Showing posts with label Actors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Actors. Show all posts

3 August 2023

Omero Antonutti - actor and voice dubber

Narrator of Oscar-winning Life is Beautiful enjoyed long and successul career

Omero Antonutti had success on screen and as a stage actor
Omero Antonutti had success on
screen and as a stage actor
The actor Omero Antonutti, who acted in around 60 films and was the Italian voice of many international stars, was born on this day in 1935 in Basiliano, a village about 13km (eight miles) west of the city of Udine in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeast Italy.

His most acclaimed performance came in Padre padrone, a 1977 film directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, a Palme d’Or winner at Cannes that was considered by many critics to be the co-directing brothers’ finest work.

Antonutti worked with the Taviani brothers again on La notte di San Lorenzo (1982), which won the Grand Prix du Jury at Cannes, and Kaos (1984) in which he took the part of the playwright Luigi Pirandello in a film based on some of Pirandello’s own short stories.

He was often asked to portray significant figures in dramatisations of real-life events. For example, he took the part of Roberto Calvi, the ill-fated chairman of the Banco Ambrosiano in the Giuseppe Ferrara’s 2002 feature The Bankers of God: The Calvi Affair, and played the shady Sicilian banker Michele Sindona in Michele Placido’s 1995 film Un eroe borghese - A Bourgeois Hero. In Piazza Fontana: The Italian Conspiracy, directed by Marco Tullio Giordano in 2012, Antonutti was cast as the Italian president, Giuseppe Saragat.

At the same time, his strong, deep voice meant his skills were in big demand as a voice dubber, with Italian cinema and television audiences preferring international productions to be voiced over by Italian actors, rather than have the visual experience spoiled by subtitles.

Antonutti was the Italian voice of Christopher Lee in the Lord of the Rings series, Sleepy Hollow, The Hobbit and other films. He voiced over Michael Gambon in The King’s Speech, Christopher Plummer in The Mystery of the Templars - National Treasure and Millennium - The Girl with the Hatred, and John Hurt in V for Vendetta. Omar Sharif, Robert Duvall, Donald Sutherland and Rutger Hauer were others whose words were interpreted by Antonutti.

Antonutti's voice can be heard as the narrator in Life is Beautiful
Antonutti's voice can be heard as
the narrator in Life is Beautiful
Robert Benigni chose him to narrate Life is Beautiful in 1997, the film going on to win Oscars for Best Foreign Film, Best Leading Actor for Benigni himself and Best Soundtrack for Nicola Piovani.

As a young man, Antonutti lived in Trieste, the port city on the border of Italy and Slovenia. He found work in the shipyards but acted in his spare time, in the late 1950s appearing in the shows of the Silvio D’Amico Acting School before joining the company of the Teatro Stabile di Trieste.

His first film part came in 1966, when he appeared in Le piacevoli notte - Pleasant Nights, a trilogy of comedic tales set in the Middle Ages directed by Luciano Lucignani, acting in the illustrious company of Ugo Tognazzi, Gina Lollobrigida and Vittorio Gassman.

But it was not until the 1970s that his big screen career began in earnest. After landing a part in La donna della domenica (1975), the dramatisation of a popular murder mystery starring Marcello Mastroianni and Jacqueline Bisset and directed by Luigi Comencini, it was only two years before the Taviani brothers cast him as Efisio Ledda, the despotic father of Gavino Ledda in Padre Padrone, based on the semi-autobiographical novel of the same title by Gavino Ledda, which describes the way Efisio refused to let his son attend elementary school in the 1940s and forced him instead to work on the family sheep farm in Sardinia, which meant he grew up illiterate.

The acclaim Antonutti received for the dramatic intensity of his portrayal of Efisio set him up for a long career in the cinema, part of which he spent in Spain, where his life is commemorated at the Valencia Film Festival.

Antonutti (left) played opposite Saverio Marconi in the Taviani brothers' Padre Padrone
Antonutti (left) played opposite Saverio Marconi
in the Taviani brothers' Padre Padrone
The last important movie in which he appeared was Gianna Amelio’s Hammamet, released in 2020, a story about the last years in Tunisia of the controversial former prime minister, Bettino Craxi, who went into voluntary exile there to escape jail after being prosecuted as part of the Tangentopoli bribes scandal that rocked Italian politics in the 1990s. Antonutti, by then in his 80s, played Craxi’s father.

In his 50-plus years as a movie and television actor, Antonutti never forgot his theatrical roots. He often returned to the Teatro Stabile in Trieste, taking part whenever a milestone was celebrated in the theatre’s history and occasionally even accepting a part in a play, such was his love of acting in its purest form, on stage in front of a live audience.

Sadly, he did not live long enough to witness the release of his final film. In declining health for a number of years, he died from cancer in November 2019 at the Ospedale Civile in Udine where he was receiving treatment.

Antonutti had spent the final 10 years of his life with his wife, Graziella, whom he married in 2009. His funeral took place at the Chiesa di Sant'Antonio Nuovo in Trieste.

