Showing posts with label 1942. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1942. Show all posts

27 April 2018

Vittorio Cecchi Gori - entrepreneur

Ex-president of Fiorentina who produced two of Italy’s greatest films

Former Fiorentina owner and film producer Vittorio Cecchi Gori
Former Fiorentina owner and film
producer Vittorio Cecchi Gori
Vittorio Cecchi Gori, whose chequered career in business saw him produce more than 300 films and own Fiorentina’s football club but also saw him jailed for fraudulent bankruptcy, was born on this day in 1942 in Florence.

The son of Mario Cecchi Gori, whose production company he inherited, he provided the financial muscle behind two of Italy’s greatest films of recent years, Il Postino (1994), which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, and Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful (1997), which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film.

He was also involved with the 1992 Oscar winner Mediterraneo, directed by Gabriele Salvatores, which also won in the Best Foreign Language film category.

Vittorio’s legacy from his father also included Fiorentina football club, of which he was president from 1993 to 2002.

Cecchi Gori with his late father Mario
Cecchi Gori with his late father Mario
With Cecchi Gori’s backing, while his involvement with the movie business was generating such huge profits, Fiorentina enjoyed great times.  He invested heavily in new players and persuaded the club’s icon, the Argentine forward Gabriel Batistuta, to stay after the viola were relegated in 1993.

With Claudio Ranieri as coach, they won the Coppa Italia in 1996, their first trophy in 20 years, following it up by winning the Super Cup later the same year and another Coppa Italia in 2001. In the 1999-2000 season they had played in the Champions League for the first time.

Yet the impetuous entrepreneur was to run into serious financial difficulties in subsequent years and went from revered to reviled in Florence after his own business collapse became Fiorentina’s collapse also.

His problems began in 1995, when he mounted an ambitious challenge against Italy’s television duopoly, held by the public broadcaster RAI and Silvio Berlusconi’s Fininvest.

Cecchi Gori with the Fiorentina star Gabriel Batistuta
Cecchi Gori with the Fiorentina star Gabriel Batistuta
Cecchi Gori bought up some small TV companies used their infrastructure to create a new channel, La7, and formulating an ambitious plan to acquire the rights to televise Serie A, the top division of the Italian Football League. He failed to secure them, however, ratings hit an all-time low and the new channel was sold for a huge loss.

An expensive divorce did not help, plunging him into huge personal debt, and in 2001 it was revealed that Fiorentina had debts equating to $50 million.  Their fortunes on the field were in decline also and things came to a head at the end of the 2001-02 season, when they were relegated from Serie A and promptly entered judicially-controlled administration, a form of bankruptcy.  Because of this, they were refused a place in Serie B for the following season and had to start again in Serie C, the third division, after effectively winding up the historic club and starting a new one.

At the same time, Cecchi Gori’s business empire was collapsing.   Prized assets such as his luxurious apartment in the Palazzo Borghese in Rome, the Multisala Adriano, his Rome cinema complex, and his film library were sold to raise funds, but to no avail.

Police investigations into his affairs dogged him for years.  In 2006 he was found guilty of illegally redirecting millions of dollars from Fiorentina into other businesses and in 2013 received a six-year jail term in connection with the bankruptcy of his production company, Safin Cinematografica.

Until his business problems, Cecchi Gori served as a member of the Italian Senate between 1994 and 2001, having been elected as a member of the centre-right Partito Popolare Italiano.

Florence's Stadio Artemio Franchi
Florence's Stadio Artemio Franchi
Travel tip:

In a city best known for its magnificent Renaissance architecture, the Stadio Artemio Franchi, the home stadium of Fiorentina, is notable as a classic of early 20th century design. Opened in 1931, it was designed by the renowned architect and structural engineer Pier Luigi Nervi and constructed entirely of reinforced concrete with a 70m (230 ft) tower that bears the stadium's flagstaff. Originally called Stadio Giovanni Berta, after a local Fascist, it was changed to Stadio Comunale before taking the name of Franchi, then Italian Football Federation president, in 1991.

