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Gia Scala (3 March 1934 – 30 April 1972) was a British-American actress and model, who was one of the most popular film and television stars of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Scala was born in Liverpool and brought up in Sicily, later moving to the United States where she began an acting career. Scala quickly became a prominent actress in Hollywood, receiving praise for her roles in The Garment Jungle (1957) and The Two-Headed Spy (1959), and appearing in critically acclaimed works such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1960) and The Guns of Navarone (1961).

Gia Scala
Gia Scala Goodyear Theatre.jpg
Gia Scala in Goodyear Theatre
Born Josephine Grace Johanna Scoglio
(1934-03-03)3 March 1934
Liverpool, Lancashire[1], England
Died 30 April 1972(1972-04-30) (aged 38)
Hollywood Hills, California, U.S.
Cause of death Acute ethanol and barbiturate intoxication
Resting place Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California
Occupation Actress, model
Years active 1955—1969
Spouse(s) Don Burnett (1959–1970; divorced)


Early lifeEdit

Josephine Grace Johanna Scoglio was born on 3 March, 1934 in Liverpool, England, UK to Sicilian father Pietro Scoglio, and Irish mother Eileen O'Sullivan. She had one sister, Tina Scala, also an actress.

Scala was brought up in Messina and Mili San Marco in Sicily, the latter on the estate of her grandfather, Natale Scoglio, who was one of the largest agriculturist of citrus in Sicily, mainly lemons known as the "Ballerina Brand". It was the custom of upper social and economic class families in Sicily to send their young adult children to live abroad to experience other cultures and learn other languages. When Scala was 16 years-old she moved to the United States to live with her aunt Agata in Whitestone, Queens, New York City. Scala had always wanted to be an actress, however, her very religious aunt disapproved of her aspirations; but after she graduated from Bayside High School, she moved to Manhattan to pursue acting. There Scala supported herself by working at a travel agency, where she met a person with connections to a television producer.

During this time, Scala took acting classes from Stella Adler where she met Steve McQueen, and the two dated from 1952 to 1954. Scala began to appear on game shows, particularly Stop the Music, where she was spotted by Maurice Bergman, an executive of Universal International located in New York City.[2]


Scala in the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "Mother, May I Go Out to Swim?"

In 1954, accompanied by her mother, Scala flew to Los Angeles to screen test for the role of Mary Magdalene for the up-coming film The Gallileans. She did not get the part, but it did not matter because the film was soon scrapped. Nevertheless, Peter Johnson at Universal Studios was impressed with Scala's close-ups in the screen test. Scala had her first official job in Hollywood when she was given a non-speaking, uncredited part in the movie All That Heaven Allows, starring Rock Hudson. Despite her very minor role in the movie, Universal Studios signed her to a contract, dyed her hair dark brown, had her four front teeth capped, and gave her the stage name Gia Scala.

While Henry Mancini worked with Universal Pictures, he met Scala on the Four Girls in Town stage. Inspired by her beauty, he wrote "Cha Cha for Gia" which became an uncredited tune for the 1957 movie.[3]

As Scala's stardom began to rise in 1957, her mother died, and she became unstable as she was emotionally distraught. In 1958, while she was filming The Two Headed Spy in London, Scala and her father were sharing an apartment where late one night they had an argument, causing Scala to leave the apartment in anger. She got into a taxi and headed to the Waterloo Bridge, where it looked as if she were going to jump off the bridge. The taxi driver called the police, and she was taken to the police station where she was collected by her father in the morning. Later that year, she became a naturalized citizen of the United States.[4] After the filming of The Two Headed Spy was complete, her father moved to Taormina, Sicily, where he retired from the import/export business. Scala soon landed several remarkable roles in Tip on a Dead Jockey (1957), The Garment Jungle (1957), and The Tunnel of Love (1958), which featured Richard Widmark and Doris Day. Her performance as a labour organiser in The Garment Jungle was critically acclaimed.

Gia received recognition for her performance as Anna in the film The Guns of Navarone (1961), starring Gregory Peck and David Niven.

Scala made frequent appearances on American television shows during the 1960s, co-starring with William Shatner in a 1960 Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode entitled "Mother, May I Go Out to Swim?", another called "Deathmate", and with Christopher Lee in a 1964 Alfred Hitchcock Hour segment entitled "The Sign of Satan". She also guest-starred in other series, Convoy, The Islanders, The Rogues, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Twelve O'Clock High episode "Rx for a Sick Bird" (1965), the NBC TV series Tarzan (1967), and It Takes a Thief (1969) in the episode "The Artist Is for Framing", which came to be her final acting role.

Later yearsEdit

On 21 August 1959, Scala had married Don Burnett, an actor turned investment banker. After 10 years of marriage Burnett left her, moved in with Rock Hudson, but later married Barbara Anderson. Gia and Don divorced on 1 September 1970. Scala had difficulties with alcohol, and as a middle-aged actress, her career began to wane. There have been numerous publications that incorrectly reported her situation deteriorated as a result of depression that led to the excessive drinking.[5] Scala began to undergo frequent psychiatric observations.

In 2015 author/researcher Sterling Saint James wrote a book about Gia Scala's life entitled Gia Scala: The First Gia. Tina Scala gave intimate information about her sister's life.


On the night of 30 April 1972, 38 year-old Scala was found dead in her Hollywood Hills home.[6] Los Angeles County Coroner Thomas Noguchi reported her cause of death was from an "acute ethanol and barbiturate intoxication" and was later ruled accidental.

The circumstances surrounding Scala's death have been questioned, with some believing it was a result of either murder or suicide rather than accidental. Her sister Tina Scala never believed that she intended to take her life nor that her death was accidental. She had a prescription for valium and three tablets were missing from the bottle, but valium is a benzodiazepine not a barbiturate. Also, Scala was discovered nude sprawled across her bed, and bruises were found on her body and blood was on her pillow. The bedroom seemed to be staged with wine bottles and dirty wine glasses strewn about, which was suspicious as Scala was known to be a very organized and neat person.

Scala is interred next to her mother Eileen O'Sullivan-Scoglio in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.


In 2008, the Democratic Republic of the Congo released a postage stamp bearing Scala's image.

Gia Scala: The First Gia is the title of a book published first in December 2014, republished in July 2015. The book discusses in detail her personal and professional life.

Film and television creditsEdit

Year Title Role Notes
1954 Stop the Music game show contestant, later became Bert Parks' assistant
1955 All That Heaven Allows Marguerita uncredited
1956 Never Say Goodbye Minnie uncredited
1956 The Price of Fear Nina Ferranti Gia Scala
1957 TV- Goodyear Theatre Giovanna
1957 Four Girls in Town Vicki Dauray
1957 The Big Boodle Anita Ferrer filmed in Cuba
1957 Don't Go Near the Water Melora Alba MGM
1957 The Garment Jungle Theresa Renata
1957 Tip on a Dead Jockey Paquita Heldon filmed in Spain and Culver City, California
1958 Ride a Crooked Trail Tessa Milotte filmed in Los Angeles
1958 The Tunnel of Love Estelle Novick MGM
1958 The Two-Headed Spy Lili Geyr filmed in London
1959 The Angry Hills Eleftheria filmed in Greece and London
1959 Battle of the Coral Sea Karen Philips
1960 I Aim at the Stars Elizabeth Beyer filmed in Munich, Germany
1960 Alfred Hitchcock Presents (TV) Lottie Rank "Mother, May I Go Out to Swim?"
1960 The Islanders (TV) Rhea "Duel of Strangers"
1961 The Guns of Navarone Anna filmed in Rhodes Island and London
1961 Here's Hollywood (TV) Herself Episode 1.154
1961 Hong Kong (TV) Maria Banda "The Runaway"
1961 Alfred Hitchcock Presents (TV) Lisa Talbot "Deathmate"
1962 Il trionfo di Robin Hood Anna filmed in Croatia and Italy
1964 Operation Delilah Dalida filmed in Spain
1964 Alfred Hitchcock Presents (TV) Kitty Frazier "The Sign of Satan"
1964 The Rogues (TV) Simone Carnot "Take Me to Paris"
1965 The Rogues (TV) Lisa de Monfort "The Laughing Lady of Luxor"
1965 Convoy (TV) Madeline Duval "Passage to Liverpool"
1965 Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (TV) Dr. Katya Markova "Jonah & the Whale"
1965 Twelve O'Clock High (TV) Ilka Zradra "Rx for a Sick Bird"
1965 Run for Your Life (TV) Marika Takacs "How to Sell Your Soul for Fun & Profit"
1966 Jericho (TV) Simone DuBray "Upbeat & Underground"
1967 Tarzan (TV) Martha Tolboth "The Golden Runaway"
1969 The Name of the Game (TV) Renata Marino "The Inquiry"
1969 It Takes a Thief (TV) Angel "The Artist Is for Framing (last appearance)


  1. ^ Before 1st April 1974 Liverpool was part of Lancashire
  2. ^ "Gia Scala: The First Gia". 
  3. ^ "Four Girls in Town Sound Track". 
  4. ^ Crivello, Kirk (1 January 1990). Fallen Angels: The Lives and Untimely Deaths of 14 Hollywood Beauties. Berkley. p. 188. ISBN 0-425-11968-8. 
  5. ^ Crivello, Kirk (1 January 1990). Fallen Angels: The Lives and Untimely Deaths of 14 Hollywood Beauties. Berkley. pp. 187–188. ISBN 0-425-11968-8. 
  6. ^ "Gia Scala Is Dead; Film Actress, 38". The New York Times. 2 May 1972. p. 46. 

External linksEdit