31 January 2014

Aïché Nana (1940-2014)

On 29 January, Lebanese actress and former belly dancer Aïché Nana (1940-2014) died. In 1958, a 'striptease' by the then 18 years old Nana at a Roman party caused an international scandal. Subsequently she became one of the icons of ‘La Dolce Vita’, the liberated era of sex, drugs and rock & roll as documented by Federico Fellini. Aïché Nana appeared in 15 European films between 1956 and 1985.

Italian postcard by Rotalcolor, Milano (Milan), no. 238.

High-powered Publicity

Aïché Nana was born as Kiash Nanah in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1940.

She became a famous belly-dancer in Istanbul and soon also danced in Paris left-bank cabarets. She reportedly employed high-powered publicity to sell her act to European producers. In 1956 French newspapers reported her mysterious disappearance from a Paris cabaret after writing a single word on a paper in her dressing room: "Farewell”. After the French police was alerted and in the midst of all the publicity, she suddenly returned in good shape.

In 1958 the then 18 year old dancer caused a scandal that alerted the world to the luxurious and decadent lifestyle of the international jet-set in Rome that soon would become known as La Dolce Vita. Thanks to Cinecittà, the film production studios on the east side of the city, Rome had become a popular location for Hollywood films, and the foreign stars and writers began hanging out in the bars of Via Veneto.

On that historical November night, the Swedish actress Anita Ekberg danced barefoot at a party in the Rugantino, a trattoria in Trastevere before Aïché Nana stripped to her knickers. The public was a mix of playboys, film stars like Linda Christian and Elsa Martinelli, and aristocrats, who fled when the police arrived. To the police Aïcha claimed that merrymakers had ripped off her clothes.

The next day the striptease became a historical scandal when gossip columnist Victor Ciuffa (who later claimed to be the subject for the Marcello Mastroianni character in La Dolce Vita) published photo’s taken by Tazio Secchiaroli in his column in the newspaper, Corriere d'Informazione. The published photos gave lie to Aïché Nana’s story to the police. Italian authorities threatened her with a three year jail sentence and she quickly returned to Paris where striptease was permitted at the time.

The photos were published in magazines all over the world, including the famous American weekly Life. Later both Anita Ekberg and Aïché Nana’s striptease were immortalized in La Dolce Vita/The Sweet Life (Federico Fellini, 1960). Tazio Secchiaroli, the original paparazzo, became the director’s privileged stills photographer.

Aïché Nana’s striptease in Rugantino. Photos: Tazio Secchiaroli. Source: Iconic Photos and Fondazione Italia.


Aïché Nana became something of a celebrity following her moment of infamy. Just 16, she had already appeared as a dancer in the French-Italian adventure film La châtelaine du Liban/The Lebanese Mission (Richard Pottier, 1956) starring Jean-Claude Pascal and Omar Sharif.

She stayed in Europe and danced ín the Frankie Howerd comedy A Touch of the Sun (Gordon Parry, 1956).

In the 1960s she stepped up to proper, secondary roles. The majority of her parts were in Euro-Westerns where her dark looks made her a natural at playing Mexicans. She appeared with bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay in the Spanish-Italian Western Lo sceriffo che non spara/The Sheriff Won’t Shoot (José Luis Monter, Renato Polselli, 1965).

Among her other spaghetti westerns were Thompson 1880 (Guido Zurli, 1966) with George Martin and Gordon Mitchell, Crisantemi per un branco di carogne/Chrysanthemums for a Bunch of Swine (Sergio Pastore, 1968) with Edmund Purdom, and Giurò... e li uccise ad uno ad uno/Gun Shy Piluk (Guido Celano, 1968) also starring Purdom as a coffin maker.

She also appeared in the thriller A... come assassin/A… Like Assassin (Angelo Dorigo, 1966) starring Alan Steel (aka the Italian actor Sergio Ciani) and was the leading lady of another Italian thriller Due occhi per uccidere/Two Eyes To Kill (Renato Borraccetti, 1968).

In the 1970s she appeared in Edipeon (Lorenzo Arato, 1970) with Magali Noël and Massimo Serato, the Oscar nominated comedy I nuovi mostri/The New Monsters (Mario Monicelli, Dino Risi, Ettore Scola, 1977) starring Vittorio Gassmann and Ornella Muti, and the Nunsploitation film Immagini di un convent/Images in a Convent (Joe D’Amato, 1979).

In the 1980s followed roles in two big budget productions. In Marco Ferreri’s Storia di Piera/The Story of Piera (1983) she supported a star cast including Isabelle Huppert, Hanna Schygulla and Marcello Mastroianni. Her final film was the British-American Bible epic King David (Bruce Beresford, 1985) starring Richard Gere as the King of Israel who took on Goliath.

Aïché Nana was married to director Sergio Pastore (1932-1987), who had directed her in Crisantemi per un branco di carogne (1968). Nana died because of complications caused by a long lasting illness.

German trailer for Thompson 1880 (1966). Don't glimpse or you'll miss Aïché. Source: koppschnicker33 (YouTube).

Sources: La Repubblica (Italian), Corriere della Sera (Italian), Matt Blake (The Wild Eye), Tom Kington (The Observer), Benito Carlo Jr. (The Inside Story via Modern Mechanix Blog), Life and IMDb.

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