28 March 2020

28 March

Anselmo Colzani - opera star

Baritone who had 16 seasons at the New York Met

Anselmo Colzani, an operatic baritone who was a fixture at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as La Scala in his home country, was born on this day in 1918 in Budrio, a town not far from Bologna.  His stage career continued until 1980, when he made his final stage appearance in one of his signature roles as Scarpia in Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca.  Although his repertoire was much wider, his reputation became strongly associated with the works of Puccini and Giuseppe Verdi, with Jack Rance in Puccini's Fanciulla del West and the title role of Verdi's Falstaff, as well a Amonasro in Aida and Iago in Otello among his most famous roles.  Colzani’s association with the Met began in March 1960 after he was approached by Rudolf Bing, the opera house’s general manager, following the sudden death of Leonard Warren onstage during a performance of La Forza del Destino.  A few weeks later, Colzani took over Warren's role in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. It was not only the first time he had sung at the Met, but the first time he had sung the role.  Read more…


Fra Bartolommeo - Renaissance great

Friar rated equal of Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo

Fra Bartolommeo, the Renaissance artist recognised as one of the greatest religious painters, was born on this day in 1472 in Savignano di Vaiano, in Tuscany.  Also known as Baccio della Porta, a nickname he acquired because when he lived in Florence his lodgings were near what is now the Porta Romana, Bartolommeo created works that chart the development of artistic styles and fashion in Florence, from the earthly realism of the 15th century to the grandeur of High Renaissance in the 16th century.  His most famous works include Annunciation, Vision of St Bernard, Madonna and Child with Saints, the Holy Family, the Mystic Marriage of St Catherine, God the Father with SS Catherine of Siena and Mary Magdalene and Madonna della Misericordia.  Bartolommeo always prepared for any painting by making sketches, more than 1,000 in total over the years he was active.  Around 500 of them were discovered at the convent of St Catherine of Siena in Florence in 1722, where nuns were unaware of their significance.  He is also remembered for his striking profile portrait of Fra Girolamo Savonarola, the fanatical priest under whose influence he came in the 1490s.  Read more…


Alberto Grimaldi - film producer

Spaghetti western trilogy gave Naples producer his big break

Film producer Alberto Grimaldi, who boasts an extraordinary list of credits that includes Last Tango in Paris, The Canterbury Tales, Man of La Mancha, Fellini's Casanova, 1900, Ginger and Fred and Gangs of New York, was born in Naples on this day in 1925. Grimaldi trained as a lawyer and it was in that capacity that he initially found work in the cinema industry in the 1950s.  However, he could see the money-making potential in production and in the early 1960s set up his own company, Produzioni Europee Associate (PEA).  His first three productions, cashing in on the popularity in Italy of westerns, enjoyed some success but it was a meeting with Sergio Leone, the Italian director, that earned him his big break. Leone, whose first venture into the western genre, A Fistful of Dollars, had been an unexpected hit both for him and the young American actor, Clint Eastwood, was busy planning the sequel when a dispute arose with his producers over the cost of the movie.  As it happened, Grimaldi's first production, The Shadow of Zorro, had been filmed, like A Fistful of Dollars, on location in Spain.  Read more…


27 March 2020

27 March

Gianluigi Lentini - transfer record breaker

AC Milan outbid Juventus for Torino star

Gianluigi Lentini, who was for four years the world's most expensive footballer, was born on this day in 1969.  A winger with Torino known for outstanding dribbling skills, crossing accuracy and lightning pace, Lentini was the subject of a fierce bidding war between Torino's city neighbours, Juventus, and defending Serie A champions AC Milan in the summer of 1992 which ended with Milan paying a fee of around £13 million for the 23-year-old star.  It was the second time in the space of a few weeks that Milan had paid a world record sum for a player, having signed the French striker Jean-Pierre Papin from Marseille for £10 million.  At a time when the Italian league was awash with cash, the Papin record itself had been eclipsed a short while before the Lentini deal was agreed when Juventus paid Sampdoria £12 million for striker Gianluca Vialli.  The Lentini record would remain until Newcastle United forked out £15 million for the Blackburn and England striker Alan Shearer in 1996.  Born in Carmagnola, a small town around 30 kilometres (18 miles) south of Turin, Lentini made his Serie A debut for Torino as a 17-year-old.  Read more…


