Anna Magnani born
On this day in 1908, the inimitable Italian actress Anna Magnani was born in Rome. Referred to as "volcanic" and "fiery" by critics, Magnani's life was as dramatic and tempestuous off screen as it in front of the cameras. Superstitious and a hypochondriac, the roots of Magnani's insecurities lay in her childhood, as she never knew who her father was (except that he was Egyptian), while her seamstress mother passed her off to Magnani's grandmother rather than raise her herself. Though acting was her vocation, Magnani was first schooled as a musician and paid her way through the Eleanora Duse Royal Academy of Dramatic Art by singing (with her distinctive deep voice) in nightclubs and cabarets. "The Italian Edith Piaf" (as she was known) shared with the French singing icon a certain toughness and street mentality and once declared, "I hate respectability. Give me the life of the streets, of common people." Magnani's distinctive quality as an actress was her ability to convey raw emotionality, and had her breakthrough role in Vittorio De Sica's 1941 Teresa Venerdì. Neo-realism, though, was the cinematic style which best utilized her talents, and she truly achieved star status with her role in Rome, Open City (1945), directed by her lover, Roberto Rossellini. Their torrid affair - they would throw crockery at each other - ended when Rossellini left her for Ingrid Bergman (his star in Stromboli, a film he'd written for Magnani), but the two would ultimately remain friends. Known as one of the greatest living actresses, Magnani had many well-placed supporters, including Tennessee Williams, who wrote the play The Rose Tattoo especially for her. After turning down the part on Broadway, she took on her first English-speaking role to play Williams' creation Serafina in the 1955 movie version of The Rose Tattoo. Oscar nominated for her performance, Magnani so firmly believed she would not win Best Actress that she stayed in Rome rather than attend the Academy Awards. The first she heard of the result was from a journalist seeking a response to her win. "You're lying," Magnani said, according to legend. "If this is a joke, I'll kill you!" A dedicated mother who was devoted to her son Luca, who suffered from polio, Magnani drastically cut back on acting after the end of the 50s, appearing only in a handful of films subsequently, including Fellini's 1962 Mamma Roma, in which she played the title role. She died of pancreatic cancer in Rome in 1973, with Luca and Rossellini at her bedside.