The Loggia del Lionello is one of the architectural features of Udine's Piazza della Libertà
The Loggia del Lionello is one of the architectural
features of Udine's Piazza della Libertà
Travel tip:

Udine, the nearest city to Antonutti’s home village of Basiliano, is an attractive and wealthy provincial city, known as the gastronomic capital of Friuli. Udine's most attractive area lies within the mediaeval centre, which has Venetian, Greek and Roman influences. The main square, Piazza della Libertà, features the town hall, the Loggia del Lionello, built in 1448–1457 in the Venetian-Gothic style, and a clock tower, the Torre dell’Orologio, which is similar to the clock tower in Piazza San Marco - St Mark's Square - in Venice. Long regarded as something of a hidden gem, Udine does not attract the tourist traffic of other, better-known Italian cities, yet with its upmarket coffee shops, artisan boutiques and warm, traditional eating places in an elegant setting, it has much to commend it.

Trieste's Canal Grande is overlooked by the  Chiesa di Sant'Antonio Nuovo
Trieste's Canal Grande is overlooked by the 
Chiesa di Sant'Antonio Nuovo
Travel tip:

The port of Trieste, tucked away in a bay at the top of the Adriatic sea, is the capital of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. Within only a few kilometres of the border with Slovenia to its east and south and less than 30km (19 miles) from the northern border of Croatia, Trieste had been disputed territory for thousands of years and officially became part of the Italian Republic only as recently as 1954. Previously it had been part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and then Yugoslavia, who disputed the border until the Treaty of Osimo in 1975.  The area today is one of the most prosperous in Italy and Trieste is a lively, cosmopolitan city and a major centre for trade and ship building.  The city has a coffee house culture that dates back to the Hapsburg era.  Caffè Tommaseo, in Piazza Nicolò Tommaseo, near the grand open space of the Piazza Unità d’Italia, is the oldest in the city, dating back to 1830.

Also on this day:

1486: The birth of celebrated courtesan Imperia Cognati

1530: The death of Florentine military leader Francesco Ferruccio

1546: The death of architect Antonio da Sangallo the Younger

1778: The inauguration of Milan’s Teatro alla Scala


3 May 2023

Gino Cervi - actor

Star best known for Don Camillo and Maigret

Gino Cervi in his role as Peppone, the Communist mayor, in the first of the Don Camillo film series
Gino Cervi in his role as Peppone, the Communist
mayor, in the first of the Don Camillo film series
The actor Gino Cervi, a star of cinema and television screens in Italy for more than four decades as well as an accomplished stage performer, was born on this day in 1901 in Bologna.

Although his movie credits run to more than 120, he is probably best known for his portrayal of the Communist mayor Peppone in the Don Camillo films of the 1950s and ‘60s, and for playing Chief Inspector Maigret in the Italian TV series of the ‘60s and ‘70s based on the crime novels of Georges Simenon.

Cervi was the father of Italian film producer Tonino Cervi and the grandfather of actress Valentina Cervi.

Born Luigi Cervi in the historic Santo Stefano district of Bologna, Gino’s interest in acting had its roots in his journalist father Antonio’s job as theatre critic for Il Resto del Carlino, the city’s daily newspaper.

As a boy, he persuaded his father to take him to the theatre, soon developing an ambition to be a stage actor, which is where his talents first became known.

After his stage debut in 1924 - sadly, too late to be witnessed by his father, who died in 1923 - Cervi was invited the following year to join the company of the Teatro d’Arte di Roma, where the artistic director was the playwright, poet and future Nobel Prize winner Luigi Pirandello, working with actors of the quality of Lamberto Picasso, Ruggero Ruggeri and Marta Abba.

The writer Luigi Pirandello saw Cervi's acting talent
The writer Luigi Pirandello saw
Cervi's acting talent
After a decade in which his reputation grew year on year, he was invited to be lead actor at the Tofano-Maltagliati company, becoming an accomplished and lauded interpreter of the works of Goldoni, Sophocles, Dostoevsky and Shakespeare.  In 1938, jointly with with Andreina Pagnani, Paolo Stoppa and Rina Morelli, Cervi formed the company of the Teatro Eliseo in Rome, taking over as director in 1939.

By then he had already made his film debut but it was not until he formed a working relationship with Alessandro Blasetti, the director sometimes described as the father of modern Italian cinema, that his screen career really took off.

Blasetti directed him in a series of successful movies including Ettore Fieramosca (1938), Un'avventura di Salvator Rosa (1939) and La corona di ferro (1941), followed by 4 passi fra le nuvole (1942), the film considered to be the precursor of the neorealism movement that dominated Italian cinema for a period in the late 1940s and early ‘50s.

Yet Cervi’s star was to climb still higher in the 1950s, when he was chosen for the role of Peppone, the Communist mayor of a fictional town in northern Italy invented by writer Giovanni Guareschi, who is constantly at odds with the town’s rather hot-headed parish priest, Don Camillo.

The two characters made their screen debut in Le Petit Monde de don Camillo - The Little World of Don Camillo - in 1952, bringing fame both to Cervi and to Fernandel, the French comic actor cast as the priest. 

The movie, an Italian-French co-production directed by the French director Julien Duvivier, was the highest-grossing film of all-time in both Italy and France, attracting 13.2 million cinema admissions in Italy and 12.8 million in France. 

Cervi and Fernandel became firm friends and their on-screen relationship was central to the success of both the original feature and its four sequels between 1953 and 1965. A fifth was started in 1970 but was left unfinished because Fernandel was in failing health.

