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, 27 July 2018

Adolfo Celi – actor and director

Successful career of a Sicilian who was typecast as a baddy


Adolfo Celi in his most famous role as the villain Emilio Largo in the 1965 Bond film Thunderball
Adolfo Celi in his most famous role as the villain
Emilio Largo in the 1965 Bond film Thunderball
An actor who specialised in playing the role of the villain in films, Adolfo Celi, was born on this day in 1922 in Curcuraci, a hamlet in the province of Messina in Sicily.

Celi was already prominent in Italian cinema, but he became internationally famous for his portrayal of Emilio Largo, James Bond’s adversary with the eye patch, in the 1965 film Thunderball.

He had made his film debut after the Second World War in A Yank in Rome (Un americano in vacanza), in 1946.

In the 1950s he moved to Brazil, where he co-founded the Teatro Brasiliero de Comedia.  He was successful as a stage actor in Brazil and Argentina and also directed three films.

Celi’s big break came when he played the villain in Philippe de Broca’s That Man from Rio. Afterwards he was cast as the camp commandant in the escape drama, Von Ryan’s Express, in which Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard played prisoners of war.

After appearing in Thunderball, Celi was offered scores of big parts as a villain.

Celi (left) in a scene from the 1975 comedy-drama  Amici miei (My Friends), directed by Mario Monicelli
Celi (left) in a scene from the 1975 comedy-drama
Amici miei (My Friends), directed by Mario Monicelli
He later made a spoof of Thunderball in the film, OK Connery, in which he played opposite Sean Connery’s brother, Neil.

Despite being fluent in several languages, Celi’s heavy Sicilian accent meant he was always dubbed when he appeared in English language films.

But he was allowed to speak for himself when he appeared as the Spanish pope, Alexander VI, formerly Rodrigo Borgia, in the 1981 BBC series, The Borgias.

Celi was married three times. His son, Leonardo Celi, is a director and his daughter, Alessandra Celi, is an actress.

Celi (right) played Pope Alexander VI in The Borgias
Celi (right) played Pope
Alexander VI in The Borgias
In his later years, Celi worked mainly in the theatre. In February 1986, when he was 64, he was in Siena directing and acting in I misteri di Pietroburgo, a theatrical version of Dostoevsky’s work, The Mysteries of St Petersburg.

He suddenly became ill and his friend, the great Italian theatre and film actor Vittorio Gassman, had to take his place on the stage for the premiere of the play on the evening of February 19.

Adolfo Celi died a few hours later in hospital after suffering a heart attack. He was buried in the Cimitero Monumentale in Messina.

The church of Santa Maria dei Bianchi in Curcuraci was rebuilt by residents
The church of Santa Maria dei Bianchi
in Curcuraci was rebuilt by residents
Travel tip:

Curcuraci, where Adolfo Celi was born, is about 7km (4 miles) north of the town of Messina. The Church of Santa Maria dei Bianchi in the village had been built in a place where, according to tradition, the Madonna had appeared in 1347. The church was destroyed in an earthquake in 1908 but the local people worked together to rebuild it, completing the reconstruction by 1926. There is a statue of the patron saint of Curcuraci by the entrance gate and the residents hold a celebration for the saint every year on the first Sunday in September.

The Teatro dei Rinnovati, reopened in 1950, is the most famous of several theatres in the city of Siena
The Teatro dei Rinnovati, reopened in 1950, is the most
famous of several theatres in the city of Siena
Travel tip:

The most important theatre in Siena, the city where Celi died, is the Teatro dei Rinnovati right in the centre of the city in Piazza del Campo. Built in the 17th century to a design by the architect Carlo Fontana, the theatre opened in 1670 with a performance of the opera, L’Argia.  The theatre fell into disrepair in the early part of the 20th century and closed in 1927 but with the support of the famous Siena bank Monte dei Paschi, the municipal administration embarked on a programme of renovations designed to make it safe to use. Work was interrupted by the Second World War but the theatre was finally reopened in 1950.

More reading:

Why Mario Monicelli was called 'the father of Commedia all'Italiana'

The comic genius of Alberto Sordi

How Messina was all but destroyed in Italy's worst earthquake

Also on this day:

1835: The birth of poet and Nobel Prize winner Giosuè Carducci

1915: The birth of opera singer Mario del Monaco

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