Alessandro La Marmora - military general

Founder of Italy's famed Bersaglieri corps

The general who founded the Italian army's famous Bersaglieri corps was born on this day in 1799 in Turin.  Alessandro Ferrero La Marmora was one of 16 children born to the Marquis Celestino Ferrero della Marmora and his wife Raffaella.  The family had a strong military tradition. Alessandro was one of four of the male children who grew up to serve as generals.  La Marmora was a captain when he came up with the idea for the Bersaglieri in 1836.  He had spent much time in France, England, Bavaria, Saxony, Switzerland, and the Austrian county of Tyrol studying armies and tactics and he approached King Carlo Alberto of Piedmont-Sardinia with the idea of creating a new corps of light infantry.  He envisaged a mobile elite corps similar to the French chasseurs and Austrian jägers, trained to a high physical level and all crack marksmen.  He suggested they should act as scouts, providing screen for the main army, operate as skirmishers and use their sharpshooting skills to weaken the flanks of the enemy during a battle.  From this proposal emerged the Bersaglieri, soldiers who were trained to be bold, carrying out their duties with patriotic fervour despite personal danger.  Read more…


Joe Sentieri - singer and actor

Career remembered for international hit song

The singer, songwriter and actor Joe Sentieri, who released seven albums and around 100 singles over the course of a career spanning more than a quarter of a century, died on this day in 2007 in the Adriatic coastal city of Pescara.  Although he enjoyed considerable success in his own right, he tends to be remembered most for his association with an Italian song that became an international hit after it was translated into English.  Sentieri’s 1961 song Uno dei tanti - One of the Many - was given English lyrics by the American producing partners Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and repackaged as I (Who Have Nothing).  A hit first for the American soul and R&B star Ben E King, it was covered with considerable success by the British artists Tom Jones and later Shirley Bassey. The Jones version reached No 14 in the Billboard Hot 100 chart, while Bassey’s climbed to No 6 in the UK singles chart in 1963 and became a staple of her concert repertoire.  Countless other cover versions were released over time, by performers as diverse as Petula Clark and Joe Cocker, Katherine Jenkins and Gladys Knight.   Read more…


Luca Zaia - politician

Popular president of Veneto tipped as future PM

The politician Luca Zaia, who was spoken of as a possible candidate to be Italy’s prime minister following the recent elections, was born on this day in 1968 in Conegliano, in the Veneto.  Zaia, who has been president of the Veneto region for almost eight years, received an approval rating of 56 per cent in a 2018 poll to find the most popular regional governor, the highest rating of any of Italy’s regional presidents.  A member of the Lega party, formerly Lega Nord (Northern League), he was suggested by some commentators as a dark horse for the position of President of the Council of Ministers - the official title of Italy’s prime minister.  Before successfully standing to be Veneto’s president in 2010 he had served in national government as Minister of Agriculture under Silvio Berlusconi.  At the 2018 election, the populist Movimento Cinque Stelle (Five Star Movement) won the biggest proportion of the vote at just over 32 per cent and the Lega achieved its highest share at just under 18 per cent, almost as many as the Democratic Party.   The Lega, whose traditional position was to campaign for an independent northern Italy, have been branded far-right because of the anti-immigration and anti-EU rhetoric of some of their leading figures. Read more…


