My Own Private Movie Stars: Mangano, Silvana–Actresses Who Left Indelible Impression on Me

Research in Progress: March 27, 2020.

I grew up in an ethnically mixed neighborhood (Hassan Beck, the border line between Tel Aviva and Jaffa).  As boys, among other hobbies, we used to buy and exchange small black-and-white cards that featured beautiful female stars, such as Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren.

One of the first cards I had acquired was that of Silvana Mangano in the movie Bitter Rice, originally made in 1949 (when I was one year old!).

Like other movies, Bitter Rice played in Israel a year or several years after it was made. And if the movie was successful at the box-office, the distributor and/or the movie-theater owner would bring back older movies–by popular demand.

I did not know at that time that Bitter Rice was the movie that catapulted Mangano to international stardom.  Like other boys my age, we kept looking at her voluptuous figure and seductive looks.

Looking back, Bitter Rice was one of the very first movie that made me realize the erotic appeal and visual pleasure of motion pictures.

My father, a good-looking womanizer, encouraged my curiosity by taking me to movie with beautiful women; he would later analyze their shapely bodies, especially their buxom and legs. (My parents divorced when I was seven year old, not least due to my dad’s illicit affairs).

Around the same time, as a young boy, I used to listen and dance to (with my two aunts, both movie lovers) a very melodic tune, “El Negro Zumbon.” Although it was actually sung by Flo Sandon, Mangano got credited on the record label of “El Negro Zumbón,” from the soundtrack of Anna (1951), which was a big hit all over the world.

As a wide-eyed boy, I recall seeing Ulysses, The Gold of Naples, and Mambo.

Movies-Riso Amaro.jpg

Although it was actually sung by Flo Sandon, Mangano got credited on the record label of “El Negro Zumbón,” from the soundtrack of Anna (1951), which was a big hit all over the world.

As a wide-eyed boy, I recall seeing Ulysses, The Gold of Naples, and Mambo.

Silvana Mangano had sort of disappeared from my life for a decade, during which I switched allegiance and was now infatuated with some French stars, Brigitte Bardot, Francoise Arnoul, Simone Signoret. In the late 1960s, I rediscovered Mangano’s great beauty–her powerful screen presence–even when she did not say a word on screen–in Pasolini’s Teorema, in 1968.


Teorema film Pier Paolo Pasolini xlg.jpg

Film poster

Short Bio

Born in Rome to an Italian father and an English mother (Ivy Webb from Croydon), Mangano lived in poverty during World War II.

Trained for years as a dancer, she supported herself as a model.  In 1946, at age 16, Mangano won the Miss Rome beauty pageant, which led to getting a role in a Mario Costa film. One year later, she became a contestant in the Miss Italia contest. The contest that year became a springboard for many actresses, including the winner Lucia Bosé, Mangano, Gina Lollobrigida, Eleonora Rossi Drago, and Gianna Maria Canale.

Mangano’s early career reportedly benefited from a romantic affair with actor Marcello Mastroianni, who helped her secure a film contract.  As noted, she ascended to international stardom with her performance in Bitter Rice (“Riso Amaro,” Giuseppe De Santis, 1949).

In 1949, Mangano signed a contract with Lux Film, and later that year, she married Dino De Laurentiis, who would become a major international producer.

Mangano remained a favorite Italian and international star for two decades or so, between the 1950s and the early 1970s.  During that time, she appeared in Anna (Alberto Lattuada, 1951), The Gold of Naples (L’oro di Napoli, Vittorio De Sica, 1954), Mambo (Robert Rossen, 1955), Theorem (Teorema, Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1968), Death in Venice (Morte a Venezia, Luchino Visconti, 1971), and The Scientific Cardplayer (1972).

Although it was sung by Flo Sandon, Silvana Mangano was credited on the record label of “El Negro Zumbón,” from the soundtrack of Anna (1951), which was a big hit in 1953. A clip of this performance is shown in the Oscar winning movie, Cinema Paradiso (1988).

She was married to film producer De Laurentiis from 1949, and the couple had four children: Veronica, Raffaella, Francesca, and Federico. De Laurentiis and Mangano separated in 1983, and she began divorce proceedings in 1988.  I had no idea when she became ill, until I read an obituary that stated that she had died of lung cancer in Madrid on December 16, 1989.

Select Filmography

Le jugement dernier (1945)
Elixir of Love (1947) as Adina’s girlfriend (uncredited)
Flesh Will Surrender (1947) as Ballerina alla festa di capodanno (uncredited)
Gli uomini sono nemici (1948)
Mad About Opera (1948) as Una ragazza nella rappresentazione di Carmen (uncredited)
Black Magic (1949) (uncredited)
Bitter Rice (1949) as Silvana
The Wolf of the Sila (1949) as Rosaria Campolo
Il Brigante Musolino (1950) as Mara
Anna (1951) as Anna
Mambo (1954) as Giovanna Masetti
Ulysses (1954) as Circe / Penelope
The Gold of Naples (1954), Teresa (segment “Teresa”)
The Wolves (1957) as Teresa
This Angry Age (1957) as Suzanne Dufresne
Tempest (1958) as Masha
La Grande Guerra (1959) as Costantina
Five Branded Women (1960) as Jovanka
Crimen (1960) as Marina Capretti
The Last Judgment (1961) as Signora Matteoni
Barabbas (1961) as Rachel
The Verona Trial (1963) as Edda Ciano
My Wife (1964) as The wife (segments “L’uccellino”, “L’automobile”) / Clara (segment “I miei cari”) / Eritrea (segment “Eritrea”) / Luciana (segment “Luciana”)
Il disco volante (1964) as Vittoria Laconiglia
Me, Me, Me… and the Others (1966) as Silvia
Pardon, Are You For or Against? (1966) as Emanuela
The Witches (1967) as Gloria (segment “Strega Bruciata viva, La”) / Lady in a hurry (segment “Senso civico”) / Assurdina Caì (segment “Terra vista dalla luna, La”) / Nunzia (segment “Siciliana, La”) / Giovanna (segment “Sera come le altre, Una”)
Edipo re (1967) as Jocasta
Caprice Italian Style (1968) as Bambinaia (segment “Bambinaia, La”) / Moglie dell’automobilista (segment “Perche’?”) / La regina (segment “Viaggio di lavoro”)
Teorema (1968) as Lucia (the mother)
Morte a Venezia (Death in Venice) (1971) as Tadzio’s mother
The Decameron (1971) as The Madonna (uncredited)
Scipio the African (1971) as Emilia
The Scientific Cardplayer (1972) as Antonia
D’amore si muore (1972) as Elena
Ludwig (1973) as Cosima Von Bülow
Gruppo di famiglia in un interno (1974) as Marchesa Bianca Brumonti
Dune (1984) as Rev. Mother Ramallo
Oci ciornie (1987) as Elisa (Romano’s Wife)
Slugs (1988) as Diner in restaurant (uncredited) (final role)