Not to Be Overlooked - Steve’s Other Leading Ladies in Heaven
Since our farewell tribute to the late Chelo Alonso in early March, people have inquired about Steve’s other leading ladies. Unfortunately, five additional actresses who played major roles in Steve’s films have also passed on, all prior to Chelo. The acting contributions of these beautiful women ( Sylvia Lopez, Sylva Koscina, Gianna Maria Canale, Virna Lisi, and Christine Kaufmann) will never be forgotten and helped make Steve Reeves films all the more memorable. And for that, we thank them.
Here are our remembrances of these fine actresses. May they all rest in peace and enjoy that special reward in the Heavenly and sacred skies above (with Chelo Alonso).
Sylvia Lopez, Queen Omphale of Lidia in “Hercules Unchained”
August 24, 1936 - November 20, 1959
Contrary to what was published in an UNAUTHORIZED Reeves biography last year, Sylvia Lopez was French, not Spanish. After marrying composer Francois Lopez in 1956, the French actress adopted the last name under which she was billed for the remainder of her film career.
Born Tatjana Bernt, the former model made her screen debut in 1957's French film “Tabarin” under the stage name of Tatiana Sinclair. Though she was given second female billing to lead actress Sylva Koscina in “Hercules Unchained”, her presence and role in the film was memorable. It was no secret that Sylvia and Steve had a very close relationship on and off the movie set.
Because she was multilingual, she spoke her lines with Steve in English making acting in a foreign film easier for Steve. She repeated this kind gesture for American actors Edmund Purdom in “Herod the Great” and Lex Barker in “Son of the Red Corsair” two subsequent European films following “Hercules Unchained”.
While making a film with Brigitte Bardot in 1959, Sylvia succumbed to leukemia at just 26. Her short but well known movie career consisted of only eight films.
Sylva Koscina, Iole in “Hercules” and “Hercules Unchained”
August 22, 1933 - December 26, 1994
"Hercules" "Hercules Unchained"
Following her two film appearances with Steve, the first when she was just 24 years old, Yugoslavian born actress Sylva Koscina went on to a film career that spanned over 120 films.
Though her career was mainly in foreign films, she did appear in English-speaking parts as English was one of her second langauges. These included the British film “Deadlier Than the Male” (1966), as well as leading lady roles in the American films, “A Lovely Way to Die” with Kirk Douglas (1968), “The Secret War of Harry Frigg” with Paul Newman (1968), and “Hornet’s Nest” with Rock Hudson (1970). (“Hornet’s Nest” also featured Steve’s former co-stars Sergio Fantoni, Gerard Herter, Jacques Sernas and Andrea Bosic.)
In June 1967 she was featured in a pictorial of Playboy Magazine and again in the May 1975 Italian edition, which featuring her on the cover as well. In her own words she once said, “Nudity can be nice, beautiful, but should not be vulgar. It depends on which way you are treating something. I’m not for pornography. I’m for nudity, but for the classic, beautiful, clean nude.”
She was married from 1967 to 1971 to Raimondo Castelli, a small producer connected with Minerva Films. After a long illness, Sylva passed away on December 26, 1994 in Rome, Italy at the age of 61 from breast cancer.
Gianna Maria Canale, Queen Antea in “Hercules” and Claudia in “The Slave”
September 12, 1927 – February 13, 2009
“Hercules” “The Slave”
Gianna Maria Canale was born in 1927 in Reggio Calabria, Italy. In 1947, she placed second at the Miss Italia beauty contest and later that year was crowned Miss Florence. Publicity in many Italian magazines soon followed. Her sultry, dark-haired looks were featured in many magazines in the 1950s, and she was often thought of as the Italian version of American actress Ava Gardner.
After filming “Hercules” and prior to “The Slave”, Gianna appeared in two British films, “The Silent Enemy” with Lawrence Harvey and “The Whole Truth” with Stewart Granger. Gianna’s fluency with the English language helped her obtain various movie roles, and like Sylvia Lopez, Gianna spoke English with Steve whenever they shared screen time. During her film career she appeared with other American leading men such as Gordon Scott, Rod Taylor, Rory Calhoun, and John Drew Barrymore.
Steve’s “White Warrior” director, Riccardo Freda, was her husband and they made several films together in the early 1950s. “I vampiri” was her last film with Freda in 1957. After 48 roles in sword and sandal, Italian horror, and adventure films, she retired from the movie industry in 1964 at age 37.
She passed away in Florence, Tuscany Italy on February 13, 2009 of unknown causes.
Virna Lisi, Julia in “Duel of the Titans”
November 8, 1936 - December 18, 2014
“Duel of the Titans”
Italian actress Virna Lisi (real name Virna Pieralisi) was a veteran of over 70 films, most of which are Italian and French productions. A film actress since a teenager, she was 24 when she appeared with Steve in “Duel of the Titans”. Like many of Steve’s leading ladies, she also spoke in English to both Steve and Gordon Scott for “Duel”. Once Steve remarked that actress Michelle Pfeiffer reminded him of Virna while Gordon Scott said proudly in a 2002 interview, “Virna was a sweetheart to work with.”
As Hollywood producers were seeking a new Marilyn Monroe type, Virna appeared as a blue-eyed blond temptress in her American film debut opposite Jack Lemon in “How to Murder Your Wife” in 1964. She went on to co-star with other well-known American actors in six other films, including 1966’s “Not with My Wife You Don’t” with Tony Curtis, “Assault on a Queen” with Frank Sinatra, and 1969’s “The Secret of Santa Vittoria” with Anthony Quinn. She turned down the part played by Jane Fonda in Roger Vadim’s “Barbarella” (1968) and the part of Tatiana Romanova in the James Bond drama, “From Russia with Love” (1962)
Virna returned to Italy and focused her film career in Europe, though returning to the Hollywood soundstages occasionally. In 1994, she won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for the French film, “Reine Margot, La” (Queen Margot). For a while, she accepted parts in many Italian sitcoms and TV series. Her last movie was an Italian comedy-drama “Latin Lover” in 2014, shortly before her death on December 18, 2014 from lung cancer. She was 78.
Christine Kaufmann, Ione in “Last Days of Pompeii”
January 11, 1945 - March 28, 2017
“Last Days of Pompeii”
Starting at age 7, German actress Christine Kaufman made over 65 films. After completing “Last Days of Pompeii” with Steve at the age of just 14, she became quite internationally known. By being fluent in German, English, and French, Christine never had a problem obtaining roles throughout the globe.
Her more popular American films included 1961’s “Town without Pity” with Kirk Douglas and 1962’s “Escape from East Berlin”. She also appeared opposite her former husband Tony Curtis (1963 – 1967) in 1962’s “Taras Bulba” and 1964’s “Wild and Wonderful”. In 1962, she shared a Golden Globe award with Ann-Margaret and Jane Fonda for the most promising newcomers. Her last film was “Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn”, a 2014 American comedy-drama/adventure film.
In her later years, Kaufmann was a successful businesswoman, promoting her own cosmetics products line and writing several books about beauty and health in addition to producing videos on well being. She also penned two autobiographies.
She died from leukemia on March 28, 2017 in Munich, Germany at the age of 72. From her 40s until her death, the European media often referred to Christine as the "Most beautiful grandmother in Germany".