26 March 2020

26 March

Elio de Angelis - racing driver

The 'last gentleman racer' of Formula One

The Formula One motor racing driver Elio de Angelis was born on this day in 1958 in Rome.  His record of winning two Grands Prix from 108 career starts in F1 may not look impressive but he was regarded as a talented driver among his peers, holding down a place with Lotus for six consecutive seasons alongside such talents as Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna, both future world champions.  He had his best seasons in 1984 and 1985, which encompassed seven of his nine career podium finishes and in which he finished third and fifth respectively in the drivers' championship standings. Tragically, he was killed in testing the following year, having left Lotus for Brabham in frustration after perceiving that Senna was being given more favourable treatment.  De Angelis was seen by many in motor racing as "the last of the gentlemen racers." In contrast to his teammate Mansell, who came from a working class background in the West Midlands of England, De Angelis was born into wealth.  His family was long established in the upper echelons of Roman society.  His father, Giulio, ran a successful construction company and raced powerboats.  Read more…


Guccio Gucci – fashion designer

The man whose name inspired the interlocking G logo

The founder of the House of Gucci, Guccio Gucci, was born on this day in 1881 in Florence.  In the early 1900s Gucci worked as a lift boy at the Savoy Hotel in London, where he was inspired by the elegance of the wealthy people who stayed there and their smart luggage.  On his return to Florence he started making his own line of leather travel bags and accessories and in the 1920s he opened a small leather and equestrian shop in Via della Vigna Nuova.  Gucci later added handbags to his line and relocated to a bigger shop. He was fascinated with horses and his handbags featured clasps and fasteners resembling horse bits and stirrups. He gained a reputation for hiring the best craftsmen he could to work on his products.  In 1938 he expanded his business to Rome. When raw materials became scarce during the war he used materials such as hemp and linen to make his bags, but still trimmed them with metal resembling horse bits and stirrups.  The Gucci label later became famous for certain key products, such as a bag with bamboo handles and a pair of classic loafers.  Gucci and his wife, Aida Calvelli, had six children.  Read more…


Lella Lombardi - racing driver

Only woman to win points in Formula One

Maria Grazia “Lella” Lombardi, the only female driver to finish in a points position in a Formula One world championship motor race, was born on this day in 1941 in Frugarolo, near Alessandria in Piedmont.  She finished out of the points in 11 of the 12 world championship rounds which she started between 1974 and 1976 but finished sixth in the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix, a race marred by the tragic deaths of five spectators after the car being driven by the German driver Rolf Stommelen went out of control and somersaulted over a barrier into the crowd.  His was the eighth car to crash in the first 25 of the 75 laps and the race was halted four laps later when it became known there had been fatalities. At that moment, Lombardi’s March-Ford was in sixth position, albeit two laps between race leader Jochen Mass.  The points were awarded on the basis of positions when the race was stopped. In normal circumstances, a sixth-place finish would have been worth one point but because less than three-quarters of the race had been completed the points were halved, thus Lombardi was awarded half a point.  Read more…


25 March 2020

25 March

NEW - Veronica Franco – courtesan and poet

The literary talent of a popular prostitute

The beautiful courtesan, Veronica Franco, was born on this day in 1546 in Venice.  A cortigiana onesta, literally 'honest courtesan', but really meaning intellectual and high class, Veronica is remembered for the quality of her poetry as well as her profession.  In the 16th century Venice was renowned for the number of its courtesans and Veronica became one of the most famous of them.  She had three brothers who were educated by tutors and fortunately her mother, a former cortigiana onesta herself, had ensured that Veronica shared that education.  Veronica was married in her mid-teens to a physician, but she soon initiated divorce proceedings.  She asked her husband to return her dowry but he refused, and with a young child to support, she had no choice but to become a courtesan.  She was a great success and was able to support her family well for the next few years.  By the time she was 20, Veronica was among the most popular and respected courtesans in Venice.  Among her clients were King Henry III of France and Domenico Venier, a wealthy poet whose salon she joined.  As a member of the Venetian literati, Veronica participated in discussions and contributed to collections of poetry.  Read more…