Cervi was oustanding in the role of Commissario Maigret on TV
Cervi was oustanding in the role of
Commissario Maigret on TV
For Cervi, a further chapter of success came in the shape of his portrayal of the French detective Jules Maigret, created by Georges Simenon, in an Italian series commissioned for national broadcaster Rai by Andrea Camilleri, then working in television as a producer, who would later create his own characterful police detective, Salvatore Montalbano.

Le inchieste del commissario Maigret - The Investigations of Commissioner Maigret - had four series over the course of eight years, comprising a total of 35 episodes. There was also a spin-off movie, Maigret a Pigalle, which was produced by Tonino Cervi.

Again, Cervi’s interpretation of the character garnered considerable critical acclaim, even from Simenon himself.

Cervi was married for much of his adult life to Angela Rosa Gardini - known as Ninì - a young actress he met in 1928 and married soon afterwards. In later life, they divorced and he married Erika Mayer.

Once a committed supporter of the Fascist party, he took part in the March on Rome in 1922, but would later denounce Mussolini’s regime. He switched his allegiance to the Christian Democrats after World War Two and later joined the Italian Liberal Party, for whom he served as a councillor in Lazio.

Although he retained an affection for Casalbuttano ed Uniti, a town near Cremona in Lombardy where his father had a house, Cervi spent his final days on the Tuscan coast at Punta Ala, a tiny coastal village on a headland opposite the island of Elba, where he died in 1974 at the age of 72, not long after he had retired from the stage.

He is buried alongside his first wife and their son, Tonino, who died in 2002, at the Flaminio cemetery in Rome.

The Piazza Santo Stefano in Bologna, looking towards the church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Piazza Santo Stefano in Bologna, looking
towards the church of the Holy Sepulchre 
Travel tip:

The centrepiece of the Santo Stefano district of central Bologna, in which Gino Cervi’s family lived, is the Basilica di Santo Stefano, unusual in that it is actually a complex of seven religious buildings from different eras, clustered around Piazza Santo Stefano. It is known locally as the Sette Chiese - the Seven Churches - as a result. The original building, designed to resemble the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, was built according to tradition by Saint Petronius in the fifth century, when he was a bishop of Bologna, over the site of a pagan temple to Isis.  The other buildings include the Lombard church of the Crucifix, the church of the Calvario, the church of Saint Vitale and Saint Agricola - the oldest part of the complex, dating back to the fourth century - and the Church of the Trinity, which was restructured between the 12th and 13th centuries.

The bronze statue of Peppone in front of Brescello town hall
The bronze statue of Peppone
in front of Brescello town hall
Travel tip:

The town of Brescello on the south shore of the Po river, a little over 20km (12 miles) northeast of Parma in Emilia-Romagna, has become a tourist attraction since being chosen as the location for the Don Camillo films in which Gino Cervi starred. The town, which has its origins in the Roman era, has a museum dedicated to the characters of Don Camillo and Peppone, which can be found in Via Edmondo de Amicis, a few steps from Chiesa di Santa Maria Nascente, the town’s main church, which overlooks Piazza Matteotti, the central square in which there are bronze statues of Don Camillo (in front of the church) and Peppone (by the door of the town hall). The statues were created by Andrea Zangani, a sculptor from the nearby province of Mantova, to mark the 50th anniversary in 2001 of the first Don Camillo film. 

Also on this day:

1461: The birth of Renaissance cardinal Raffaele Riario

1469: The birth of writer and diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli

1764: The death of philosopher and art collector Francesco Algarotti

1815: The Battle of Tolentino


13 March 2023

Eduardo Scarpetta - actor and playwright

Much-loved performer began theatrical dynasty

Scarpetta's comic plays were hugely popular with Neapolitan audiences
Scarpetta's comic plays were hugely
popular with Neapolitan audiences
Eduardo Scarpetta, one of the most important writers and actors in Neapolitan theatre in the last 19th and early 20th centuries, was born on this day in 1853 in Naples.

Fascinated by the commedia dell’arte and Neapolitan puppet theatre character Pulcinella, Scarpetta was the writer of more than 50 dialect plays in the comedy genre, creating his own character, Felice Sciosciammocca, a wide-eyed, gullible but essentially good-natured Neapolitan who featured prominently in his best-known work, Miseria e Nobiltà (Misery and Nobility).

His plays made him wealthy, although his standing was damaged towards the end of his career by a notorious dispute with Gabriele D’Annunzio, the celebrated playwright and poet with aristocratic roots who was a considerable figure in Italian literature.

A showman with a reputation for throwing extravagant parties, Scarpetta led a complicated personal life that saw him father at least eight children by at least four women, of which only one was by his wife, Rosa De Filippo.

One of his relationships, with Rosa’s niece, Luisa, a theatre seamstress, produced three children - Eduardo, Peppino and Titina De Filippo - central figures in an Italian theatre and film dynasty in the 20th century.

Another daughter, Maria, was the child of an affair with a music teacher, while a relationship with his wife’s half-sister, Anna, produced the journalist, poet and playwright, Ernesto Murolo, who co-wrote a number of famous Neapolitan songs with the composer Ernesto Tagliaferri, and another actor, Eduardo Passarelli.

His only legitimate son, Vincenzo, also became an actor, and later a director, playwright and composer. The part of Peppeniello in Miseria e nobiltà was written specifically for Vincenzo.

