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

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


23 April 2023

Milva - singer and actress

Popular star of five decades

Milva pictured at the start of her career in 1961, when she made her debut at Sanremo
Milva pictured at the start of her career in
1961, when she made her debut at Sanremo
The singer and actress known as Milva died on this day in 2021 in Milan at the age of 81.

Born Maria Ilva Biolcati in Goro, a fishing village on the Po delta, her popularity was such that she sold more than 80 million records. Her output was extraordinary, running to 126 singles and a staggering 173 albums in a career spanning more than half a century. No Italian artist has recorded so many albums.

For a time she bestrode the pop world, earning the nickname La Pantera di Goro  - The Panther of Goro - as recognition by the Italian media of her status as one of the three best-loved female performers of her generation, alongside Mina - dubbed the Tiger of Cremona - and Iva Zanicchi, who found herself labelled the Eagle of Ligonchio. 

Yet Milva was equally at home with musical theatre and opera and earned plaudits early in career when she sang Édith Piaf's repertoire at the prestigious Olympia theatre in Paris.  She was said to have an uncanny ability to sing almost any kind of music in any language after listening to it just once.

Her versatility enabled her to adapt to new trends in music and prolong her career. She had turned 70 by the time she announced her retirement from performing in 2010, although there was still time for one more album and a single, sung in German, in 2012.

The daughter of a dressmaker and a fisherman, as a child Milva had to work to support her family during tough times economically for Italy in the years after World War Two.

Milva in the 1980s, when she began a collaboration with Greek composer, Vangelis
Milva in the 1980s, when she began a
collaboration with Greek composer, Vangelis
In her late teens she moved to Bologna, enrolled for singing and acting lessons and won a singing contest in which she was judged the best out of more than 7,500 entrants.

After recording her first single in 1960 with an Édith Piaf's song Milord, she made her live debut at the Sanremo Music Festival in 1961, finishing third. Over her career, Milva would enter Sanremo 15 times, a record for the number of appearances that she holds jointly with Peppino Di Capri, Toto Cutugno, Al Bano and Anna Oxa, although she never won, finishing second twice and third three times.

She demonstrated her versatility the following year with her performance of the Piaf repertoire in Paris, amazing both the audience and critics in the way she could sing in French with the emotion that Piaf brought to her work.

Nicknamed La Rossa because of her voluminous red hair, Milva’s ‘60s output included popular songs but also an eclectic mix of other material, including collections of Italian songs of the 1920s and ‘30s, revolutionary anthems and tango classics. She also appeared in a number of films and starred in Giorgio Strehler's stage production of Brecht's The Threepenny Opera.

In the ‘70s, when she was similarly prolific, she released albums in German and Japanese as well as Italian, and toured Italy, the USA, Greece, France, Germany, Canada, Russia and Japan. The ‘80s saw her begin a long-running collaboration with Vangelis, the Greek composer of electronic and progressive music, and devote much energy to fund-raising, either through albums or stage performances.

Milva during a performance in 2009, captivating audiences at the age of 70
Milva during a performance in 2009,
captivating audiences at the age of 70
One of her most memorable hits was the song Alexander Platz, written by the Italian songwriter Franco Battiato in 1982, which explored love in divided Berlin during the Cold War years, its name inspired by the Berlin square, Alexanderplatz, a popular meeting place.

Perhaps uniquely, for her contribution to the culture of the three respective countries, she was awarded the highest honours from three governments: the Order of Merit of both the Italian and German republics, and the Knighthood of the French Légion d'Honneur.

She began to slow down only at the end of the 2000s, when she concluded that she was unable to reach the high standards she had always set for himself.

Married once, from 1961 to 1969, to the film and TV director Maurizio Corgnati, she was said also to have had romantic relationships with the actor Mario Piave, the lyricist Massimo Gallerani, and another actor Luigi Pistilli. 

She had a daughter, Martina, with whom she was living at the time of her death, which came after a period of illness attributed to a degenerative neurological disease.  After a private funeral, Milva’s body was laid to rest at the cemetery at Blevio, a small lakeside town on Lago di Como where she had a house.

Milva's home village of Goro sits on the edge of the beautiful Po Delta regional park
Milva's home village of Goro sits on the edge of
the beautiful Po Delta regional park
Travel tip:

Goro, where Maria Ilva Biocati was born, is a fishing village on the edge of the protected Po Delta regional park, situated on the Emilia-Romagna side of the border with Veneto.  The Sacca di Goro, a large lagoon enclosed between the Po di Goro and the Po di Volano rivers, is an ideal habitat for mullet, sea bream, sea bass and for breeding of mussels, oysters and veracious clams, including the rare Golden Oyster of Goro, which is considered a delicacy, The Sagra della Vongola, Goro’s clam festival, takes place during the month of July each year, allowing visitors to enjoy the flavours and traditions of the area.

A story in La Repubblica newspaper about Casa  Milva's role in the Insula Felix Foundation
A story in La Repubblica newspaper about Casa 
Milva's role in the Insula Felix Foundation
Travel tip:

Milva’s home in Milan for 40 years was an apartment in an art nouveau palace in Via Serbelloni, an elegant area of the city between Porta Venezia and the Fashion Quarter. Recently, Milva’s daughter, art critic Martina Corgnati, has established the apartment, at No 9 Via Serbelloni, as the headquarters of the Insula Felix Foundation, which was set up by her late mother in 1984 as a non-profit institution as a place of research, the celebration of culture and for the support of young scholars, also promoting innovative forms of support for people with mental illness or neurological-psychiatric problems. 

Also on this day:

1554: The death of poet Gaspara Stampa

1857: The birth of opera composer Ruggero Leoncavallo

1939: The birth of Mafia boss Stefano Bontade

1964: The birth of leading conductor Gianandrea Noseda