Mina - pop star

Italy’s all-time top selling female artist

The pop singer Anna Maria Mazzini, better known simply as Mina, was born on this day in 1940 in the Lombardy city of Busto Arsizio.  Since her debut single in 1958, Mina has sold well in excess of 150 million records, which makes her the top-selling female performer in Italian music history. Only her fellow 60s star Adriano Celentano can boast larger figures.  The pair worked together on one of Italy’s biggest-selling albums of all-time in 1998. Mina Celentano sold an impressive 2.365 million copies. They revived the collaboration in 2016 with Tutte Le Migliori.  Mina also enjoys an iconic status in the history of female emancipation in Italy as a result of the sensational ban imposed on her by the state television station RAI in 1963 following her affair with a married actor, Corrado Pani, by whom she became pregnant.  Despite pressure from the Catholic Church, whose position as the guardians of Italy’s public morals was still very strong at the time, the broadcaster was forced by the weight of public opinion, as well as Mina’s unaffected record sales, to rescind the ban the following January.  Read more…


Tina Anselmi - ground-breaking politician

Former partisan became Italy’s first female cabinet minister

The politician Tina Anselmi, who made history in 1976 as the first woman to hold a ministerial position in an Italian government and later broke new ground again when she was appointed to chair the public inquiry into the infamous Propaganda Due masonic lodge, was born on this day in 1927 in Castelfranco Veneto.  Anselmi was chosen as Minister for Labour and Social Security and then Minister for Health in the government led by Giulio Andreotti from 1976 to 1979.  In 1981, she became the first woman to lead a public inquiry in Italy when she was asked to head the commission looking into the clandestine and illegal P2 masonic lodge, which had among its members prominent journalists, members of parliament, industrialists, and military leaders and was suspected of involvement in many scandals in pursuit of an ultra-right agenda.  Anselmi’s political views were heavily influenced by her upbringing in the Veneto during the years of Mussolini and war. She was from a comfortable background - her father was a pharmacist in Castelfranco Veneto, while her mother ran an osteria with her grandmother.  Read more…


Francesco I - Grand Duke of Tuscany

Florentine ruler at heart of Medici murder mystery

Francesco I, the Medici Grand Duke whose death at the age of 46 became the subject of a murder mystery still unsolved 430 years later, was born on this day in 1541 in Florence.  The second to be given the title Grand Duke of Tuscany, Francesco was the son of Cosimo I de' Medici, the first to hold the title, and Eleonor of Toledo.  Like his father, Francesco was often a despotic leader, but while Cosimo's purpose was to maintain Florence's independence, Francesco's loyalties were not so clear. He taxed his subjects heavily but diverted large sums to the empires of Austria and Spain.  He continued his father's patronage of the arts, supporting artists and building the Medici Theatre as well as founding the Accademia della Crusca and the Uffizi Gallery. He was also interested in chemistry and alchemy and spent many hours in his private laboratory.  It was his personal life that he is remembered for, beginning with an unhappy marriage to Joanna of Austria, youngest daughter of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor and Anne of Bohemia and Hungary.  Joanna was reportedly homesick for her native Austria, and Francesco was unfaithful from the start.  Read more… 


Veronica Franco – courtesan and poet

The literary talent of a popular prostitute

Veronica Franco was in her lifetime one of the most famous courtesans in Venice
Veronica Franco was in her lifetime one of the
most famous courtesans in Venice
The beautiful courtesan, Veronica Franco, was born on this day in 1546 in Venice.

A cortigiana onesta, literally 'honest courtesan', but really meaning intellectual and high class, Veronica is remembered for the quality of her poetry as well as her profession.

In the 16th century Venice was renowned for the number of its courtesans and Veronica became one of the most famous of them.

She had three brothers who were educated by tutors and fortunately her mother, a former cortigiana onesta herself, had ensured that Veronica shared that education.

