Q MAGAZINE – Born in the city of Bologna, Italy, on June 18, 1943, Raffaella Maria Roberta Pelloni’s family jobs – her father owned a bar and her grandmother an ice cream parlor – heralded a future behind a counter rather than in front of television cameras.
However, that fate began to twist.
As a little girl, she showed herself to be very gifted in dance, in her free time that her divorce proceedings left her, her mother, Iris Dellutri, enrolled her in the National Academy of Dance. At the age of nine, a chance encounter allowed her to enter an unknown world that she would make her own: show business.
She and her mother traveled to Rome to visit a friend. There they met a film director who was looking for a girl to act in the film ‘Tormento del passatto’ (Torment of the Past).
Raffaella met the requirements and was hired. Her mother, Italian through and through, gave her a “German-style” education, that is, strict and rigorous. That is why she forced her daughter to alternate school with the dance studio plus her training at the Experimental Cinematography Center. At age 17 Raffaella got her first big role in ‘La Lunga Notte del ’43’ (The Long Night of 1943), and in 1963 she acted with Marcello Mastroianni in the film ‘I Compagni’ (The Organizer).
Her career was gaining strength. American studios went from asking: “Who is that girl?”, to “Let’s hire that girl!”. In 1966 Raffaella traveled to the United States to shoot some episodes of the series ‘I Spy’, with Bill Cosby. But the big challenge came when hse was offered to star in ‘Von Ryan’s Express’.
Her co-star was one of the most seductive and powerful actors in Hollywood: nothing more and nothing less than Frank Sinatra, the man who, with his blue eyes and the romanticism of his lyrics, captivated millions and earned millions.
As soon as Sinatra met her, the serial seducer, began to court her, but she said “no” when everyone said “yes”. It is that she noticed that Sinatra “was nice to me, but not to others.” And on the other hand, she didn’t want to become “the boss’s girl”. The road to success was arduous but she Raffaella did not need shortcuts.
La Carrà did not allow herself to be seduced by the lifestyle of the cinema mecca. “At five in the afternoon they closed the studios and everyone got drunk. I felt like a Martian, very uncomfortable.” She ignored the producers who begged her to stay to make her the new Sophia Loren or Gina Lollobrigida, and she went back to Italy, her place in the world and from where she would conquer the world.
“I don’t drink or do drugs, so Hollywood wasn’t for me,” she said in an interview.
In her country, she was called by the Nino Ferrer program and to accept she had only one condition: to have a small space of her own to do what she wanted. In those three minutes she showed what would later become her trademark: she sang a happy and catchy song but accompanied by a choreography so vital and full of energy that she managed to get the entire audience and the producers to dance. They would like to contract in perpetuity.
At the beginning of the 1970s, she was already an unquestionable show-girl and RAI (Italy’s national public broadcasting company) proposed her to lead the night show La Canzonissima 70.
At the same time, she received a proposal to star in a film in Paris with Steve McQueen. What To do? To accept the film project with fabulous profits or the RAI program with a miserable salary? She finally decided on television, because “from my point of view, cinema is a prison. And I want the freedom to decide, to make mistakes, to suffer, to be happy…”.
From that moment she imposed the Raffaella Carrà style. She left behind her dark hair without bangs for her signature hairstyle: platinum blonde with a straight bob cut and bangs.
She devised a wardrobe that allowed her to dance comfortably but also highlighted her toned dancer’s body. She designed red and orange jumpsuits embroidered with rhinestones and a deep neckline that reached the navel. Her look was as shocking as it was groundbreaking; years later she would be imitated by other artists such as Madonna and Lady Gaga.
But what definitely sealed her success was daring to show one of the smallest and most insignificant areas of the body: the navel. That part of the anatomy, usually hidden on the screens of the time, was on everyone’s lips, including the Vatican, which censored her because when she danced the song “Tuca Tuca”, she caressed herself mischievously and sensually. It got to the point that when the list of most listened to songs went by on the radio, they jumped her position so as not to have to name the song “impúdica” (indecent).
Raffaella sang, danced, acted but above all, she spread her talented joy. Because to dance as she danced, in addition to being gifted, she rehearsed six hours off camera. She broke molds and the public followed her passionately. Her simple, funny and ironic songs became instant hits.
In 1975 her fame began to transcend borders. Her songs were heard and danced by millions of people. Thousands of girls from around the world spent hours trying to imitate Carrà’s whiplash. It is that she, in the middle of a song, moved her head with a sharp blow back and forth but, surprisingly, all her hair returned to the same place.
