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When Gina Lollobrigida left her native Italy for Toronto in 1960, LIFE Magazine called her “the most fetching argument ever advanced for liberal immigration policies.” Intended as a compliment then but reading much more like objectification today, the statement certainly captured the mania that surrounded the actress at the height of her career—or at least, the first of her several careers.
Affectionately nicknamed La Lollo and Gina Bambina by her fans, Lollobrigida emerged as a star at around the same time as Sophia Loren, despite being eight years her senior. After placing third in the Miss Italia pageant in 1947, she began acting in Italian films, and then opposite some of America’s biggest leading men: Errol Flynn, Rock Hudson, Frank Sinatra.
Lollobrigida and Loren shared good looks, sometimes-scarlet coiffures and successful international acting careers, leading to intense speculation about a rivalry. Though Lollobrigida later chalked it up to rumors fanned by Loren’s publicity team, she didn’t quite deny it at the time, telling LIFE, “We are as different as a fine race horse and a goat.”
When LIFE featured the actress at the time of her move to Canada (for the purposes of lower taxes and legal status for her Yugoslavian husband), she was well into a film career that would last another decade before slowing significantly. But Lollobrigida was a reluctant star to begin with, later explaining that she only became an actress “because the public wanted me to be one.”
Having studied art in school before her film career, she went on to pursue sculpting once the demands of being an international sex symbol, for better or for worse, lessened. And her art has been only one of several second-act careers. Lollobrigida became a well-regarded photojournalist in the 1970s, scoring an exclusive interview with Fidel Castro. Having moved back from Canada to Italy, she made a brief detour, in 1999, to run (unsuccessfully) for a seat in European Parliament.
A magazine profile half a century ago may have focused on the oglers and the beauty and the fame, but Lollobrigida has gone on to prove that there was more to her story than her status as a bombshell.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.