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.”