La Turca Desnuda by Tazio Secchiaroli, 1958

A sequence of photos taken by Tazio Secchiaroli at the Rugantino restaurant in Rome was perhaps one of the most iconic images from the early days of Roman paparazzi. They showed the belly dancer Aiché Nana performing on a carpet made of jackets at a party attended by several wealthy expats; the photos would later inspire the orgy scene at the climax of Federico Fellini’s classic La Dolce Vita.

In November 1958, Peter Howard Vanderbilt threw a birthday party for Olghina di Robilant, a 24-year-old Venetian countess, in the crowded Trastavere nightclub Rugantino. Rome was considered “Hollywood on the Tiber” back then and its high society gathered for the “bunga-bunga” bash of the day — or a “torrid cha-cha party”, as one tabloid described it later. The guest list was a Who’s Who of Hollywood and Rome’s titled café society. It included the actresses Linda Christian and Anita Ekberg, later the star of La Dolce Vita, Elsa Martinelli, Enrico Lucherini, the famous press agent, brilliant jazz pianist Umberto Cesari, and Mussolini’s daughter Anna Maria.

Photos before the dance

Nana stripped to her black underwear and gyrated on the floor. Many photographers took photos but police appeared at the club’s door and asked them to surrender their films. Afterall, one of the party’s guests was in charge of the local police station. But Tazio Secchiaroli managed to slip his film through. He was stopped along with the other photographers but he had earlier handed over his film rolls after to Enrico Lucherini. “You’re in a tuxedo. No one will stop you. Wait for me in front of the Royal cinema.”

Later, Tazio would be fictionalised by Fellini as the celebrity snapper Paparazzo, giving a name to the snappers who pursue celebrities.

The following morning, Victor Ciuffa, the gossip columnist for Corriere d’Informazione, talked to the police, trying to decide if he should publish Secchiaroli’s photos. “Nothing happened. If you journalists don’t talk about this, nothing happened,” the police had said. Ciuffa, however, decided to publish anyway. Secchiaroli’s images were splashed across the Italian papers. It immediately invited the ire of the Roman Catholic authorities.

“La Turca Desnuda (The Nude Turk)” cried the headline in L’Espresso, mistaking her nationality. “Roman orgy at Rugantino’s” read other headlines.

“Squalid story, squalid protagonists,” bemoaned Epoca, the most stately of Italian picture weeklies. “The deplorable scandal of Rugantino can be traced back to the sad mania for publicity that has now pervaded all environments,” noted Oggi, another weekly gossip magazine, presciently.

Born Kiash Nanah in Beirut in 1940, Aiché Nana was then an 18-year-old aspiring actress with a couple of saucy parts to her name: a teenage belly dancer alongside Omar Sharif in The Lebanese Mission, and a similar role in the Frankie Howerd film A Touch of the Sun (both 1956). She had gatecrashed the party.

Olghina di Robillant recalled: “The party was going very nicely when Peter Howard said to me, ‘Come and see who’s sitting at the bar.’ It was this woman caked with make-up like a clown and wearing very little clothing — Aïchè Nana. I said, ‘I don’t remember inviting you’ — and she ran to the dance floor and started dancing by herself, a thing nobody did.”

Nana was threatened with deportation. She lost a role in a Vittorio de Sica film, was sentenced to two months’ probation for obscene acts in public and afterwards, she left Rome for Paris. Some noted that she converted to Catholicisim to help her career. Wrapped in a mink stole with a scarf draped demurely over her head, Aiché tried to look as penitent and Mary Magdalene-like as possible in a series of very staged photos for Oggi. “The protagonist of the scandal at Rugantino on the path of Christian repentance,” the headline read.

But her career stalled. She only went on to play bit parts, including in a 1979 sexploitation film called Images in a Convent where she played a lusty Mother Superior.

Other men in the photo — the journalist Sergio Pastore (Nana’s husband), musicians Sergio Battistelli , Marcello Riccio and Peppino D’Intino, the Marquis Carlo Durazzo, Prince Pier Francesco Borghese and Prince Andrea Hercolani all got the same sentence. The musician Umberto Cesari who at the piano in the upper quarter of the picture immediately retired. Becoming so paranoid, he rarely left the house. The owner of Rugantino’s, Mario Crisciotti, was sentenced to pay a fine of three thousand lire. The restaurant was immediately shut down by the authorities after the scandal and never reopened.

Today, there was still a plaque noting its role in La Dolce Vita on a wall in Trastevere.

Fellini would slightly moderate Nana’s dance in his movie, because he was worried that the censors would not let it pass. In La Dolce Vita, the Romanian actress Nadia Gray disrobes but the camera looks away. Still the film was controversial for its time. Olghina di Robilant again: “We were furious with him because it wasn’t a decadent city. Fellini, who comes from Rimini, based the film on gossip… he was like a maid looking through the keyhole.”

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60 thoughts on “La Turca Desnuda by Tazio Secchiaroli, 1958

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