explaining that she only became an actress “because the public wanted me to be one.”

Having studied art in school before her film career, she went on to pursue sculpting once the demands of being an international sex symbol, for better or for worse, lessened. And her art has been only one of several second-act careers. Lollobrigida became a well-regarded photojournalist in the 1970s, scoring an exclusive interview with Fidel Castro. Having moved back from Canada to Italy, she made a brief detour, in 1999, to run (unsuccessfully) for a seat in European Parliament.

A magazine profile half a century ago may have focused on the oglers and the beauty and the fame, but Lollobrigida has gone on to prove that there was more to her story than her status as a bombshell.

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

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