“Please don’t retouch my wrinkles. It took me so long to earn them.”
Anna Magnani was born on March 7, 1908 in Rome, Italy. She was raised by her grandparents, who instilled in her a love of performing. When she was 18 years old she began to work in nightclubs as a singer. A year later she toured in Argentina. When she returned to Italy, Anna started performing on stage and her cinematic debut was made in the silent film Scampolo.
Anna got her first big break in 1941 when she took a supporting role in the Vittorio de Sica movie Teresa Venerdi. Shortly thereafter, Anna had a son, Luca, with actor Massimo Serato. Luca was struck with polio before he was two and he never regained use of his legs. Anna had taken a break from acting to focus on her son, but after his prognosis she resolved to earn enough money to provide for him for the rest of his life. She returned to the stage and screen.
In 1945, director Roberto Rossellini cast Anna in his masterpiece Roma città aperta. Though the film was not a success in Italy at first, her performance caught the attention of those at home and abroad. American playwright Tennessee Williams wrote about her performance, “It is not often I am profoundly moved by a performance on the screen, but this woman, Anna Magnani, has sunken the claws into my heart… I feel inspired, perhaps compelled to write a play for her.” He would write The Rose Tattoo and The Fugitive Kind for the actress.
For her work in The Rose Tattoo (released in 1955), Anna would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress, BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. She would be nominated for these same awards for her performance in Wild is the Wind, which she starred in alongside Anthony Quinn.
Anna’s final screen performance was in Federico Fellini’s Roma in 1972. She died from pancreatic cancer on September 26, 1973. She was mourned by her homeland, and her funeral in Rome attracted large crowds (some say that more people attended her funeral than that of a previous pope). Anna would be remembered as the most celebrated and passionate Italian actress of the post-WWII era.