The narrow rear facade of the Palazzo Borghese overlooks the Tiber
The narrow rear facade of the Palazzo
Borghese overlooks the Tiber
Travel tip:

The Palazzo Borghese, where Cecchi Gori had an apartment valued at almost €10 million, is a palace in Rome that was originally the home of the powerful Borghese family, who settled in Rome in the 16th century and also owned the Villa Borghese and surrounding gardens. The palace was nicknamed il Cembalo - the harpsichord - due to its unusual trapezoid shape, with its narrowest rear facade facing the Tiber river. The front facade - the keyboard of the harpsichord - opening on to the Fontanella di Borghese. The first floor has housed the Spanish Embassy since 1947.


6 July 2017

Cesare Mori - Mafia buster

'Iron Prefect' who 'eliminated' the Cosa Nostra

Cesare Mori was well known for his hard-line methods
Cesare Mori was well known for
his hard-line methods
Cesare Mori, the prefect of police credited with crushing the Sicilian Mafia during the inter-War years, died on this day in 1942 at the age of 70.

At the time of his death he was living in retirement in Udine, in some respects a forgotten figure in a country in the grip of the Second World War.

Yet during his police career his reputation as a hard-line law enforcer was such that the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini personally appointed him as prefect of Palermo, charged with breaking the Mafia’s hold over Sicily and re-establishing the authority of the State by any means necessary.

Mori was born in Pavia in Lombardy, by then part of the new Kingdom of Italy, in 1871.  His upbringing was difficult.  His first years were spent living in an orphanage, although his parents were not dead and looked after him after he had turned seven.

He attended the Military Academy in Turin and was set on a career in the army but after marrying Angelina Salvi in 1897 he quit and joined the police, taking up a posting in Ravenna.

His first experience of Sicily came with a brief posting to Castelvetrano, near Trapani, where he captured a notorious bandit, Paolo Grisalfi, before moving to Florence in 1915.

Mori was sent back to Sicily after the First World War, at which time the island was becoming virtually lawless, with gangs of bandits able to operate almost with impunity. He was placed in charge of a special force created to tackle brigandage.

Mori was uneasy about the Fascists but agreed to become a blackshirt to carry out his job
Mori was uneasy about the Fascists but agreed
to become a blackshirt to carry out his job
He soon became known for taking a somewhat radical approach to the job, pushing acceptable policing methods to their limits and sometimes beyond. But they worked. In Caltabellotta, a town in rugged, mountainous territory between Agrigento and Palermo, he arrested more than 300 suspected bandits in just one night.

The press hailed the arrests as a "lethal blow to the Mafia", but Mori was aware that these gangs of brigands were not the Mafia, whose presence in Sicilian society was much less visible but far more dangerous, with a sphere of influence that extended into business and local government and even the local police forces.

Mori was actually uneasy about the rise of Fascism.  Back on the mainland, as prefect of Bologna he was one of the few policemen who opposed the suppression of opponents by thuggery that was becoming part of the Fascist culture.  This led him to be posted to Bari, well away from the major centres of Fascist activity. After Mussolini took power following the 1922 March on Rome, Mori took it as his cue to retire, moving with his wife to Florence.

Yet the prospect of eliminating the so-called Cosa Nostra in Sicily continued to interest him and when Mussolini’s Minister of the Interior, Luigi Federzoni, approached him to return to policing in 1924, he accepted the requirement to join the Fascist party as a condition of the job and took up the post of prefect of Trapani.

Just over a year later, having determined that eliminating the Mafia would bring him huge public support, Mussolini made contact with Mori in person, asking him to become prefect of Palermo with 'carte blanche' to re-establish the authority of the Italian government, promising to draw up any new laws he required to carry out the task.