Scarpetta in character as his own creation, Felice Sciosciamocca
Scarpetta in character as his own
creation, Felice Sciosciamocca
Scarpetta did not come from a theatrical background. His father, Domenico, was a civil servant who tried without success to steer Eduardo into a more secure profession.

By joining a theatre company at the age of 15, Scarpetta believed he could help bring money into the family after his father’s poor health led to them falling on hard times.

He soon met Antonio Petito, a playwright and actor who at the time was one of Naples’s most famous interpreters of the Pulcinella character, and joined his company at the Teatro San Carlino on Piazza Castello, near the Castel Nuovo. It was while working with Petito that he created Felice Sciosciammocca, with whom Petito was so impressed he began to write plays with Pulcinella and Sciosciammocca as the main characters. 

Petito’s Pulcinella had evolved from the rather simple, slow-witted character of tradition to a sharp, insolent and above all instinctively cunning individual. Where Pulcinella was working class, Scarpetta’s middle-class Sciosciammocca was a perfect foil.

His partnership with Petito ended with the latter’s death in 1876, after which he worked briefly in Rome before returning to Naples. After a period performing at the Teatro Metastasio on the city’s pier, he returned to San Carlino as manager, investing much time and money in saving it from impending closure and restoring it.

San Carlino would in 1884 be demolished to make way for a new urban square, the Piazza Municipio, as part of a rehabilitation project for the area, which had become rather run down.

Nonetheless, Scarpetta had enjoyed a number of huge successes with his own plays, notably Miseria e Nobiltà, but also Il medico dei pazzi, na santarella, Lo scarfalietto, Nu Turco Napulitano and O miereco de’ pazzi.

Na santarella was one of Scarpetta's most successful plays
Na santarella was one of Scarpetta's
most successful plays
His wealth enabled him to build a substantial palazzo on Via Vittorio Colonna in the prestigious Chiaia district and a villa on the Vomero hill, in Via Luigia Sanfelice, which he named La Santarella.

La Santarella hosted a huge party each year on the occasion of his daughter Tatina’s birthday, to which Scarpetta invited actors, directors, journalists, writers and poets for a celebration that traditionally ended with a spectacular fireworks display that was visible all over the city.

Rosa was happy to accommodate all of Eduardo’s various children. Indeed, after his affair with the music teacher, Francesca Gianetti, it was Rosa who was said to have rescued the child, Maria, from the religious institute to which she had been abandoned.  Rosa, in fact, had a son of her own, Domenico, whose father was none other than the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II, with whom she had a relationship as a teenager before marrying Scarpetta.

Scarpetta’s fortunes began to decline when his Teatro Salone Margherita, a cabaret theatre in the basement of the then newly-built Galleria Umberto I in the centre of Naples began to suffer financially. At the same time a play he had written as a parody of a play by Gabriele D’Annunzio which prompted the well-connected D’Annunzio to accuse him of plagiarism and take him to court for staging the play without permission.

In the event, the court case went in the favour of Scarpetta, who successfully argued that his play, Iorio’s Son, was not a copy but a comic send-up of D’Annunzio’s tragedy, Iorio’s Daughter, but the case - and the panning that Iorio’s Son received from the critics - left Scarpetta embittered and though he continued to write he decided he would no longer act. 

He died at the age of 72 in 1925 and after an elaborate funeral in which his body was placed in a crystal coffin, he was buried in the De Filippo-Scarpetta-Viviani family tomb at the Cimitero Monumentale di Poggioreale in Naples, close to what would become the site of the city’s international airport at Capodichino.

Scarpetta's impressive villa in the Vomero district, which he named La Santarella
Scarpetta's impressive villa in the Vomero
district, which he named La Santarella
Travel tip:

Vomero, where Scarpetta had his impressive villa, La Santarella, is a middle class largely residential area of central Naples but has a number of buildings of historic significance. The most dominant, on top of Vomero hill, is the large medieval fortress, Castel Sant'Elmo, which stands guard over the city. In front of the fortress is the Certosa San Martino, the former Carthusian monastery, now a museum.  Walk along the adjoining street, Largo San Martino, to enjoy extraordinary views over the city towards Vesuvius.  Vomero's other tourist attraction is the Villa Floridiana, once the home of Ferdinand I, the Bourbon King of the Two Sicilies.  Surrounded by extensive gardens, the building now houses the Duke of Martina National Museum of Ceramics.

Chiaia is one of the more upmarket areas of the city of Naples
Chiaia is one of the more upmarket areas
of the city of Naples
Travel tip:

Chiaia, where Scarpetta’s wealth enabled him to build a large family house, is a neighbourhood bordering the seafront in Naples, roughly between Piazza Vittoria and Mergellina. It has become one of the most affluent districts in the city, with many of the top fashion designers having stores on the main streets. It is the home of a large public park known as the Villa Comunale, flanked by the large palazzi along the Riviera di Chiaia on one side, and the sweeping promenade of the Via Francesco Caracciolo on the other.  The area is home to many fine seafood restaurants and has become a popular nightlife destination for well-heeled young Neapolitans.

