Stunning Italian actress Virna Lisi, a brief but lovely Hollywood import in the 1960’s, was merely one of a plethora of European movie beauties who proved over the course of their long careers, that they were capable of more than just visual performances.
Born Virna Lisa Pieralisi on November 8, 1936, she began her film career as a 17-year-old teen with a co-starring part with the musical drama …e Napoli canta! (1953) (Naples Sings!). Cast initially for her photographic beauty, she gained more experience in such early pictures as Lettera napoletana (1954) and La corda d’acciaio (1954) before earning her first top-billed movie lead in Piccola santa (1954) opposite Rosario Borelli. Other late 50’s/early 60’s films that helped steam up her image included New Moon (1955), Eighteen Year Olds (1955), La rossa (1955), The Doll That Took the Town (1957), Lost Souls (1959) opposite Jacques Sernas, Don’t Tempt the Devil (1963) (Don’t Tempt the Devil), Sua Eccellenza si fermò a mangiare (1961) (His Excellency Stayed to Dinner], the Italian-made spectacle, Duel of the Titans (1961) and an innocent role in the French-made Eva (1962) starring the scheming Jeanne Moreau in the title role.
The pert and sexy star later made a decorative dent in late 1960’s Hollywood as a tempting blue-eyed blonde opposite the likes of Jack Lemmon in How to Murder Your Wife (1965), Frank Sinatra in Assault on a Queen (1966) and Tony Curtis in Not with My Wife, You Don’t! (1966). Confined once again to the same type of glamour roles (she turned down the title role of “Barbarella”), she returned to Europe within a couple of years but hardly fared better with such nothing special movies as Anyone Can Play (1967), The Girl Who Couldn’t Say No (1968), The Christmas Tree (1969), The Statue (1971), Bluebeard (1972) and White Fang (1973) and its sequel Challenge to White Fang (1974).
Come middle age, however, a career renaissance occurred for Virna. She began to be perceived as more than just a tasty dish and was given a wide variety of quality mature performances. As the stature of her films improved, she began winning foreign awards right and left for such European pictures as Beyond Good and Evil (1977), The Cricket (1980), Time for Loving (1983), Merry Christmas… Happy New Year (1989) and Va’ dove ti porta il cuore (1996) (Follow Your Heart). It all culminated in the lifetime role of the malevolent “Caterina de Medici” in Queen Margot (1994) for which she captured both the César and Cannes Film Festival awards, not to mention the Italian Silver Ribbon award.
Virna continued reigning supreme on TV as a character lead and support player into the millennium with parts in such TV movies as the title role in Anna’s World (2004) and Donne sbagliate (2007) (Steel Women) as well as Italian TV series work. Starring as the matriarch in the excellent family film drama The Best Day of My Life (2002), Virna would find her last excellent movie role in the award-winning dramedy Latin Lover (2015). Having passed away on December 14, 2014, at age 78, of lung cancer, the actress received a couple of award nominations posthumously for her work here. Survived by her son Corrado, her longtime husband (from 1960), architect Franco Pesci (1934-2013), died a year earlier. (IMDB)