Silvana Pampanini (1925-2016)

AS WE near the feast of St. Anthony, I would like to tell you about a special encounter I had a few years ago which might be appreciated, especially by movie lovers.

I was in sitting my room when the phone rang. “No, not now while I’m working on my Sunday sermon,” I said to myself, but the ringing was insistent so I had to answer it. At the other end of the line the friary receptionist said, “There’s a lady here who wishes to speak to you, Father. She says you interviewed her for a radio program a few months ago.” So I hurried downstairs to the entrance, where I saw a lady of stunning beauty, despite her advanced age. I recognized her immediately; it was Silvana Pampanini, the glamorous Italian Diva who starred in over fifty films and reigned as an icon of Italian beauty in the 1950s when she was working with the likes of Vittorio De Sica, Marcello Mastroianni, Jean Gabin and even Buster Keaton.

“During the interview, Father, I forgot to tell you about an important miracle that St Anthony did for me,” she said. “And since I’ve come to visit him today, I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk to you.” I led her to one of the parlors in our friary where, with grace and elegance, Miss Pampanini sat down while her perfume pervaded the room.

“You might not know this, Father, but in 1949 I starred in a film on our dear Saint. It was called, Antonio di Padova. The title might not be very original, but it was a clear endorsement of our Saint. The film was directed by Piero Francisci, a man of great sensitivity with a poetic outlook on life, and I was starring with great actors like Aldo Fabrizi and Aldo Fiorelli. I remember it was quite successful; people liked religious films in those days.”

I complimented her for participating in the film and assured her that I would do my best to get myself a copy of the film in DVD, which I later did.

Miss Pampanini was not particularly surprised by my enthusiasm, and so she continued, “One morning we were scheduled to shoot a very dramatic scene in which I was supposed to weep. Being an experienced actress, I wept without the help of eye-drops and the delighted director shouted, “Cut!” However, he then wanted to take a close up of my eyes to show them weeping in greater detail.”

Everything was carefully prepared: the angle, the lights, etc., because details, especially with regard to a star’s eyes, must be in perfect order. No errors are possible on the set! Miss Pampanini therefore patiently complied with all these procedures until everything was perfect, down to the minutest detail. One last stroke of the brush by the make-up artist and then…

At this point something backfired psychologically because Silvana was no longer able to cry. However much she tried to produce real tears, her eyes remained dry. She strove to revive the saddest memories of her life… all to no avail. In the end they had to use ‘fake tears’ as a last resort: a few drops of glycerin on the corners of her eyes. But as soon as the drops were applied to Silvana’s eyes, the actress felt a sharp pain, and suddenly she was no longer able to see anything.

“At this point,” Miss Pampanini told me, “I screamed aloud and bent forward putting my hands over my face. In that precise moment the blades of a massively heavy fan flew right over my head and struck the floor. If I had not lowered my head because of the pain, those massive blades would surely have hit me directly on the head, either killing or seriously wounding me. When I raised my head again and opened my eyes, I was able to see perfectly once more. I am certain that it was St Anthony who obscured my vision in order to induce me to lower my head, thus saving my life. I will never forget this, and as long as God gives me life, I will come to Padua to thank him.”

Silvana Pampanini died two years ago at the age of 90. I can still remember her stepping into her chauffeur-driven car and waving goodbye to me with her typical elegance and grace. I can still remember how she once remarked, proudly and without any trace of shame, “I believe I was a rare beauty: there were no other brunettes like me except for Ava Gardner.”

I wish you and your families, dear readers, a happy feast of St Anthony, and I assure you of my prayers as well as those of my fellow friars in the Basilica.

Updated on June 07 2018