‘This gesture made history’: watch given to Gina Lollobrigida by Fidel Castro is to go on sale

<span>‘I asked myself whether it would not be dangerous’: Gina Lollobrigida, in a 1969 portrait by Jane Bown, on interviewing Fidel Castro.</span><span>Photograph: Jane Bown/The Observer</span>
‘I asked myself whether it would not be dangerous’: Gina Lollobrigida, in a 1969 portrait by Jane Bown, on interviewing Fidel Castro.Photograph: Jane Bown/The Observer

It was one of the most unusual interviews: she was the glamorous 1950s Italian film star, once described as the “most beautiful woman in the world”; he was the gruff communist leader of Cuba.

But Gina Lollobrigida and Fidel Castro clearly hit it off. He was so taken with his interrogator, who had become a photojournalist after her film career ended, that he took off his watch and gave it to her.

That watch, which he later inscribed “To Gina with admiration”, is to be auctioned this month alongside more than 400 items of jewellery, furniture and other possessions that belonged to Lollobrigida, who died last year at the age of 95.

Through the 1950s and 60s, Lollobrigida starred in a number of European and American films opposite many of Hollywood’s leading men of the day, including Sean Connery, Anthony Quinn in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Yul Brynner in Solomon and Sheba.

Other items being auctioned at Wannenes auction house in Genoa include photographs and memorabilia of encounters the actor had with everyone from Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman and Bill Clinton to Henry Kissinger, Humphrey Bogart and Salvador Dalí, as well as several of her film awards.

“There’s an endless number of items that recount the life of a woman who was out of the ordinary,” Guido Wannenes, CEO of the auction house, told the Observer. “Castro’s watch is particularly symbolic – he took it off his wrist and gave it to her when they met in 1974. This gesture made history. The catalogue tells us so much about a woman who was known for her talent, beauty and charisma.”

The rapport between Lollobrigida and Castro reportedly began in 1973, when the communist leader asked to meet her during a political visit to Italy. By that time, Lollobrigida had developed a second career as a photo­journalist and in 1974 managed to get an exclusive interview with him.

“When I got the idea of a photographic story on Fidel Castro, I asked myself whether it would not be dangerous,” she later told the Italian magazine Gente. “I had heard that he is always surrounded by armed soldiers, but the idea also fascinated me. Castro had not been photographed or interviewed by anyone recently.”

Related: Italian actor Gina Lollobrigida, 95, says she will run in general elections

In later life, Lollobrigida twice ran unsuccessfully for election. In 1999 she stood for Romano Prodi’s ­centre-left Democrats in the European elections, while in September 2022, four months before she died, she ran in Italy’s general elections with a new Eurosceptic party because she was “fed up with quarrelling politicians”.

In the years before her death, Lollobrigida was embroiled in a legal battle against her son and grandson – Milko and Dimitri Skofic – who accused her assistant, Andrea Piazzolla, of stealing her wealth. Piazzolla, who worked with Lollobrigida for a decade, also moving into her home with his partner, was given a three-year jail term in November last year after being found guilty of embezzling millions of euros in assets from her estate between 2013 and 2018.