Also on this day:

1925: The birth of actor and voice-dubber Corrado Gaipa

1955: The birth of footballer and coach Bruno Conti

1960: The birth of rock musician Luciano Ligabue

1980: The birth of dancer Flavia Cacace


8 November 2022

Salvatore Cascio - actor

Child star of classic movie Cinema Paradiso

Cascio (right) in a famous scene from Cinema Paradiso alongside Philippe Noiret's Alfredo
Cascio (right) in a famous scene from Cinema
alongside Philippe Noiret's Alfredo 
The actor Salvatore Cascio, who earned fame through his starring role in the Oscar-winning movie Cinema Paradiso, was born on this day in 1979 in Palazzo Adriano, a small town in a mountainous area of western Sicily.

In Guiseppe Tornatore’s nostalgic 1988 drama, Cascio was the eight-year-old child chosen to play the part of the the film’s central character as a small boy in a Sicilian village who loves to watch films at his local cinema and develops a friendship with the cinema’s grumpy but good-hearted projectionist, Alfredo.

His performance was so charming and captivating it won him the prize for best actor in a supporting role at the 1990 BAFTAs. He remains the only Italian to have won such an award. Roberto Benigni, star and director of the 1997 film Life is Beautiful, is the only Italian to have won a BAFTA as best actor.

By coincidence, the lead character in Cinema Paradiso is also called Salvatore and, like Cascio, is known as a boy as Totò, the Sicilian diminutive of Salvatore.

Landing the part was not down to just having the same name, however, although it helped when it came to filming.

Cascio was chosen for the part of his namesake Totò from more than 200 hopeful boys
Cascio was chosen for the part of his namesake
Totò from more than 200 hopeful boys
The process of choosing the right child for the part involved Tornatore searching a number of towns and villages. One of the casting sessions took place in Palazzo Adriano. Out of more than 200 young hopefuls, the director chose Cascio and a boy from a village five kilometres away - a friend, as it happened - but plumped for Cascio.

Location shooting for Cinema Paradiso - or Nuovo Cinema Paradiso as it was called in Italian cinemas - took place almost entirely in Sicily, with several scenes shot in Tornatore’s home town of Bagheria, near Palermo.

The principal location was Palazzo Adriano, where the central Piazza Umberto I was chosen as the main square of Giancaldo, the fictional town where the Cinema Paradiso picture house was located. The cinema’s facade was built on the square and some of the interior scenes were constructed in the nearby church of Maria Santissima del Carmelo.

Tornatore’s crew remained in Palazzo Adriano for three months. Cascio recalled that the days were long and tiring, often starting at 7am and going on until late in the evening, with some scenes requiring 20 or more takes before the director was satisfied.

As an adult, Cascio chose a different life, running a restaurant with his father
As an adult, Cascio chose a different
life, running a restaurant with his father
Yet Cascio formed a close relationship with Tornatore, who ensured the process remained fun and who he came to regard as a second father, and with Philippe Noiret, the French actor who played Alfredo.

Cascio found himself in demand after his success with Cinema Paradiso and found himself playing opposite some major stars in films such as Breath of Life, with Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero, and Fernando Rey; C’era un castello con 40 cani (There Was a Castle with 40 Dogs) with Peter Ustinov; Stanno tutti bene (Everybody’s Fine), with Marcello Mastroianni; and Jackpot with Christopher Lee and Adriano Celentano.

He also appeared in a number of TV dramas yet by the end of the 1990s his life was moving in a different direction. A star almost by accident, having never really had ambitions to make a career in acting, he decided ultimately that the life that beckoned was not for him.

Instead, he went into partnership with his father in opening a restaurant with rooms. They found a property in Chiusa Sclafani, a village not far from Palazzo Adriano, and called it L’Oscar dei Sapori - the Oscar for Flavours. 

The restaurant is themed with Cinema Paradiso memorabilia and Cascio remains willing to talk about the film that played such a huge part in his life, even though it is now 34 years since it was made. He is often invited to movie events.

Earlier this year, he published his autobiography, entitled La gloria e la prova - The Glory and the Test -  written with the help of journalist Giorgio De Martino, in which he enthuses about the glory of the cinema and also talks about the challenges he has faced since being diagnosed, in his early thirties, with retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive, hereditary disease that will ultimately deprive him of much of his peripheral vision.

Piazza Umberto I in the Sicilian town of Palazzo Adriano featured prominently in Cinema Paradiso
Piazza Umberto I in the Sicilian town of Palazzo
Adriano featured prominently in Cinema Paradiso
Travel tip:

Palazzo Adriano, where Cascio was born and grew up and which forms the backdrop to many scenes in Cinema Paradiso, is an inland town situated on the slopes of Monte delle Rose in western Sicily, almost equidistant between Palermo, on the northern coast of the island, and Agrigento, on the southern coast.  A settlement has existed at the site since at least the 11th century, Between the 15th and 19th centuries, the area was populated by a large community of Albanians, speaking a version of the Albanian language known as Arberesh. Just off the central Piazza Umberto I is a small museum dedicated to the film, Cinema Paradiso. The town also has the remains of a Bourbon castle. As well as Cascio, Palazzo Adriano also claims to be the birthplace of Francesco Crispi, the first Sicilian to be Italy’s prime minister and one of the major protagonists of Italian unification, along with his friends Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Bagheria is famous for its wealth of Baroque villas, such as the Villa Palagonia
Bagheria is famous for its wealth of Baroque
villas, such as the Villa Palagonia
Travel tip:

Bagheria, the birthplace of Cinema Paradiso’s director, Giuseppe Tornatore, can be found 15km (9 miles) southeast of Palermo, occupying an elevated position a short distance from the sea. A traditional Sicilian town that descends towards the fishing village of Aspra, in the 17th and 18th centuries it was a favoured by the aristocracy of Palermo as somewhere to spend the summer months, the legacy of which is some 20 or more Baroque villas that add to the town’s charm.  Tornatore employed locations in the town both in Cinema Paradiso and his 2009 film Baarìa - which is its Sicilian dialect name - which told the history of the town from the 1930s to the 1980s through the life of a local family.  Parts of The Godfather Part III were also shot in Bagheria.