Veronica was married in her mid teens to a physician, but she soon initiated divorce proceedings.  She asked her husband to return her dowry but he refused, and with a young child to support, she had no choice but to become a courtesan.

She was a great success and was able to support her family well for the next few years.  By the time she was 20, Veronica was among the most popular and respected courtesans in Venice.

Among her clients were King Henry III of France and Domenico Venier, a wealthy poet whose salon she joined.

Franco was sponsored by the wealthy poet and socialite Domenico Venier
Franco was sponsored by the wealthy poet
and socialite Domenico Venier
As a member of the Venetian literati, Veronica participated in discussions and contributed to collections of poetry published by other members of the salon.

In 1575 she published Terze Rime, a collection of 25 verse letters, of which 17 had been written by her.

Veronica’s poetry was sexually explicit. She was not ashamed of being a courtesan and she defended the rights of courtesans and women generally in several of the poems.

Soon after her book was published, a bout of plague broke out in Venice that was to last for two years. Veronica was forced to flee the city and while she was away her house was looted and she lost most of her possessions. She was saved from ruin only by the generosity of her client, Domenico Venier.

The plague had killed her mother and one of her brothers so Veronica was left with the care of her nephews as well as her own three children. She unsuccessfully tried to persuade Venice to fund a charity for the children of courtesans.

In 1577, her son’s tutor denounced her to the Inquisition on a charge of witchcraft, a common complaint lodged against courtesans at the time. 

She defended herself eloquently and, helped by her many clients among the nobility, managed to win an acquittal.  But by then she had lost most of her money and she had to move to a poor area of the city.

In 1580, Veronica published a collection of 50 letters she had written to her clients and friends.  Little is known about her life after that time and she died at the age of 45 in poverty.

Her life was the subject of a book, The Honest Courtesan, by US author Margaret Rosenthal, which was published in 1992. The 1998 film, Dangerous Beauty, was based on the book.

Franco was sponsored by the wealthy poet
and socialite Domenico Venier
Travel tip:

Many of Venice’s 16th century prostitutes, which at one time amounted to a fifth of the city’s female population, did their business in an area of the San Polo sestiere known as Carampane, not far from the Rialto bridge. The name derives from a particularly infamous brothel called Palazzo Ca’ Rampani. Today, visitors to Venice can stroll down Rio Terra de la Carampane towards San Cassiano and cross the Ponte delle Tette - Bridge of Tits - where prostitutes used to gather to advertise their services. The nearby Trattoria Antiche Carampane, a highly regarded restaurant known for its seafood.

The west face of the church of Santa Maria Formosa, which  was frequented by Franco as a girl
The west face of the church of Santa Maria Formosa, which
was frequented by Franco as a girl
Travel tip:

Ca’ Venier, the house where Veronica Franco’s patron, Domenico Venier, held his literary salons and where Veronica read and circulated most of her poems, was in Campo Santa Maria Formosa in the Castello sestiere, which is also known to have been Franco’s home parish. Ca’ Venier can be found adjoining the popular Hotel Scandinavia, opposite the church of Santa Maria Formosa, which was built at the end of the 15th century and completed by the middle of the next century.

Also on this day:

1541: The birth of Francesco I, the Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany

1927: The birth of Tina Anselmi, who in 1976 became Italy’s first female cabinet minister

1940: The birth of pop star Mina


24 March 2020

24 March

Luigi Einaudi - politician and winemaker

Composer's grandfather was President of the Republic

The politician, economist, journalist and winemaker Luigi Einaudi was born on this day in 1874 in Carrù, in the province of Cuneo in what is now Piedmont.   Einaudi, who is the grandfather of the musician and composer Ludovico Einaudi and the father of publisher Giulio Einaudi, was elected President of the new Italian Republic between 1948 and 1955, the second person to occupy the post.  He was actively involved with politics from his university days, when he supported socialist movements.  For a decade he edited a socialist magazine but later took a more conservative position. After being appointed to the Senate of the Kingdom of Italy in 1919, in the days when the upper house of the Italian parliament was a non-elected body, he was one of the signatories in forming the Italian Liberal Party (PLI).  The PLI initially joined forces with the Italian Fascists and it was through their support that Mussolini was able to win the 1924 general election with an absolute majority.  Einaudi had been both a journalist and an academic since graduating in law from Turin University in 1895.  Read more…


