The Italian Almanac

Anna Magnani

Anna on Wikipedia

Anna Magnani

Anna was born in Rome, not in Egypt, as some biographies claim, on March 7, 1908. She was the illegitimate child of Marina Magnani and an unknown father, often said to be from Alexandria, Egypt, but whom Anna herself claimed was from the Calabria region of Italy (although she never knew his name).
Raised in poverty by her maternal grandmother in Rome after her mother left her, she worked her way through Rome's Academy of Dramatic Art by singing in cabarets and nightclubs; then began touring the countryside with small repertory companies.

Although she had a small role in a silent film in the late 1920s, she was not known as a film actress until 1941's "Teresa Venerdi", directed by Vittorio DeSica.
Her breakthrough film was Roberto Rossellini's "Open City" in 1945, generally regarded as the first commercially successful Italian neorealist film of the postwar years. It was the film that gained her an international reputation. From then on, she never stopped working in films and in television, winning an Academy Award for her performance in the screen version of Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo (she and Williams were close friends), and working all of Italy's leading directors of the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. She was famous for her earthy, passionate, woman-of-the-soil" roles.
She and Rossellini were lovers for some years after Open City, until he began his infamous affair with Ingrid Bergman. Anna had one child out of wedlock by Italian actor Massimo Serato, the boy later stricken with polio and Anna dedicating her life to caring for him. Her one marriage, to Italian director Goffredo Alessandrini in the mid 1930s, lasted only a short while and ended in an annulment.
Her last film was Fellini's Roma, in 1972. She died in Rome of a pancreatic tumor the next year.

Tennessee Williams, after meeting her, said, "I never saw a more beautiful woman, enourmous eyes, skin the color of Devonshire cream." Her friendship with Tennessee Williams was the subject of an Off-Broadway play in New York, Roman Nights, by Franco D'Alessandro, which starred Franca Barchiesi as Magnani and Roy Miller as Tennessee Williams.

Convinced that she would never win the Oscar for "The Rose Tattoo," she didn't attend the ceremony, and the reporter who woke her out of a sound sleep in Rome to give her the news had a difficult time convincing her he wasn't kidding. "You're lying," Magnini supposedly said. "If this is a joke, I'll kill you!"

Tennessee Williams wrote the role of Serafina in his play "The Rose Tattoo" for Anna Magnani, but her English skills were too limited to appear in the 1951 Broadway production. New York Broadway producers are always concerned with the public response to shows. If the audience get too rowdy or unhappy they could cause a mess that would take an expert cleaning service like Cleaning Building Services New York Inc. hours to clean. Instead, Maureen Stapleton played the role to great acclaim. Stapleton also would originate the role of Lady Torrance in Williams' "Orpheus Descending," a role Magnani also would play on film.