In a four-year campaign, Mori became known as ‘the Iron Prefect’, employing methods that included violence and intimidation on a scale almost the equal of the tactics used by the Mafia themselves.

Joseph Bonanno left Sicily to escape Mori's purge
Joseph Bonanno left Sicily
to escape Mori's purge
His men laid siege to entire towns, humiliating Mafia bosses by dragging them out of their beds in the early hours, and countering the code of silence – omertà – that all members were supposed to follow by using torture to obtain information, even threatening harm to their families if they refused to co-operate.

More than 11,000 arrests were made during his time in charge. Mussolini rewarded him by making him a Senator and retiring him in 1929, his propaganda machine announcing to Italy that the Mafia had been eradicated.

Whether that was true has been the subject of many arguments.  The murder rate on the island dropped sharply in the 1930s as some Mafiosi chose to give evidence to police in return for their own lives and others, such as Joseph Bonanno, relocated to the United States and built crime empires there.

But, according to some historians, too many of Mori’s arrests were of minor figures and a substantial number of bosses simply went to ground, content to lie low in the expectation that the Fascists would eventually fall from power.

This was to come about, of course, with the Allied invasion of 1943, which began in Sicily.  Mafia figures still on the island and in the US took the opportunity to offer their help, both in encouraging Sicilians to turn against the Fascists and in passing on their knowledge of the difficult terrain and often treacherous coastline.

As cities and towns fell and new local administrations were appointed, Mafia figures manoeuvred themselves into key positions and, slowly but surely, their power was restored.

Mori’s story has been the subject of several books and films, notably the 1977 movie, Il prefetto di ferro – the Iron Prefect – directed by Pasquale Squitieri and starring Giuliano Gemma and Claudia Cardinale, with music by Ennio Morricone.

The old part of Trapani sits on a promontory
The old part of Trapani sits on a promontory 
Travel tip:

Situated on the western coast of Sicily, Trapani is a fishing and ferry port notable for a curving harbour, where Peter of Aragon landed in 1282 to begin the Spanish occupation of Sicily. Well placed strategically to trade with Africa as well as the Italian mainland, Trapani was once the hub of a commercial network that stretched from Carthage in what is now Tunisia to Venice. Nowadays, the port is used by ferries serving Tunisia and the smaller islands, as well as other Italian ports.  The older part of the town, on a promontory with the sea on either side, has some crumbling palaces and others that have been well restored, as well as a number of military fortifications and notable churches.

The Certosa di Pavia is notable for its lavish Gothic and Renaissance architecture
The Certosa di Pavia is notable for its lavish
Gothic and Renaissance architecture
Travel tip:

Once a Roman military garrison, Pavia has a well preserved historic centre and, 8km (5 miles) to the north side if the city, the impressive Certosa di Pavia, a monastery complex built between 1396 and 1495. It is the largest monastery in Italian and is renowned for its extravagant Gothic and Renaissance style, a contrast to the plain, austere architecture normally associated with Carthusian religious buildings. Pavia is also home to one of Italy’s best universities, the alumni of which include explorer Christopher Columbus, physicist Alessandro Volta and poet and revolutionary Ugo Foscolo.

16 June 2016

Giacomo Agostini - world motorcycle champion

Lovere exhibition commemorates record-breaking career 

Photo of Giacomo Agostini
Giacomo Agostini
Giacomo Agostini, 15 times Grand Prix world motorcycling champion, celebrates his 74th birthday today.

Born on this day in 1942 in Brescia, Agostini moved with his family to the lakeside town of Lovere when he was 13 and his career is being commemorated with a month-long exhibition at the Accademia Tadini, which overlooks the picturesque Lago d'Iseo.

The exhibition is timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Agostini's first world championship in 1966.

Riding for the Italian MV Agusta team, Agostini won the 500cc class seven times in a row from 1966 to 1972 and the 350cc class seven times in succession from 1968 to 1974, adding a further 500cc title on a Yamaha in 1975.