Mimmo Jodice - photographer

Camera work with shades of metaphysical art

Domenico ‘Mimmo’ Jodice, who has been a major influence on artistic photography in Italy for half a century, was born on this day in 1934 in Naples.  Jodice, who was professor of photography at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Napoli from 1969 to 1996, is best known for his atmospheric photographs of urban scenes, especially in his home city.  Often these pictures reflected his fascination with how Italian cities habitually mix the present and the future with echoes of the past in their urban landscapes, with the incongruous juxtapositions of ancient and modern that were characteristic of metaphysical art occurring naturally as part of urban evolution.  His books Vedute di Napoli (Views of Naples) and Lost in Seeing: Dreams and Visions of Italy have been international bestsellers and he has exhibited his work all over the world.  Born in the Sanità district of Naples, Jodice was the second of four children. His father died when he was still a boy and the requirement that he find work as soon as he was able meant he had only a limited education.  Nonetheless, he was drawn towards art and the theatre, classical music and jazz.  Read more…


Dario Fo – writer and actor

Prolific playwright put the spotlight on corruption

Playwright and all round entertainer Dario Fo celebrates his 90th birthday today. He was born in Leggiuno Sangiano in the Province of Varese in Lombardy on this day in 1926.  His plays have been widely performed and translated into many different languages. He is perhaps most well known for Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997.  Fo’s early work is peppered with criticisms of the corruption, crime, and racism that affected life in Italy at the time. He later moved on to ridicule Forza Italia and Silvio Berlusconi and more recently his targets have included the banks and big business.  He was brought up near the shores of Lago Maggiore but moved to Milan to study. During the war he served with several branches of the forces before deserting. He returned to Milan to study architecture but gave it up to paint and work in small theatres presenting improvised monologues. In the 1950s Fo worked in radio and on stage performing his own work. He met and later married actress Franca Rame and they had a son, Jacopo, who also became a writer.  Read more…


Guido Menasci - poet, librettist and biographer

Respected writer and historian who found fame from an opera

The writer Guido Menasci, who is best known as a co-author of the libretto for composer Pietro Mascagni’s successful opera Cavalleria rusticana but was also a respected historian, was born on this day in 1867 in the Tuscan port of Livorno.  Menasci, a law graduate from the University of Pisa and briefly a prosecutor at the Court of Appeal in Lucca, wrote for a number of literary magazines in Italy and beyond and produced a biography of the German poet and playwright Johann Wolfgang Goethe that is considered a definitive work.  Fluent in French as well as Italian, he published books and gave lectures in Paris, often on the subject of art history, which was another of his fascinations.  Yet he was most famous for his work with Mascagni and his fellow librettist, Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti, whom he met through his involvement with literary and cultural societies in Livorno, where all three grew up.  They collaborated on a number of operas, the most famous of which by some way was Cavalleria rusticana, which was performed for the first time in 1890, at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome.   Based on a novella of the same name by Giovanni Verga, Cavalleria rusticana is a simple story of betrayal and revenge.  Read more…


