At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Suso Cecchi D'Amico - screenwriter

Woman who scripted many of Italy's greatest movies


Suso Cecchi D'Amico, pictured in 1999
Suso Cecchi D'Amico, pictured in 1999
Suso Cecchi D’Amico, the most accomplished and sought-after screenwriter in 20th century Italian cinema, was born on this day in 1914 in Rome.

She collaborated on the scripts of more than 100 films in a career spanning 60 years and worked with almost every Italian director of note, particularly the pioneers of neorealism, the movement in which she was a driving force.

The classic films in which she was involved are some of the greatest in cinema history, including  Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948), William Wyler's Roman Holiday (1953), Mario Monicelli's I Soliti Ignoti (1958), which was released in the United States and Britain as Big Deal on Madonna Street, and Francesco Rosi's Salvatore Giuliano (1962).

She also worked with Michelangelo Antonioni on Le Amiche (The Girlfriends, 1955) and Franco Zeffirelli on Jesus of Nazareth (1977), but she was best known for her professional relationship with Luchino Visconti, for whom she was the major scriptwriter on almost all his films from Bellissima (1951) to The Innocent (1976), including his acclaimed masterpieces Rocco and His Brothers (1960) and Il Gattopardo - The Leopard (1963).

She was born Giovanna Cecchi in Rome. Just after her birth, her father named her Susannah, of which Suso is a Tuscan diminutive. Her mother, Leonetta Pieraccini, was a painter from a theatrical family in Tuscany, while her father, Emilio Cecchi, from Florence, was a journalist and literary critic. They lived for a while in Ariccia, in the Castelli Romani.

Anna Magnani and Luchino Visconti on the set of Bellissima, scripted by Cecchi D'Amico
Anna Magnani and Luchino Visconti on the set
of Bellissima, scripted by Cecchi D'Amico
For a few years in the early 1930s, her father had worked for Mussolini's government, running the state-backed film company, which brought her into contact with many prominent figures from the film industry and the theatre, including Italy's leading theatre critic, Silvio D'Amico, whose son, Fedele, would later become Cecchi’s husband.

Cecchi was educated in Switzerland and then at Cambridge University before her father pulled strings to find her a job in Mussolini's ministry of foreign trade, where she worked for seven years as a secretary and interpreter.

She left when she married, from which point she became known as Cecchi D’Amico, although it would have been difficult for her to continue to work for the Fascist government given Fedele’s politics.

Fedele was a prominent member of the Italian resistance during the Second World War and edited an anti-Fascist newspaper, which meant he had to go into hiding.

After the war, he was in poor health and went to Switzerland for treatment for tuberculosis. With three children to raise, Cecchi D’Amico was obliged to become the breadwinner. She helped her father translating English literary works into Italian, including Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure and Shakespeare plays, which in turn led her into writing scripts for the cinema. She and her father worked together, in fact, on her first film, in 1946.

In 1947 she worked on two films directed by Luigi Zampa -  Vivere in Pace (To Live in Peace) and L'Onorevole Angelina (roughly Angelina: Member of Parliament), the latter starring Anna Magnani, who she had met first during the filming of Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City in 1945, in which she had peripheral involvement, and who became one of her closest friends.

Cecchi D'Amico with her husband, Fedele, in 1943
Cecchi D'Amico with her husband, Fedele, in 1943
In 1948 she was one of several scriptwriters who shared credits with De Sica and Cesare Zavattini on Bicycle Thieves, based on Luigi Bartolini's novel, which followed an impoverished man who searches for his stolen bicycle with his young son. It was Cecchi D’Amico who contributed the moving final scene in which, in a departure from the book’s ending, the man attempts to steal a replacement bicycle but is caught by the crowd and humiliated in front of his son, which leads them, as it happens, to form an even closer bond. She would later work with De Sica on another neorealist masterpiece, Miracle in Milan, in 1951.

She was invited to work on Roman Holiday after Wyler became aware Ben Hecht's original script, about a princess (Audrey Hepburn) who meets an American reporter (Gregory Peck) in Italy, failed to capture the real mood of 1950s Rome.

Cecchi D’Amico made her first film with Visconti in 1951, a satirical look at the film business entitled Bellisima, again starring Magnani. Subsequently she wrote or co-wrote all Visconti's films except two.

She was popular with directors because she was content to make creative suggestions and let them believe the ideas were their own. She had a special relationship, both professionally and in private, with Visconti, who generally conceived the outline of films himself but looked to Cecchi D’Amico for suggestions and advice.

The story of her life, Suso, aired
on Italian TV in 2007
She helped further the careers of many Italian stars. For instance, the comedy Big Deal on Madonna Street made a star of Marcello Mastroianni and gave Gina Lollobrigida her first significant part.

Cecchi D’Amico scripted several projects for Mario Monicelli. Indeed, her last work was on a Monicelli film, The Roses of the Desert (2006), a war movie set in Libya.

Given a lifetime achievement award at the Venice Film Festival in 1995, she explained that had there been more newspapers in the post-War years she might have been a journalist and that the neorealist movement was in essence another way in which she and others could write stories about the Italy they saw around them.

She died in Rome in 2010, having survived her husband by 20 years. Their three children have all made contributions to Italian cultural life - Silvia as a film producer, Caterina in directing the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia film school in Rome, and Masolino as a translator, critic and teacher.

Masolino's daughter, Margherita, interviewed her grandmother for the 1996 book Storie di Cinema (e d'Altro) – Stories About the Cinema (and Other Things), the closest Cecchi D’Amico came to an autobiography.  In 2007, a film about Cecchi D'Amico's life, entitled Suso, featuring conversations with Margherita and directed by the actor Luca Zingaretti was shown on Italian TV.

The Liceo Chateaubriand in Rome
The Liceo Chateaubriand in Rome
Travel tip:

Cecchi D’Amico went to school in Rome at the Liceo Chateaubriand on Via di Villa Ruffo, not far from Piazza del Popolo at the start of the fashionable Flaminio district, a chic residential area but also home to the Auditorium Parco della Musica, a venue designed by Renzo Piano, the Maxxi Museum of Modern Art and the Ponte della Musica, the modern foot and cycle bridge across the Tiber.

A stall at the Porta Portese market
A stall at the Porta Portese market 
Travel tip:

Many of the sights of Rome have been used for movie locations but some are less well known than others.  The exterior shots for Gregory Peck’s apartment in Roman Holiday were filmed in Via Margutta, a street not far from Piazza di Spagna and the Scalinata di Trinita dei Monti, otherwise known as the Spanish Steps, where Federico Fellini once lived.  Many of the scenes in Bicycle Thieves were shot around Porta Portese in Trastevere, which still hosts the largest Sunday market in Rome.


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