Born: January 28, 1931;

Died: March 23, 2020.

LUCIA Bosé, who has died of pneumonia complicated by coronavirus, aged 89, was an actress catapulted to fame in films made by Michelangelo Antonioni and other Italian neorealist directors. One of that group, Luchino Visconti, spotted her when she was working in a pastry shop in Milan, the city of her birth. She recalled: “He told me, ‘You have a face for cinema.’”

Shortly afterwards, aged just 16, she won the 1947 Miss Italy beauty contest, beating rivals and future film stars Gina Lollobrigida and Silvana Mangano. Posing provocatively in her bikini for a newspaper photograph caused one scandalised reader to complain in a letter that she looked like a prostitute, “worse than naked”, with her lips painted “shamelessly”.

Visconti recommended her to director Giuseppe de Santis, who was looking for an “Italian Rita Hayworth” to star as the femme fatale in Bitter Rice (1949), the tale of a female seasonal worker falling for a small-time criminal, and an example of the post-war neorealism style depicting the hardships of everyday life. But Bosé’s parents, Domenico Borloni and Francesca (nee Bosé), forbade her to take the job, and it went to Mangano.

Instead, she made her film début in de Santis’s next picture, No Peace Under the Oliver Tree (1950), as a young peasant woman – typical of the roles in which aspiring Italian actresses were cast.

Bosé quickly threw off such typecasting to play a wife whose older, wealthy husband suspects her of having a secret lover in Story of a Love Affair (1950), Antonioni’s first feature film as a director. She became his muse and, three years later, he cast her in The Lady Without Camelias as a shop assistant discovered by a film producer who puts her on the road to stardom – a role with which she clearly identified.

In between, Bosé’s films for other directors included Three Girls from Rome (1952), featuring her as one of the seamstresses given the chance to appear in a fashion show. Death of a Cyclist (1955), directed by the Spaniard Juan Antonio Bardem, cast her as a socialite cheating on her husband when she and her lover leave a cyclist to die in a hit-and-run accident. The film was an attack on the divide between rich and poor in Franco’s Spain.

That Is the Dawn (1956), with director Luis Buñuel, was Bosé’s final film before she married a famous Spanish bullfighter, Luis Miguel Dominguin, in 1955.

While her contemporaries such as Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren launched careers in Hollywood, she abandoned acting to concentrate on bringing up their three children, Miguel – who became a pop singer – Lucia and Paola, in Spain. The marriage eventually fell apart and, following her divorce in 1968, Bosé enjoyed a return to the screen with a prolific three decades in Italian and Spanish productions.

An early role was as the suicidal wife in Fellini Satyricon (1969), the Roman satire adapted and directed by one of the greats of neorealist cinema, Federico Fellini.

Others included the host inviting three fellow actresses to her hilltop house to discuss men and life in Jeanne Moreau’s directorial debut, Lumière (1976), and the mother of the protagonist in Francesco Rosi’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1987).

During her golden period of the 1950s, Bosé was one of the “pin-ups” of European cinema, dressed on and off screen by the best Italian haute couture designers. The blue hair she sported in later years was, she said, an emblem of her desire always to be different.

Bosé is survived by her children.