Also on this day:

1830: The death of Francis I of the Two Sicilies

1931: The birth of film director Paolo Taviani

1936: The birth of actress Virna Lisi

1942: The birth of footballer Sandro Mazzola

1982: The birth of golfer Francesco Molinari


19 September 2021

Mariangela Melato - actress

Versatile star excelled on stage and screen

Mariangela Melato was admired and respected for her screen and stage work
Mariangela Melato was admired and
respected for her screen and stage work
Mariangela Melato, who won acclaim for her work with the brilliant and sometimes controversial director Lina Wertmüller, played a camp villain in the comic book send-up Flash Gordon, and later excelled as a classical stage actress, was born on this day in 1941 in Milan.

She enjoyed her peak years on screen in the 1970s, most notably in Wertmuller’s The Seduction of Mimi, Love and Anarchy and Swept Away.

From the mid-80s onwards, Melato was based at the Teatro Stabile in Genoa, where she played many of the great classical parts in works by authors such as Pirandello, Euripides and Shakespeare. 

She made her mark in television, notably winning praise for her portrayal of Mrs Danvers in an Italian adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca in 2008. 

Melato’s father emigrated to Italy from Nazi Germany, changed his name from Honing to Melato and became a traffic policeman in Trieste. He moved to Milan and met his future wife, who worked as a seamstress. 

Their daughter showed a talent for art and enrolled at the Brera Academy in Milan but was interested in acting and as a teenager employed her artistic talents working as a window dresser at the Milan department store La Rinascente, which helped pay for acting lessons.

After making her stage debut in 1960, she became part of a touring company directed by the comedian and playwright Dario Fo. She appeared in productions by Luchino Visconti and a celebrated performance of Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, directed by Luca Ronconi, at the Spoleto Festival.

Melato with Giancarlo Giannini in Wertmüller's Swept Away, regarded as among her finest work
Melato with Giancarlo Giannini in Wertmüller's
Swept Away, regarded as among her finest work
Her film debut came in 1969 in Pupi Avati's horror fantasy, Thomas e gli indemoniati - Thomas and the Possessed.  Her acting talent soon became recognised and she was soon working for some of Italy’s leading directors, including Nino Manfredi, Vittorio De Sica, Luigi Comencini and Elio Petri, who had her starring opposite the brilliant Gian Maria Volonté in La classe operaia va in paradiso - The Working Class Goes to Heaven - which tied with another Italian film, The Mattei Affair, for the Grand Prix International at the 1972 Canne Film Festival.

The performances regarded as the most memorable of her film career came while she was working with Wertmüller, who met her for the first time while she was doing stage work with Ronconi.  Wertmüller, a director prepared to explore areas of human behaviour considered off limits by some, recognised Melato's natural comic potential and chose her to play opposite Giancarlo Giannini in The Seduction of Mimi (1972), in which Giannini played a man on the run from the Mafia and Melato the communist with whom he has an affair.

Wertmüller paired them again in Love and Anarchy, in which Giannini was a country bumpkin who travels to Rome with a plan to assassinate Mussolini and discovers that his cousin Salomé, played by Melato, works in a brothel.

Melato with Renzo Arbore, her long-term partner
Melato with Renzo Arbore,
her long-term partner
Their collaboration is remembered most, however, for Swept Away (1974), which featured a bravura performance from Melato as a neurotic Italian noblewoman, a jet-set snob, who takes a yachting holiday and ends up marooned on an island with one of the boat’s crew, a communist, played by Giannini.  Despite the differences in their politics and social backgrounds, which initially leads to furious rows, they eventually have an affair, but one which lasts only until they are rescued and return to their previous lives.

Her success in Europe led Melato to be invited to America, where she played the villainess General Kala in Flash Gordon (1980), and co-starred with Ryan O'Neal in the comedy, So Fine (1981).  

However, her quirky style and appearance did not match American perceptions of European glamour and she did not enjoy enough success to persuade her to stay.

Back in Italy, she worked with Wertmüller again on Summer Nights (1986) but her focus increasingly switched to a stage career and latterly television.

Although she never married, she had a long relationship with the actor, singer and TV host Renzo Arbore.

Melato died in 2013 at the age of 71 in Rome, following a long battle with pancreatic cancer.  Her funeral at the church of Santa Maria di Montesanto in Piazza del Popolo attracted a large gathering of colleagues and fans.