23 March 2020

23 March

NEW - Franco Battiato – singer-songwriter

Long career of a musical philosopher

One of the most popular singer-songwriters in Italy, Franco Battiato, was born on this day in 1945 in Ionia in Sicily.  Nicknamed Il Maestro, Battiato has written many songs with philosophical and religious themes. He has also had a long-lasting professional relationship with Italian singer Alice, with whom he represented Italy at the 1984 Eurovision Song Contest.  Battiato graduated from high school at the Liceo Scientifico Archimede in Acireale, a city in the province of Catania in Sicily.  He went to Rome and then moved on to Milan, where he won his first musical contract. After his first single, La Torre, was released, Battiato performed the song on television. After some success with the romantic song E l’amore, he released the science fiction single La convenzione, which was judged to be one of the finest Italian progressive rock songs of the 1970s.  The albums of electronic music he produced in the ‘70s, obscure at the time, are now sought after by collectors.  His popularity grew after he moved away from progressive rock to a more mainstream pop style, producing music that was regarded as elegant, yet easy to listen to. Read more…


The founding of the Italian Fascists

Mussolini launched party at 1919 Milan rally

Italy's notorious dictator Benito Mussolini officially formed what would become known as the National Fascist Party on this day in 1919 at a rally in Milan's Piazza San Sepolcro.  A war veteran and former socialist activist who had moved towards a more nationalist political stance, Mussolini initially drew his followers together as the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (Italian Combat Group).  This group evolved into the Partito Nazionale Fascista (PNF) two years later, sweeping to power in 1922 when King Victor Emmanuel III, fearing civil war after 30,000 of Mussolini's supporters, the Blackshirts, marched on Rome, asked Mussolini to form a government.  Born the son of a blacksmith in Predappio, in Emilia-Romagna, Mussolini had been an active socialist, first in Switzerland, where he had moved as a 19-year-old to seek work and avoid military service, and again when he returned to Italy.  He became a leading figure in the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) and edited the left-wing newspaper Avanti.  But he was expelled by the PSI because of his opposition to the party's neutral stance on the First World War.  Read more…


Ugo Tognazzi - comic actor

Achieved international fame through La Cage aux Folles

Ugo Tognazzi, the actor who achieved international fame in the film La Cage aux Folles, was born on this day in 1922 in Cremona.  Renowned for his wide repertoire in portraying comic characters, Tognazzi made more than 62 films and worked with many of Italy's top directors.  Along with Vittorio Gassman, Alberto Sordi and Nino Manfredi, Tognazzi was regarded as one of the four top stars of commedia all'Italiana - comedy the Italian way - in the 1960s and 1970s.  In 1981 he won the award for best actor at the Cannes International Film Festival for his role in Bernardo Bertolucci's Tragedia di un Uomo Ridicolo (The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man).  His work was widely acclaimed in Italy, but it was not until he was cast in the role of homosexual cabaret owner Renato Baldi in the French director Édouard Molinaro's 1979 movie La Cage Aux Folles that he became known outside Italy.   The film became in its time the most successful foreign language film ever released in the United States, with box office receipts of more than $20 million.  The film spawned two sequels in which Tognazzi reprieved the role of the mincing Baldi, who in the story was the joint owner of a night club in St Tropez that specialised in drag acts.  Read more…


Lorenzino de’ Medici - assassin

Mystery over motive for killing cousin

Lorenzino de’ Medici, who became famous for the assassination of his cousin, the Florentine ruler Alessandro de’ Medici, was born on this day in 1514 in Florence.  The killing took place on the evening of January 6, 1537.  The two young men - Alessandro was just four years older - were ostensibly friends and Lorenzino was easily able to lure Alessandro to his apartments in Florence on the promise of a night of passion with a woman who had agreed to meet him there.  Lorenzino, sometimes known as Lorenzaccio, left him alone, promising to return with the woman in question, at which point Alessandro dismissed his entourage and waited in the apartments.  When Lorenzino did return, however, it was not with a female companion but with his servant, Piero, and the two attacked Alessandro with swords and daggers. Although a struggle ensued, they killed him.  The motive has been debated for centuries. One theory was that it was an act of revenge following a legal controversy the previous year, when Alessandro sided against Lorenzino in a dispute over the inheritance of his great, great grandfather, Pierfrancesco the Elder.  Read more…