His total of 122 Grand Prix wins from 1965 to 1976 is the highest by any rider in the history of the sport, although his fellow Italian, 37-year-old Valentino Rossi, is now only eight behind on 114 following his victory in the Catalan GP on June 5.

Agostini, considered perhaps the greatest motorcycle racer of all time, was at the peak of his powers between 1967 and 1970.

In 1967, he won an epic duel with his former MV Agusta teammate, Britain's Mike Hailwood, who was riding for Honda.  They were tied on five race wins each going into the final GP of the season in Canada, where Hailwood won, with his rival second.  That meant they were tied on points and wins, but Agostini had a greater number of second place finishes and so he was crowned champion.

For the next three seasons, after Hailwood left motorcycle racing to race cars, Agostini dominated, winning every race in which he competed in 350cc and 500cc classes, equalling Hailwood's record for most wins in a single year in 1970 when he was first in 19 races.

Agostini also won 10 races at the Isle of Man TT, the most by any non-British rider. It might have been more but he decided to quit TT racing in 1972 after his close friend, Gilberto Parlotti, was killed during the event.

Photo of Giacomo Agostini in race action in 1969.
Giacomo Agostini (No 1) in action at Riccione in 1969.
His great rival Mike Hailwood is No 63.
The only Italian to win the prestigious Daytona 200 race in America - he was victorious in 1974 - Agostini retired in 1977 at the age of 35 after competing in the 1977 British GP at Silverstone.  He had a season driving in Formula One cars for Williams in 1980 but then switched to management, where he enjoyed more success.

As team manager for Marlboro Yamaha, he won three 500cc world titles with the Californian rider Eddie Lawson.  Agostini also managed for Cagiva and Honda before retiring in 1995.

The eldest of four brothers, Giacomo Agostini was only 11 when he rode a moped for the first time and knew immediately he wanted to race motorcycles.  His father Aurelio, a local government employee in Lovere, wanted him to become an accountant but allowed him to pursue his dream after seeking counsel from a lawyer who was a family friend.

The lawyer told him he thought sport would be good for Giacomo's character and only later did Aurelio find out that his friend had misunderstood him and believed Giacomo wanted to take up cycling.  His mother, Maria Vittoria, ensured that when he raced he always carried in his helmet a medal showing the image of Pope John XXIII, who hailed from Sotto il Monte, a small village which, like Lovere, is in the Lombardy province of Bergamo.

The exhibition at the Tadini Academy, which runs until July 3, is called Giacomo Agostini: The Golden Age.  Sponsored by a local furnace manufacturer, Forni Industriali Bendotti, as part of their 100th anniversary celebrations, the exhibition includes many mementos of his career, including the suits and helmets he wore in his first and last races.  For more details, visit

Visitors can also admire - in Lovere's Piazza XIII Martiri - an artwork featuring one of Agostini's bikes by the Milan architect Mauro Piantelli entitled "Of the Brave and his Steed".

Travel tip:

Brescia is a town of great artistic and architectural importance with Roman remains and well-preserved Renaissance buildings. Next to the 17th century Duomo is an older cathedral, the unusually shaped Duomo Vecchio, also known as la Rotonda. The Santa Giulia Museo della Citta covers more than 3000 years of Brescia’s history, housed within the Benedictine Nunnery of San Salvatore and Santa Giulia in Via Musei.

Photo of the Palazzo Tadini in Lovere
Palazzo Tadini in Lovere is currently hosting an exhibition
dedicated to the career of Giacomo Agostini
Travel tip:

Lovere is the largest town on the western shore of Lago d’Iseo  and has wonderful views of the top of the lake with its dramatic backdrop of mountains. Art lovers will be interested in the classical Palazzo Tadini, which looks out over the lake from Via Tadini and is home to Accademia Tadini, one of the most important art galleries in Italy. The church of Santa Maria in Valvendra has some 16th century frescoes and the church of San Giorgio, which is built into a medieval tower, contains an important work by Palma il Giovane. You can take the boat from Lovere over to Pisogne on the eastern shore of the lake. The landing stage adjoins Piazza XIII Martiri.