Milan's La Rinascente department store is in Piazza Duomo, opposite the cathedral itself
Milan's La Rinascente department store is in
Piazza Duomo, opposite the cathedral itself
Travel tip:

La Rinascente in Milan, where Mariangela Melato worked to fund her acting lessons, is right in the centre of the city in Piazza Duomo, close to the entrance to the Duomo metro stop. The store, which sells house wares as well as clothes and cosmetics, was nominated the Best Department Store in the World at a Global Department Store Summit in 2016.  The company, who evolved from a shop opened in Milan in 1865 by Luigi and Ferdinando Bocconi, acquired its name when it changed hands in 1917 and the new owners commissioned to poet, Gabriele D’Annunzio, to come up with a name and he suggested La Rinascente, meaning new birth.

Rome's 'twin churches' - Santa Maria in Montesanto (left) and Santa Maria dei Miracoli
Rome's 'twin churches' - Santa Maria in
Montesanto (left) and Santa Maria dei Miracoli
Travel tip:

The church of Santa Maria in Montesanto stands in Piazza del Popolo, between Via del Corso and Via del Babuino. It is also known as the Church of the Artists and is regarded as the twin church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, which stands between Via del Corso and Via di Ripetta, facing the piazza, which sits just inside the northern gate of the ancient city, the Porta Flaminia. The church was built in 1662, on the initiative of Pope Alexander VII. The original design was the work of Carlo Rainaldi and there was later input from Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Carlo Fontana.  It is known as the Church of the Artists because, since 1953, Sunday mass has been celebrated there by representatives of the world of culture and art. 

Also on this day:

1898: The birth of Giuseppe Saragat, fifth President of Italy

1941: The birth of fiery politician Umberto Bossi

1985: The death of writer Italo Calvino

The Festival of San Gennaro


31 January 2021

Daniela Bianchi – actress

James Bond’s love interest whose Italian accent was never heard

Daniela Bianchi in a publicity shot after she was chosen as a Bond girl
Daniela Bianchi in a publicity shot
after she was chosen as a Bond girl
Daniela Bianchi, an actress best known for her role as a Bond girl in the film From Russia With Love, was born on this day in 1942 in Rome.

She played Russian agent Tatiana Romanova in the hit 1963 film starring Sean Connery as James Bond, although her voice had to be dubbed because of her Italian accent.

Daniela’s parents originally came from Sirolo in Le Marche. Her father was a retired Italian army colonel and one of her grandmothers was a Marchesa. Daniela was raised in Rome, where she studied ballet for eight years, and she then went on to become a fashion model.

She was the winner of Miss Rome in 1960 and then runner-up in the Miss Universe contest the same year, where she was also voted Miss Photogenic by the press.

Daniela was chosen over 200 other actresses by the Bond producers for the role of Tatiana Romanova and, at the age of 21, was the youngest ever main Bond girl. She was also the only Italian to be a main Bond girl.

Her character, Tatiana, was a Russian cipher clerk who had been sent by Soviet Army Intelligence to entrap James Bond.

Before and after making From Russia With Love, Daniela appeared in many French and Italian films, including L’ombrellone, which is also known as Weekend Italian Style.

Bianchi with Dr Kildare co-stars Richard Chamberlain and Raymond Massey
Bianchi with Dr Kildare co-stars Richard
Chamberlain and Raymond Massey
She also starred in Operation Kid Brother, a James Bond spoof featuring Sean Connery’s brother, Neil Connery, in 1967. The film was in English and so again her voice had to be dubbed.

Daniela also played Richard Chamberlain’s love interest in the American TV production Dr Kildare, appearing in the three-part story, Rome Will Never Leave You.

Although Daniela retired from acting in 1970, she had a small role in the documentary film, We’re Nothing Like James Bond, in 2012.

After her success in films, Daniela bought a beach house in her parents’ home town of Sirolo.

She married a Genoa shipping magnate, Alberto Cameli, in 1970 and they had a son, Filippo Bianchi. Her husband died in 2018.

Former Bond girl Daniela Bianchi celebrates her 79th birthday today.

Cinecittà has been the hub of the Italian film industry since the 1930s
Cinecittà has been the hub of the Italian
film industry since the 1930s
Travel tip:

Rome, where Daniela Bianchi was born and raised, is the hub of the Italian film industry, with Cinecittà, a large studio complex to the south of the city, built during the fascist era under the personal direction of Benito Mussolini and his son, Vittorio. The studios were bombed by the Allies in the Second World War but were rebuilt and used again in the 1950s for large productions, such as Ben Hur. These days a range of productions, from television drama to music videos, are filmed at Cinecittà and it has its own dedicated Metro stop.

The white sands of San Michele beach, near Daniela Bianchi's hometown of Sirolo
The white sands of San Michele beach, near
Daniela Bianchi's hometown of Sirolo
Travel tip:

Sirolo in Le Marche, where Daniela Bianchi’s parents came from and where she bought a beach house, is a small coastal town in the province of Ancona, near Monte Cornero. It has three beaches and, since 1994, they have all been awarded blue flags every year, indicating that they meet the highest standard of cleanliness and services. Sirolo has a restored medieval town centre, which includes a quaint Gothic arch, and there are many restaurants and bars.

