Edwige Fenech isn't a household name. She should be, but she isn't. Most people don't even know how to pronounce her name, which is ok because it wasn't so long ago that I didn't know either. It boggles the mind that so little is known about such a stunningly beautiful actress who starred in almost 50 films. Basically, in the English speaking world, we know her birthday, her filmography, her lovers, and that's pretty much it. She was one of the most influential and sought after actresses in Italian cinema in the 1970s and early '80s, and her life is a mystery.
On December 24th, 1948 Edwige Sfenek was born in French Algeria to a Sicilian mother and Maltese father, and that's all we know about her until she started modeling in her teens. In addition to working as a photographer's model she was quite successful as a beauty pageant contestant. She won the title of "Miss Mannequin de la Cote d'Azur" when she was only 16 years old and went on to win the title of Miss France. She then competed in the Miss Europe pageant and came in third behind Dolores Agusta and Rocio Jurado (whoever the hell they are.)
|Fenech, Agusta and Jurado|
With her natural grace, and dark, smoldering eyes, she was noticed by the Italian film industry and invited to Rome to start a career in cinema. She agreed and in 1967 made her film debut in "All Mad About Him," a French comedy about a man who inherits a bordello and the ensuing shenanigans (or whatever "shenanigans" is in French.) This was the beginning of a series of sex comedies which included "Giovannona Long-Thigh," "All Kitties Go for Sweeties," and "Ubaida: All Naked and Warm." Eventually, she would become just as popular in Italian Giallo films, but at first, she primarily starred in erotic comedies. Thankfully, she took her clothes off a lot in both genres.
Perhaps the best insight into her early film career and how she got started in the business comes from an interview she did with Luigi Cozzi for the British sexploitation magazine 'Cinema X ' (Vol. 3 number 3) in 1970:
It's not everyone's luck to be born on Christmas Eve. But it happened to actress Edwige Fenech. The date which appears on her passport is December 24th, 1948, and that makes her twenty-two years of age. Twenty-two gorgeous years, may I add. Edwige Fenech is tall and slender, moves with grace and elegance and exudes class and culture to a remarkable degree. She lives in Rome , where a short time ago she moved. “It was a talent scout who invited me to Rome”, Edwige Fenech tells me, speaking Italian easily and correctly in a sweet, melodious French accent. “I took part in a Miss Universe contest as the representative from France and attracted some attention. I was asked to come to Italy to live and try to get somewhere in movies, and I accepted. At this point I'm very happy I came”
Luigi Cozzi: “But hadn't you already done some work in the French cinema?”
Edwige Fenech: “No. I had just had a few jobs as a photographer's model and had also done some bits in the theatre. The theatre has always been my passion, and I hoped to be successful at it one day. But the cinema came along instead, and I ended up here… I'm happy about it, however, because a whole new world has opened up to me – much vaster than the theatre. After all, that's what films are all about, isn't it?
LC: “Have you been in Italy long?”
EF: “Three years. It's a very beautiful country – in fact, I would say that Rome is the most beautiful city in the world”
LC: “Where is your family from?”
EF: “I come from Nice, just like my parents. I often go there to visit them, but when I can't get away, my mother comes down to see me. Mama is often here in Rome with me. She helps me, keeps me company and has a good time, because Rome is a wonderful city”
LC: “What do your parents think of the career you have chosen to follow? You have made ‘For Adults Only' type pictures for the most part. Wearing just the bear essentials”
EF: “They are happy at the present time and satisfied with what I have been able to do. They know it has been a hard, uphill road for me, and what success I have had has been gotten the hard way. You know, acting with almost all your clothes off doesn't shorten the road to the top. All actresses take their clothes off nowadays, but only a few get there and stay there. I feel I have arrived, and my mother is very happy about it”
LC: “But don't you feel embarrassed about getting undressed on the set?”
