"HOLLYWOOD -- Virna Lisi has been chosen the first recipient of the Carole Lombard comedy award, sponsored by Pacific Theatres, it was announced by Robert Selig, vice-president of the theatre chain headed by William R. Forman.
"The award, which will be presented annually for 'excellence in light comedy,' went to Miss Lisi for her work in Warner Bros.' 'Not With My Wife, You Don't' and for her performances in 'How To Murder Your Wife' and 'Casanova '70.' "
Okay, you're saying, who was Virna Lisi? Well, first, here's what she looked like:
As the name suggests, she was from Italy, born in 1937. She began acting in 1953 and progressed quickly, advancing to starring roles three years later. She got plenty of work in both film and television, and by the early 1960s was a top-level star in Italy, renowned for her sex appeal as much as for her acting ability:
Given the American success of Italian imports Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida, it was no surprise that the U.S. film industry tried to do likewise with Lisi. Her first notable U.S. film was 1965's "How To Murder Your Wife," where she played opposite Jack Lemmon, and she later co-starred with Tony Curtis in "Not With My Wife, You Don't" and Frank Sinatra in the drama "Assault On A Queen." However, she never had sustained success in America and began focusing on Italian films by the late sixties.
There are two other things you should know about Lisi: First, she appeared on a famous cover of Esquire magazine, posing as if she were "shaving" to illustrate an article on whether feminism was masculinizing women. More than four decades later, Esquire paid homage to this cover by doing something similar with Jessica Simpson.
Second, she was the first actress cast in the title role in the 1968 sci-fi romp "Barbarella," but she soon decided to turn it down and return to Italy. The part, of course, went to Jane Fonda, who made it one of her most iconic roles.
Lisi struggled for a while, but eventually received a variety of roles that were based more on her maturity than her old sexy image. By 1994, she gained praise at Cannes for playing Catherine de Medici in "La Reine Margot." Here she is at a film festival in June 2005:
She's now 71, and continues working in the industry.
Unfortunately, Boxoffice never ran a photo of Lisi accepting the Lombard award, so we have no idea what it looked like. (One wonders whether Lisi still has the award.) And no reports exist of future Lombard award recipients, so the concept may well have been abandoned after 1966. (Assuming the award was meant to celebrate actresses in film comedy, one wonders who might have won the honor in subsequent years.)