Miss Italia

March 30, 2011 / Local Interest
Stresa, Piemonte

It was 1946, just after the war, and Italians badly needed a pick-me-up. So it was decided to hold a beauty pageant. As Stresa had remained largely undamaged, and was already known as a summer resort of celebrities and royalty, the lakeside village on Lago Maggiore seemed the perfect location for a cheerful post-war event. For the next four years, and then one more time again in 1956, the Miss Italia pageant took place there. Then, as it grew in popularity, the venue was moved several times until it settled permanently in Salsomaggiore Terme, where it is still held today.

Many of those early Miss Italia winners and contestants became well known in Italy and abroad. In 1947 alone there were four contestants who later went on to Italian entertainment fame. From the left are Lucia Bose (the winner that year), Gianna Maria Canale (second place), Gina Lollobrigida (third), and Eleonora Rossi Drago (fourth).

1950 was the first year that the competition was reported live on the radio. And it was also the year that Sofia Loren participated in the contest. Sofia Scicolone at the time, she was deemed to be too provocative to be chosen as the winner; she was therefore awarded the title of Miss Eleganza 1950. Here she is, parading before the judges. (below)

Today the Miss Italia pageant, which takes place over four days each September, is seen by over ten million people, and it still plays an important role in Italian culture. “It’s the mirror of Italy,” once explained actress Sofia Loren, “because all turns to the sunlight.”

miss italia photo 1

Dana Kaplan

by Dana Kaplan

Freelance writer, proofreader, and copyeditor. Author of StresaSights, a great blog about a beautiful town.

15 Responses to “Miss Italia”

  1. Evanne

    All over Italy, the precursors to this event take place during Spring, where local beauties are chosen as a part of a town’s annual festa. Of course the food is served first, followed by the entertainment, which is the local beauty pageant, followed by local dancing music. Here in Italy, it seems women take a different view of beauty pageants; they see their bodies as positive symbols of beauty.Thanks for the great story, Dana.

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  2. giuseppe spano (jojo)
    giuseppe spano (jojo)

    wow!! what a wonderful memory…and yes Frank they are beautiful and even more so on the inside

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  3. Vincent Piraro

    Hey, Go Notebook, put down the recipe books and send more of the cuties, I’m starting to enjoy these stories a little more.. Keep up the good work Dana…

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  4. Gian Banchero

    Ah, La Bella Sophia, though known as a great actress, beauty and emblematic of all things that spell sun-soaked southern Italy, many folks are yet to realize that she has written two stellar cookbooks. Her 1972 book -In the Kitchen with Love [In Cucina con Amore]- has been one of my favorites over the years; written in a relaxed style she presents homey recipes (98% Italian) accompanied with intelligent-witty comments that seem for sure that she is talking to you at her kitchen table. I have an extremely large culinary library, Sophia’s book is one of my top five.

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  5. giuseppe spano (jojo)
    giuseppe spano (jojo)

    Gian Banchero, are you also a Chef? I copy some of her old recipes…all Italiani love food and love life

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  6. Gian Banchero

    Dear Signor Spano; I was a chef and caterer for many years, also for eight years I had a culinary column in a Californian Italian-American journal… For many years I traveled the length of Italy and Sicily collecting volumes and volumes of home recipes. Also years ago I collected many recipes (all 19th century) from the the Italian immigrants in my neighborhood here in Berkeley California. Not only did I graduate from two culinary schools but also from two fine arts academies, but as we used to say about graduating from art school “With a fine arts diploma and fifty cents you can buy a cup of coffee.” Hence my entrance into La Cucina!!!

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  7. Thank you all for the comments to the Miss Italia note.
    @Evanne … yes, also Stresa still has a pageant each year to crown Miss Stresa. The contest is spread out over some weeks and is a big event in the city. Over the years some winners have gone on to the finals in Salsomaggiore.
    @Gian Banchero… what interesting information about Sophia’s cookbooks! This is what I love about these notes… always something new to learn!

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  8. Carl Mario Nudi

    I love these Notebook posts and this was was even more interesting in that it dealt with the life of everyday Italians. Keep up the great work, Dana. By-the-way, what was it that Sophia did to deem her too provocative to to names Miss Italia? Was it because she was too beautiful?

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  9. @Carl… I don’t know the reason Carl, but that seems to be the implication. Although not ‘right’ for the crown they felt Sofia had to be recognized in some way. I love the confidence she exudes while walking past the judges…

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  10. Wasn’t the beauty contest at Salsomaggiore done away with recently?
    Have they changed the venue or cancelled the whole thing?

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  11. @CATHY … The recent news was that Salsomaggiore has decided to not host the event this year. That means the search is on for another venue. Stresa in fact has expressed an interest in having the pageant return. It’s unknown yet where it will be, but the Miss Italia event has not been cancelled.

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  12. Why is it “Miss Italia”? Shouldn’t it be “Signorina Italia”? We watched this competition on TV a couple years ago while visiting Venezia, it seemed to go on and on,longer than 4 days.

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