August 08, 1988 12:00 PM

For Italian sex tigress Valeria (rhymes with malaria) Golino, the good news was that she had been signed for her first Hollywood movie, and would play the love interest of a major American star. The bad news was that it wasn’t Redford or Costner. No, when Valeria was called upon to deliver one of the screen’s longest kisses (we clocked it at 90 seconds), the face at the other end of the lip-lock was—hang on to your trapezes, folks—Pee-wee Herman. Their marathon smooch in Big Top Pee-Wee, the meganerd’s new movie, took seven drooling hours to film. And Golino isn’t just giving lip service when she says, “I’ve done 11 films, and he’s the best I’ve kissed.”

There is no question that Golino is a trouper. The 21-year-old actress performed some of her own trapeze stunts in the film, an especially surprising feat for a woman who was diagnosed as having scoliosis—curvature of the spine—at age 11, and had to have a steel rod implanted in her back for five years. “I can touch my toes, but I bend in a strange way,” she says. “I’ll never be in the Olympics.”

Golino grew up in Naples, Rome and Athens—her divorced parents shared custody—and made her film debut at 17 in Lina Wertmuller’s A Joke of Destiny. In 1986 she won a Best Actress Award at the Venice Film Festival for the Italian movie Love Story.

So she erupted like Vesuvius when asked to audition for Big Top Pee-Wee: “I said, ‘What?! I’m a star!’ ” She capitulated after seeing Herman’s earlier film. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. “He could have been a big sex symbol in the ’20s, a Rudolph Valentino,” says Golino.

For her second American outing, Golino will appear as Tom Cruise‘s girlfriend in the forthcoming Rain Man. “Tom is worried because people keep asking who is the better kisser,” says Golino. Pressed, her answer smacks of diplomacy: “We’ve just started, so I can’t make a decision yet.”

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