A Question of Self-Esteem: The United States and the Cold War Choices in France and Italy, 1944-1958

By Alessandro Brogi | Go to book overview
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6

A Question of Leadership

In the late 1950s Sofia Loren became one of the few known Italian celebrities in the United States. By then, Hollywood had triumphantly inducted her in its collection of stars; the popular magazine Look dedicated an August 1957 cover to her, hailing the “Americanization” of the Italian artist. That same month, Egidio Ortona, minister of the Italian embassy in Washington, decided to “borrow” the actress from the set of the film House Boat to honor her with a banquet. In his memoirs he fondly describes this initiative as a “public relations coup.” Never had so many Congressmen and White House officials attended a public function at the Italian embassy. Sofia Loren's beauty and glamour seemed to mesmerize Richard Nixon too. Escorted by Ortona, the actress paid an official visit to the vice-president, who gladly accepted her invitation to include Italy in his next state trip to Europe. Several officials in Rome criticized Ortona's decision to give the 22-year-old star so much political exposure. Their objection was justified: Sofia Loren was an excellent emblem of the renewed appeal of Italian popular culture, even of its happy marriage with Hollywood; but her extraordinary “flirt” with Washington's political world highlighted by contrast the inadequacy of Italy's regular diplomatic channels. Like every anecdote, the episode has a symbolic significance. It is only a slight exaggeration to argue that the institutions in Rome were so debunked, the politicians so anonymous, that Italian diplomacy had to resort to the magnetic presence of a famous actress to attract the attention of America's leaders.

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