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Today we celebrate the 62nd birthday of actress/model/filmmaker Isabella Rossellini. She was born into Hollywood scandal: her mother, Ingrid Bergman, was denounced on the floor of Congress for her adulterous relationship with Isabella’s father, Italian neorealist director Roberto Rossellini. Isabella herself would go on to have romances with Martin Scorsese and David Lynch, finding her signature film role in the latter’s Blue Velvet. But her parentage and romantic relationships are only part of the story. She made her own fortune modeling, a career which the former scoliosis patient started at the relatively advanced age of 28, ultimately serving an unprecedented 14 years as the face of Lancome. In the 1990s — a decade which began with her being dumped by David Lynch and ended with her launching a company which she referred to as “a secret feminist plot” against the beauty industry — Isabella Rossellini took her legacy into her own hands.
This podcast was inspired by an image I stumbled across, from the brochure produced in 1999 to publicize Manifesto, Rossellini’s short-lived “feminist” cosmetics line. Also, I’m always happy for a chance to talk about Death Becomes Her, about which I wrote an entire chapter in my book about Meryl Streep.
I wanted to try to tell at least parts of Isabella’s story like a short story, which, practically, meant that instead of doing a lot of research from various angles, as I’ve done in previous episodes, I wanted to try to get inside my main subject’s point of view. So, one of my key sources was Isabella’s own 1997 memoir, Some of Me. This seems to be out of print, but if you’re interested in her I highly recommend it. It’s a little nutty, charmingly so, and also beautifully illustrated (it has made me obsessed with a certain 90s-vintage Dolce and Gabbana bra.). Isabella’s 1997 Fresh Air interview, which I’ve excerpted liberally within in the podcast, synthesizes a lot of the key themes of the memoir, as do many of her extended interviews, including this live chat with John Anderson, from which I excerpted a bit in which she talks about becoming a model at age 28.
It didn’t play a huge role into my research for this, but Ingrid Bergman’s autobiography is also very good.
Of the many magazine articles I read this week, these were the most useful:
“Isabella Makes a Fresh Start” Vanity Fair, January 1991
Isabella Rossellini, INDEX, 1999
“Daddy’s Girl” The Guardian, April 30, 2006
“Have Makeup Will Travel” SF Gate, January 11, 2000
“Isabella Rossellini Makes a Beauty Statement With Manifesto Line” LA Times, January 7, 2000
“Isabella Rossellini’s Manifesto: anatomy of a commercial fragrance failure” Examiner, March 15, 2010
"Blue Velvet," performed by Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet
Blue Velvet theme, by Angelo Badalamenti
“Single,” by Everything But the Girl
“Weightless,” by Washed Out
“Jump Into the Fire,” by Harry Nilsson
“But The World Goes Round,” performed by Liza Minnelli in New York, New York
Theme from Cousins, by Angelo Badalamenti
“Middle of the Road,” by The Pretenders
“Theme d’Amour” from Alphaville, by Paul Maraki
“Jonathan,” by Fiona Apple
“Spread Your Wings,” by Spiritualized
“Apartment Song,” by Possum Dixon
"Justify My Love," by Madonna
Death Becomes Her theme, by Alan Silvestri
"Moon River," performed by Morrissey
"Blue Lines," by Massive Attack
"Les Yper Sound," by Stereolab
"Flower," by Sonic Youth
"Naked Eye," by Luscious Jackson
"A Party Able Model Of," by Joan of Arc
"Blue Velvet," performed by Lana Del Rey