EF: “Oh, it's terrible. Especially the first times on the early films… I didn't know how to behave and I was frightfully ashamed. Then I resigned myself to it, rather I got used to it… after all these are things you have to do in the movies whether you like it or not. The public demands it. Certainly it's never pleasant to disrobe in front of so many technicians and fellow actors. I always have the feeling, when I get dressed again, that they are still looking at me as if I had nothing on. And I don't even want to talk about what happens in the theatres where they show my pictures… I went to see MADAME BOVARY again in a first run film theatre, and I turned as red as a beet when I saw myself naked on the screen. Meanwhile the audience began to get noisy and exchange unprintable remarks”
LC: “However, this always happens, in all movies, whenever an actress undresses. Italians as an audience are warm and expressive”
EF: “Yes, but it's not always like that. That picture (MADAME BOVARY) really upset me, but when I saw the scene with the nude buttocks in SOLDIER BLUE, I noticed that the public remained perfectly calm, wasn't noisy and made no remarks”
LC: “Well, excuse me, but that's not a very appropriate example. Candice Bergen didn't have much to do, erotically speaking, in that scene… if that pair of buttocks was really hers. It was a touch of humour more than anything else, with the wagon jolting along and the couple plastered together like slices of salami… in 500 MILLION HIT ON THE NATIONAL BANK, Ursula Andress is nude from beginning to end, but everything is done with such grace and finesse that the picture has not even been prohibited for minors of fourteen years of age. MADAME BOVARY is, on the other hand, more obvious, laying the emphasis on physical eroticism. When the leading lady emerges topless, I think the explosion on the part of the audience is quite understandable”
“Perhaps”, agrees Edwige Fenech with an embarrassed smile. Just talking about this scene makes her blush spontaneously. “I realise it's not a good film, but I also know that doing the role helped me a great deal in that it introduced me to the public by exploiting what I had to offer physically. All in all, I owe a lot of my present success to it”
LC: “Will you continue to accept these sex-kitten roles?”
EF: “If possible, no. At least, if the sex sequences are motivated and justified by the demands of the plot and aesthetic considerations, then I would say yes. But I shall say no absolutely to a picture which presents sex for sex's sake with no other justifications”
LC: “How many pictures have you made so far?”
EF: “Eighteen I believe. Yes, I'm not very satisfied with them, but I must admit they have all been important for getting me before the public and catapulting me up to where I am now. Now I am preparing myself to enter the second stage of my career, and I really would like to make a success with my talent and acting gifts rather than just with my beauty. I'm counting a great deal on a film I've just finished making, THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARD, directed by Sergio Martino on the scenario of a thriller by Ernest Gastaldi. I adore suspense films and think this one in particular is very beautiful, full of chills and special effects.
LC: “What films are your favourites?”
EF: “SOLDIER BLUE, CROMWELL and THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY? Are the first ones which come to my mind. I adore Richard Harris as an actor as well as a man. I think he's great, magnificent – he makes me dream with my eyes open"
LC: “Leaving the cinema aside for a moment, what are your preferences in life?”
EF: “I lead a tranquil, sheltered life. I have a few friends – boys who go to university – solid citizens. I like music too and almost always listen to pop records – Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding. However, when I'm alone and sad, I prefer to listen to classical music: it's more relaxing"
LC: “Do you live alone?”
EF: “I live in an apartment… which I must change, because I'm alone when my mother's not here. Do you know that thieves have tried to break in here twice? Now I'm looking for a new apartment in a safer area. It's the only thing to do, don't you think?”
In 1970, Edwige starred in Mario Bava's "5 Dolls for an August Moon" which started her reign as queen of the Giallo films. A year later she teamed up with director Sergio Martino for "Blade of the Ripper" and would work with him again in 1972 in "All the Colors of the Dark" and "Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key." Other noteworthy Gialli in which she starred include "The Case of the Bloody Iris" (1972) and "Strip Nude for Your Killer" (1975).
Edwige had a son in 1971 from a romance with Italian actor Fabio Testi. She named him Edwin. Between 1971 and 1982, Edwige was romantically linked to Sergio Martino's brother Luciano Martino, who was also a film director and producer. Then in 1986 she became involved with Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, an Italian businessman, former race car driver and future chairman of Ferrari. They split in 1998. Finally, she was engaged to Italian artist Angelo Bucarelli. So yeah, she likes Italians.
In the 1980s her film career began to slow, and she became a television personality and a regular guest on several Italian talk shows with fellow sexploitation and Giallo actress, Barbara Bouchet. She also started acting almost exclusively in television movies and mini-series. In addition to her TV work, Edwige launched her own fashion line and founded Immagine e Cinema S.r.l., a film production company, with her son Edwin.
American splatter film director Eli Roth met Fenech in February of 2006 and asked if she would appear in his next project. She agreed and returned to the screen for a small role as an Art Professor in Roth's 2007 torture porn, "Hostel II." In 2009, Quentin Tarantino payed tribute by naming Mike Myers's Character, General Ed Fenech, after her in "Inglourious Basterds."