Gina Lollobrigida was scheduled to be in New York and Collier’s Magazine asked me to do some shots of her. She was thought of as a torrid sex goddess, but that had been done so much I wanted to go in a different direction. I suggested making her an American hillbilly. When the editor ran the idea past Gina she loved it. I planned to create a barn in the studio and have Gina in a red blouse, jeans with suspenders, riding a mule.
At the time, my studio was on East 65th Street between 5th and Madison on the second floor of an old townhouse. I called up an agency that rents animals and was put in touch with the mule procurer whose name (I swear) was Hopalong Rabinowitz. On the day of the shoot, an hour after he was supposed to be there, no mule. I called the agency, but no one knew where Hopalong was. Finally, the doorbell rang. I rushed downstairs and saw this little man wearing a cowboy hat with a mule in tow. “What a day!” he gasped. I asked what happened.
“Well, I had the mule in a taxi…”
“In a big Checker cab, the kind with the folding seats. On 96th Street we stopped for a red light and the mule sticks his head out of the window and gives a big Naaaaaaa. It scared a policeman who was right next to us. He said it’s illegal for mules to travel in taxis. So we had to walk down here from 96th Street."
I told Hopalong we had to get him up to the second floor. “Sure,” he said and proceeded to lead the mule up the flight of red carpeted stairs.
Gina arrived a few minutes later and we started the shoot. Every once in a while, the mule would let out this terrific “Naaaaaa!” One of the neighbors must have heard it and called the police. “We hear you have a mule in here. He’s got to get out right away. That’s illegal.”
I explained I was doing a shoot and we’d have him out in a few more minutes. I invited them in to meet Gina. She was totally disarming. By the time they left, they were insisting that we keep the mule around for as long as we needed.
Somehow the newspapers got wind of all this, and we got a tremendous amount of publicity even before the first pictures were published.