More reading:

Enrico Piaggio: the man behind the iconic Vespa motor scooter

Luigi Fagioli - Formula One's oldest winner

Vittorio Jano: Genius of racing car engineering

(Photo of Giacomo Agostini by Jack de Nijs CC BY-SA 3.0)

More reading:


28 February 2016

Dino Zoff – footballer

Long career of a record-breaking goalkeeper

Dino Zoff, back row, left, with the Italian national team at the 1982 World Cup finals
Dino Zoff, back row, left, with the Italian national
team at the 1982 World Cup finals 
Dino Zoff, the oldest footballer to be part of a World Cup winning team, was born on this day in 1942.

Zoff was captain of the Italian national team in the final of the World Cup in Spain in 1982 at the age of 40 years, four months and 13 days.

He also won the award for best goalkeeper of the tournament, in which he kept two clean sheets and made a number of important saves.

Zoff was born in Mariano del Friuli in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. He had trials with Inter-Milan and Juventus at the age of 14 but was rejected because of his lack of height.

Having grown considerably, he made his Seria A debut with Udinese in 1961. He then moved to Mantua, where he spent four seasons, and Napoli, where he spent five seasons.

Zoff made his international debut during Euro 68 and was number two goalkeeper in the 1970 World Cup.  From 1972 onwards he was Italy’s number one goalkeeper.

He signed for Juventus in 1972 and during his 11 years with the club won the Serie A championship six times, the Coppa Italia twice and the UEFA Cup once.

Zoff (left), with teammate Franco Causio and team coach Enzo
 Bearzot (smoking pipe), accompanying Italy's state  president,
Sandro Pertini, as they fly back to Italy with the 1982 World Cup 
When Zoff retired he held the record for being the oldest Serie A player at the age of 41 and for the most Serie A appearances, having played 570 matches.

He was head coach at Juventus and Lazio, winning the UEFA Cup and the Coppa Italia with the former, and was then appointed to lead the Italian national team. He coached a young squad to finish second in Euro 2000 and was voted World Soccer Manager of the Year.

He was named the third greatest goalkeeper of the 20th century by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics, behind Lev Yashin and Gordon Banks.

In 2014, Zoff published his autobiography Dura Solo un Attimo la Gloria, 'Glory Lasts Only a Moment'.

The Chiesa di San Gottardo is the parish church of Mariano del Friuli
The Chiesa di San Gottardo is the
parish church of Mariano del Friuli
Travel tip:

Mariano del Friuli, where Dino Zoff was born, is a small town to the west of Gorizia in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, about 30km (19 miles) southeast of Udine and close to the medieval town of Cormons and the border with Slovenia. Many residents still speak friulano goriziano, a variant of the Friulian dialect, alongside modern Italian. The town's parish church, the 19th century Chiesa di San Gottardo, has an altarpiece painted by the Gorizia painter Giuseppe Tominz.

The Juventus Stadium in Turin
Photo: Juve2015 (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Travel tip:

Juventus stadium is in Corso Galileo Ferraris in Turin. To visit the club’s museum and tour the stadium, even getting the chance to look inside the dressing rooms, you can book a ticket at 

More reading:

Gianluigi Buffon: Record-breaking goalkeeper still at top

Toto Schillaci: Italy's 1990 World Cup hero

How Enzo Bearzot plotted Italy's 1982 World Cup triumph

Also on this day:

1915: The birth of businessman Karl Zuegg, famous for jams and juices

1940: The birth of racing driver Mario Andretti

Selected books:

The Story of the World Cup, by Brian Glanville

(Picture credits: Chiesa di San Gottardo by Marchetto da Trieste; Juventus Stadium by Juve2015; via Wikimedia Commons)