Italian beauty queen who became a screen sex siren
Published 17/01/2016 | 02:30
Silvana Pampanini, who has died aged 90, was an Italian beauty queen who turned her wide-eyed good looks to advantage to become the country's most popular screen sex goddess in the early post-war years.
She came to public attention in 1946 when her failure to win the Miss Italy title caused a public outcry and near riot (the jury's decision was subsequently overturned and she became joint winner). Tabloid press reports of the time illustrated their howls of outrage with photographs showing her sensual and voluptuous figure.
After making her film debut the following year in L'apocalisse (1947), followed by a leading role in Il segreto di Don Giovanni ("When Love Calls") with Gino Bechi, from then until the mid-1960s she appeared in more than 50 films - seven or eight a year in the early 1950s - scoring her first international success with the Mario Soldati comedy OK Nerone ("OK Nero") as the Empress Poppea opposite Gino Cervi's Nero. She began to be seen around the world as a symbol of Italian beauty, preparing the ground for Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren (another former Miss Italy contestant), both of whom appeared as extras in some of Silvana Pampanini's early films.
Silvana Pampanini worked with, among others, Buster Keaton, Marcello Mastroianni, Alberto Sordi, Jean Gabin and the comedian Toto, who, she claimed, had proposed marriage on the set of 47 morto che parla (1950). She was said to have been the inspiration for Toto's Malafemmena ("Bad Girl"), a popular song which has been covered by dozens of Italian artists.
Silvana Pampanini worked in Italy, Spain, and Latin American countries, and also in France, where she was nicknamed "Nini Pampan". She visited Hollywood in 1955, but turned down job offers after she was told she would have to take lessons in English.
Her best known films included Luigi Zampa's The City Stands Trial (1952), Giuseppe De Santis's A Husband for Anna (1953), in which she co-starred with Massimo Girotti as a beautiful young working-class Neapolitan woman in search of a husband, and De Santis's "slice of life" drama The Year Long Road (1958), a Yugoslavian-Italian co-production which won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Silvana Pampanini's film career, though intense, did not last long and in the mid-1960s she left the cinema to care for her elderly parents.
Silvana Pampanini was born on September 25, 1925 in Rome, where her father, a typesetter, had moved from Venice. She was sometimes described as the niece of the Italian soprano Rosetta Pampanini.
There seems to be some doubt on this score, even though she began her own career as a singer, studying at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. It was her voice teacher who suggested she enter the Miss Italy competition.
During her heyday the gossips eagerly chronicled romances with, among others, Ahmad Shah Khan, Crown Prince of Afghanistan (who, she said, had a "thing" for her hands: "Imagine there was all of me, and he liked my hands"). Other admirers were said to include Tyrone Power, William Holden, George DeWitt, Omar Sharif, Orson Welles, Fidel Castro and King Farouq of Egypt.
As Silvana was reported to be a devout Catholic, however, it seems doubtful whether these relationships went much further than flirtation. Her memoirs, published in 1996, were entitled Scandalosamente perbene ("Shockingly Respectable").
After her retirement from the big screen she worked occasionally on radio and television.
In 2003 she was appointed Grande ufficiale dell'ordine al merito della Repubblica Italiana by President Ciampi.
She never married and died on January 6.