No matter how many times she repeated the movement, her hair always returned in place. Which indicated frizz-proof hair and clumsy-proof grace. On the other hand, the rest the mortals who tried to copy her ended up with a neck contracture, a little dizzy and totally disheveled.
In Argentina, it was a time of military dictatorship and her songs brought a carefree and contagious joy in dark and violent times. In the midst of this oppressive context, Raffaella decided to visit the country.
But, before, she had to change the lyrics of one of her hits that said “To make love well you have to come to the south” for a chaste and censorship-free version that assured that “To fall in love well you have to come to the south”.
When journalists asked her why, being a native of northern Italy, she sang that the best sex was in the south, her answer was: “Because ‘you have to come to the north’ does not rhyme.”
In the late 1970s, she gave up live performances to focus exclusively on television. Other successful programs followed such as Milleluci, Tante scuse, Ma che sera and Pronto, Raffaella!. The latter was a live telephone call contest that marked a milestone in audiences: in a country with 60 million inhabitants, the program was followed by 14 million. But Raffaella also paved the way for equal pay because when she found out that there were male presenters who earned more than her, she asked for her due and they gave it to her.
She was also encouraged to sing about homosexuality in times when families called the bachelor uncle the gay uncle. The song “Lucas” recounted in a fun and guiltless way a homosexual crush to the rhythm of the question: “Lucas, Lucas, where have you been? I saw him hugging a stranger, I don’t know who he was, maybe an old friend”.
When she was questioned or applauded for her songs, she would shy away from the heroine role and simply say, “They didn’t hurt anyone. They removed many prejudices from people who did not understand that a life is a life when you have freedom”.
But Raffaella also had phobias and obsessions: she hated the color violet and forbade her team to wear it in her presence or to use it in sets of her shows. She also disliked the number 17, associated with misfortune. She didn’t even dare to name him. “I call that number 16 bis,” she once said.
Raffaella was not only followed and loved by the audience, she also managed to be respected (something very different from being feared) by everyone. “When she walked through the door, everyone would fall silent to listen to her. She wasn’t just a blonde in tight, shiny clothes. She was a very powerful woman. She very strongly. And that was noticeable wherever she was,” described one of the people who worked with her.
At the end of the 1990s, she headed the Raffaella Carrá Show, a nightly program with interviews with international stars and all the glamor possible. She was the only one who managed to interview Mother Teresa of Calcutta in a television studio. The nun presented herself with her humble habit and the driver – without time to change her clothes – received her with a dress with enormous sleeves, feather shoulder pads and diamond cufflinks.
“When I saw her I said to myself: ‘Earth, swallow me,'” she recalled in an interview with a Spanish television. She was tiny, curvy, and with calluses on her hands from working so hard.
I asked myself: ‘What will this woman think of me?’ However, the meeting was fantastic. She was a woman strong as steel, but very small. She asked me if she could say a prayer and I really believe that a guardian angel helped me: despite the fact that she spoke with an inaudible voice, I was able to translate everything from beginning to end. In the end she told me: ‘Thank you’ “.
As of 2006, Raffaella’s presence on television began to be more spaced out. “I have had a lot in life. Now is the time to make way for the new generations,” she announced.
As for love, she had a ten-year relationship with Gianni Boncompagni, who composed a large part of the songs that made her famous. She later met Sergio Japino, who was 9 years younger than her and at that time was the choreographer in two of her programs
She never married. According to Carrà, she did not believe in marriage. She did not have children, although she wanted to; when she tried to have children, her doctor told her that she would not be able to. Instead, she decided to adopt several children from around the world from a distance.
She never had surgery and she kept the hair and the same silhouette as in her twenties. Her enviable status made the phrase “nothing is eternal, except the Carrà” popular in Italy. When asked about her successful career, she answered: “The strength of a character lies in the ability to know how to surround yourself with people of a high professional level, to love them and to be loved. All it takes is four or five to rely on…and you can conquer the world.”
And boy did she.
Raffaella Maria Roberta Pelloni died on July 5, 2021, at the age of 78, in Rome, Italy. Carrà died from lung cancer.
After Carrà’s death, RAI director Stefano Coletta revealed on television that there were plans to ask Carrà to present the Eurovision Song Contest 2022 and the Sanremo Festival in 2021.