Also on this day:

1788: The death near Rome of Charles Edward Stuart, the English pretender known as Bonnie Prince Charlie

1857: The birth of architect Ernesto Basile

1888: The death of Saint John 'Don' Bosco

1933: The birth of Mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano

(Picture credits: Cinecittà by JRibaX; beach by Luca Boldrini via Wikimedia Commons)


3 July 2020

Flavio Insinna - actor and presenter

Star of TV dramas turned game show host

Flavio Insinna presents the daily quiz show L'eridità
Flavio Insinna presents the daily
quiz show L'eridità
The actor and presenter Flavio Insinna, who is the host of Italy’s popular television game show L’eridità and was formerly the face of Affari tuoi - the Italian version of Deal or No Deal - was born on this day in 1965 in Rome.

In a broad-ranging career, Insinna has run up an impressive list of credits in cinema, theatre and television as well as publishing an autobiography and a novel. He is also known for his philanthropy after donating his 49-foot boat Roxana to humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières to help rescue Syrian refugees.

In a substantial catalogue of television drama and comedy appearances, notable was Insinna’s portrayal of the Carabinieri captain Flavio Anceschi in the popular Rai Uno series Don Matteo, with Terence Hill and Nino Frassica.

Ironically, Insinna’s ambition after obtaining his Liceo Classico diploma from Rome’s Augusto high school in 1984, had been to become a Carabinieri officer but after failing to gain admission to the elite police force’s training college he opted for acting. He enrolled at the drama school run by the Polish-Italian dramatist Alessandro Fersen and later joined the drama laboratory run by the Rome-born singer and actor Gigi Proietti, who had been one of his heroes growing up.

He made his acting debut on stage in 1986 and honed his acting skills in theatre for more than a decade before landing his first film role as Orfeo in the comedy-drama Figli di Annibale (Hannibal’s Children) in 1998.

Insinna (left) with Terence Hill in a scene from the hit drama series Don Matteo
Insinna (left) with Terence Hill in a scene
from the hit TV drama series Don Matteo
By then Insinna had also made his first steps in TV. In 1999, his role in a TV drama about the life of Padre Pio, the priest with a reputation for miracle-working who was later made a Saint, gave his talent wider attention and it was only a year later that he landed the part of Capitano Anceschi in Don Matteo, the long-running drama that starred Terence Hill in the title role as a sleuthing parish priest in the Umbrian town of Gubbio.

He gained more plaudits for his portrayal of the priest Don Bosco, who was famous for his work with the poor and disadvantaged  in Turin in the late 19th century.

The opportunity to front Affari tuoi came in 2006, after the producers had seen Insinna as the ideal person to rescue the show’s then-flagging ratings in competition with the rival Striscia la Notizia on Canale 5.  In the same year, Insinna was awarded an important prize for his role in the TV drama La Buona Battaglia, in which he played Don Pietro Pappagallo, an anti-Fascist priest who was one of the 335 victims massacred by Nazi soldiers just outside Rome in caves known as the Fosse Ardeatine in March 1944.

Still drawn towards acting rather than presenting, he quit Affari tuoi after just two seasons and returned to the portrayal of a policeman in Ho sposato uno sbirro (I married a cop).

Insinna became popular for his
dramatic presentation style on Affari tuoi
By 2013, he was back at the helm of Affari tuoi, this time for a four-year stay. He again proved a popular presenter, his high profile bringing him invitations to guest on other shows, including the prime time Ballando con le stelle - Italy’s version of Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing with the Stars.  Three times he has hosted Italy’s coverage of the Eurovision Song Contest.

In 2018, Insinna became the presenter of L'eredità (The Legacy), Italy’s longest-running game show, which broadcasts every night on Rai Uno, succeeding the late Fabrizio Frizzi.

Although born in Rome, Insinna is proud of his Sicilian roots, his father having moved to the mainland from Vallelunga Pratameno, a rugged town in central Sicily in the province of Caltanissetta, about 98km (61 miles) southeast of Palermo and 74km (46 miles) northeast of Agrigento.

In 2015, in an act of compassion inspired by the plight of Syrian refugees trying to reach Italy via perilous Mediterranean sea crossings, Insinna donated his own yacht, the Roxana, to Médecins Sans Frontières to assist their work in the war-torn country. When the vessel could no longer he given a practical use, he sold it and gave the proceeds to a refugee charity. 

The Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano is one of southern Rome's major landmarks
The Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano is
one of southern Rome's major landmarks
Travel tip:

Insinna’s high school, the Liceo Ginnasio Augusto, is in the Appio/San Giovanni neighbourhood of Rome, southeast of the city centre. It is well known primarily for the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, the oldest and most important of Rome’s four major basilicas and officially Rome’s cathedral.  The church’s history can be traced to the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, who converted the Lateran Palace to a church in 324AD after he had converted to Christianity.  The famous Baroque eastern facade, topped with enormous statues of saints, was added in 1736, completed by Alessandro Galilei. 

Caltanissetta's beautiful Piazza Garibaldi is the Sicilian city's main square
Caltanissetta's beautiful Piazza Garibaldi is
the Sicilian city's main square
Travel tip:

Sicily’s largest completely inland city, with a population of just over 61,000, Caltanissetta was founded by the Greeks and became prosperous in the first half of the 20th century as the capital of the island’s sulphur-mining industry. Today it is an important agricultural centre and rarely gets a mention in tourist guides but it does have a beautiful central square, the Piazza Garibaldi, dominated by the city’s duomo, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria la Nova, which was completed in 1622. The cathedral’s Baroque facade, with its twin bell towers, was damaged by Allied bombing in 1943 but faithfully restored in 1946. 

Also on this day: