Take it from Randi Ingerman, even a calendar girl gets the blues. “Sometimes I need to get the hell out of here,” says Ingerman. “This place can drive you crazy.”
The place is Italy, where the Philadelphia-born Ingerman, a model, television host and hugely successful pinup girl, has lived since 1995. Her long-time companion, now husband of two years, rocker Luca Bestitti, is Italian. Her celebrity status at present is Made-in-Italy. Her passionate character is also Latin.
But her U.S. citizenship, she knows, is essential to her charm. “Here you are always the American,” she says, “the special one.”
A vodka television commercial launched Ingerman’s fresh and typically all-American face, and body, into Italian households nearly a decade ago. Since then she’s padded her show business resumé by appearing with Maurizio Costanzo and co-hosting the variety show “La Febbre del Sabato Sera.” She’s also played leading roles in prime-time TV shows including “Il tesoro di Damasco,” “Cerco lavoro,” “Fatima” and “Il ritorno di Sandokan,” as well as the series “Gli uomini sono tutti uguali.”
More recently, her nude calendars have become a booming business. But she doesn’t classify herself as a femme fatale and her sexuality is used as a means to an end. Her wish is to show women — and men — that you need not be 20 to look good. “I try to be different from other sex symbols. I’m a girl’s girl. I love to lunch, I love to shop.”
Yet the move from small-part acting to Italian diva hasn’t been seamless. In many respects Ingerman confronts the kinds of dilemmas faced by all expatriates — especially if they’re female and attractive.
“I am used to being very direct, precise,” says the Montessori-school educated Ingerman. “Here, I am considered a pain in the ass. In America, if you’re a beautiful, smart, assertive woman, you are appreciated. Here, you are intimidating, threatening.”
While such outspokenness might endear her to foreign women, it makes some Italians roll their eyes and mutter, “Not again” — she’s even argued with her husband, who thinks she’s “too aggressive” professionally for Italy. “Here you have to play a little game sometimes… I’ll play the demure part, bat my eyelashes if I have to. But it’s taken me a long time to earn respect.”
Ingerman, 36, has paid her dues. She quit modeling at 23 to study acting, eventually landing small roles in the NBC 1980s TV hit “Miami Vice” and Paramount’s “The Watcher.” She also appeared in Jack Nicholson’s 1990 sequel to “Chinatown,” “The Two Jakes.”
Then came the Keglevich Vodka commercial that made her hot property here. At first, she shuttled between the U.S. and Italy, but Bestitti finally persuaded her to stay on after her father’s death.
Ingerman has managed to make Italy her home, but her relationships with Italians are not as close as those she has formed with other American expats. “I did the Italian thing in the beginning. When I first came here, I was friends [only] with my husband’s friends’ wives and girlfriends, but I’m not anymore.
“With the Americans, we understand each other immediately. With the Italians, I’m a little guarded. I’m all Scorpio, all passion, all or nothing. If it’s anything less, I’d rather be alone.”
Ingerman does nothing to hide her need to escape Italy and be with her mother, brother and sister at home. She particularly enjoys the company of her unmarried sister, 18 months younger, who works and lives alone in the Philadelphia area. The two women are very close. “I cook for her and take care of her,” she says. “We enjoy our time together.”
When she needs a break from Italy, Ingerman tells her husband — not asks him, she stresses — that she needs to go to America to see her family. He responds, she says, with an “OK, honey. Have a good time.” Ingerman takes “breaks” so frequently (every two or three months, and the couple also spends all of August in America) that it verges on bi-continental living, which is Ingerman’s ultimate goal.
“The ideal would be to work in America and live in Italy. In my personal life, I am extremely Italian and in my professional life, I am extremely American. I live for my husband and my family. I love to cook for and take care of my man.”
She also likes the polite intimacy Italy offers. A number of Hollywood stars, including George Clooney — who recently purchased a villa near Como — enjoy the privacy that living here affords. Ingerman says her notoriety has brought her closer to Italian society. She enjoys grocery shopping and talking with the fruit and vegetable sellers at the local market.
However, she’s had to struggle more career-wise. Though fluent in Italian, she’s still lost jobs by insisting her lines not be dubbed when the part is within her linguistic grasp.
At times, she sounds unfulfilled, even doubting. Asked how the nude calendars have affected her Italian career, she says, “Career in Italy? Wow! What is my career in Italy?”
Still, the nude shots have hiked her visibility, and her income. Her Capital magazine calendar sold out in 10 days and was reissued in November with six new shots. Ingerman is the first to admit the calendar craze is something that works in this country, not at home, where mass-appeal eroticism clashes with Puritanical values. “I figure this is Italy, go with it.”
Though she downplays its importance, the Capital calendar was a studied career-move. Ingerman has always wanted to win over Italian women, especially those who know how tough it is to work in a male-dominated market. The calendar, she says bluntly, was done on her terms, and based on her own personal and sexual priorities.
“It’s not a vulgar calendar like some of the others. Not like: ‘Look at this water drip off my ass.’ I’m wearing a sailor hat and I’m naked but I’m laughing.”
Some of the laughter she directs at herself: “I told myself, ‘Better do it now while people still want to see you naked; you’re not getting any younger.’” Women and men alike, including Giorgio Armani, have applauded her tasteful nudity: she modeled her look on 1950s and 60s pinups she always admired.
On the personal side, her monogamy and loyalty to Bestetti, she says, have earned her personal and professional respect. Such loyalty is hardly commonplace in the Italian show business world.
Despite her success, Ingerman isn’t resting on her Capital calendar laurels.
She’s peddling a 13-part television series she wrote, financed and produced for American TV, aptly called “From Italy, With Love.”Ingerman describes the half-hour shows as a hybrid of a reality show and “Charlie’s Angels.” She shares hosting duties with former MTV-Italia Veejays Kris and Kris — now Top of the Pops Italy hosts — and the trio visit a different Italian city each week, highlighting art, culture, food and wine. They also openly discuss how it is to live in Italy as a foreigner and a celebrity.
Above all, though, Ingerman wants children.
And when she talks about them it is clear that she is still leading parallel lives, like most American women who reside in Italy. She plans on sending her children to American school when they are grammar-school age so they can have a sense of their culture and heritage and participate in athletic programs, which she feels are essential to a child’s formation. “Ideally, I’d like to divide my time between Italy and the U.S. I want my mother to be able to enjoy her grandchildren.”