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Alessandra Mussolini, Benito's Granddaughter, Acts to Erase the Shame of the Family Name

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Even on a quiet beach in Israel, she cannot escape the name. “Suddenly I heard someone yell ‘Mussolini,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, God, here it comes,’ ” recalls Alessandra Mussolini. “But he lifted his thumb and called out, ‘You’re okay.’ ”

Now that’s a welcome change. The young actress is the granddaughter of Benito Mussolini, the Italian Fascist dictator who linked arms with Hitler, and the name usually inspires more pungent shouts. But Alessandra also has a more agreeable inheritance—the slanted green eyes, sculpted cheekbones and wide, sensual mouth of her aunt, Sophia Loren. The actress’s beauty has led to her first starring role—as a Jewish soldier in love with an Israeli journalist in the low-budget Israeli action feature The Road to Ein Harod.

The part represents a personal triumph for Mussolini, 25—as well as several ironic twists of history. Five years ago, she forfeited her role in the feature film The Assisi Underground when relatives of Jewish survivors of World War II objected to her casting as the daughter in a Jewish family. Her grandfather’s Fascists, after all, had aided and abetted the genocide of Italian Jews during the war years. “If my name were Pasolini or Rossi, my life would be easier,” says Alessandra. “But I never thought of changing it. That would mean that I am ashamed to be Alessandra Mussolini, which is stupid because Alessandra Mussolini never did anything to be ashamed of.”

The elder daughter of Romano Mussolini, the dictator’s son who became a jazz pianist, and Sophia’s younger sister, Maria Scicolone, Alessandra was reared in a Naples household she describes as “relatively poor. All that the Mussolinis possessed had been confiscated. My father made his living playing in clubs.” But when she was 3, her parents separated, and later her mother married Magab Tamiz, an Iranian cardiologist. “My mother wanted my sister and me to live a normal life,” she says, describing her childhood. “I always picked friends who weren’t impressed with my family ties.”

Alessandra speaks of II Duce reluctantly, but with a dedication to family. “He was a dictator, yes, but he was not a tyrant,” she says. “A dictator keeps control and leads. A tyrant is someone selfish who destroys. He never took anything for himself.” Her impressions of her grandfather—whose lifeless body was hung upside down and stoned by an Italian mob 18 years before she was born—differ rather markedly from the historical record. “My father remembers him as a wonderful family man, an impulsive man, honest, romantic and a woman chaser,” she says. “I don’t want to judge him politically. After all, he is my grandfather.”

Memories of her other famous relative come firsthand. “I used to sit in Sophia’s dressing room and do homework,” she says. When Loren was starring in Alberto Lattuada’s Bianco, Rosso e…(White, Red and…), 9-year-old Alessandra was cast as the star’s younger self. Later, she played in 1977’s A Special Day, with Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. Alessandra was too young to appreciate the irony: The film dealt with the rise of Fascism.

For a while her mother, who wanted Alessandra and her younger sister, Elisabetta, to attend regular school, put a stop to her daughter’s show business career. Indeed, in 1985 Alessandra enrolled in medical school in Rome, where she says she is now less than two years away from her M.D. “Even if I make a fortune in films, I want to have a diploma,” she says, “so I don’t finish life as a little clerk.”

Alessandra’s break came six years ago, when she was named the decorative co-host of a weekly Italian TV variety show. “Aunt Sophia phoned,” she remembers, “and told me, ‘It’s about time someone followed in my footsteps.’ ” She has worked steadily in film and TV since, but without further encouragement from Aunt Sophia. According to Alessandra, a year ago Loren asked her niece to act opposite her in an Italian TV remake of Two Women, the 1960 movie that won her an Oscar. But after months of waiting, Alessandra says she read that the role had been given to another. “I was sick,” she says. “My grandmother, Sophia’s mother, said to me, ‘Don’t be angry, it is not her fault. It is [Loren’s producer husband] Carlo Ponti. She does what he tells her.’ So I said to myself, ‘In this business it’s tough to do it by yourself, but you can do it.’ ”

In the end, she may even get some help from her name. Her new project, she says, is “all about friendship and peace. I feel that, because I am the granddaughter of Mussolini, in this film I’m giving a small message to the new generation. That’s why I’m here.”

—Tim Allis, Mir a Avrech in Tel Aviv