Gina Lollobrigida insists that movies — and movie stars — were different in her day. “I was born at a time when the cinema was really, really powerful,” says the Italian actress. “The stars from those days, including myself, have a long-lasting fame that I am amazed by.”

It’s true. Gina, 95, who was once dubbed “the most beautiful woman in the world,” retired from acting in the 1990s, but she’s still making headlines. For the past several years, she and her only son have been locked in a legal battle over her estimated $35 million fortune, which he accuses Gina of squandering on her young male assistant and his family. “My life is mine, and I get to decide what to do with it,” says the still fiery diva.

Born in 1927, Gina modeled and competed in beauty pageants before a talent scout spotted her in Rome. “I refused when they offered me my first role,” says Gina, who wound up doing small parts in Italian films before a modeling shot caught the eye of American billionaire Howard Hughes. She accepted his invitation to visit Hollywood but refused his romantic advances. “Time and time he tried to get me!” says Gina, who was already married. “I later realized he was a very interesting man. More interesting than my husband.”

Gina Lollobrigida Amazed By Fame

Mainstream success arrived after Gina co-starred with Humphrey Bogart in her first English language film, 1953’s Beat the Devil. Bogie reportedly quipped at the time that Gina “made Marilyn Monroe look like Shirley Temple.”

Over the next two decades, Gina remained one of Italy’s hottest exports, co-starring with Burt Lancaster, Anthony Quinn, Tony Curtis and more. However, she was much less successful in love. Her marriage to physician Milko Skofic, the father of her only son, Andrea, ended in 1971 after 22 years. “People thought we had a very happy marriage, but … we weren’t really together,” she explains of the last years. “When divorce was legalized in Italy, I was one of the first to get it.”

Newly free, Gina established herself as a photojournalist, shooting Paul Newman and Audrey Hepburn, among others, and scoring an exclusive interview with Cuba’s Fidel Castro. In the 1980s, she turned her talents to sculpting, an art she was studying when Hollywood first came calling. “I like to succeed at something that I love,” she explains. “I tried with singing, I tried with photography, I tried with movies and I tried with sculpturing. Lately, I draw.”

While the legal battle with her son remains a cloud on her horizon, Gina insists she will continue to do things her own way. “I never cared about money,” says the star, who has homes in Rome and Monte Carlo. “I have never made any compromise, remaining independent and always alone. My strength is my free spirit.”