Showing posts with label Dino de Laurentiis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dino de Laurentiis. Show all posts

24 May 2021

Aurelio De Laurentiis - entrepreneur

Film producer who owns SSC Napoli

Aurelio De Laurentiis followed his father and uncle into the movie industry
Aurelio De Laurentiis followed his father
and uncle into the movie industry
The film producer and football club owner Aurelio De Laurentiis was born on this day in 1949 in Rome.

The nephew of Dino De Laurentiis, the producer credited with giving Italian cinema an international platform with his backing for Federico Fellini’s Oscar-winning 1954 movie La Strada, Aurelio teamed up with his father, Luigi, to form the production company Filmauro in 1975.

The company has produced or distributed more than 400 films in Italy and around the world, working with directors such as Mario Monicelli, Ettore Scola, Pupi Avati, Damiano Damiani and Roberto Benigni among the big names of Italian cinema, as well as internationally-acclaimed names such as Blake Edwards, Peter Weir, Luc Besson, Eduardo Sanchez and Ridley Scott.

Aurelio has won numerous honours for his achievements in the film industry, including, in 2005, the Nastro d'Argento as Best Producer for What Will Become of Us - What Will Become of Us?- and all in that night (released in America as Adventures in Babysitting).  

Filmauro is also the company behind a sequence of Christmas comedies that have proved massively popular with Italian audiences since they were launched in the 1980s. 

Yet he is perhaps even better known for buying up a bankrupt SSC Napoli football club in 2004 and taking it from Serie C - the third tier of Italian football - to the Champions League in just five years.

The badge of the Serie A club
SSC Napoli, rescued by De Laurentiis
With roots in Torre Annunziata, the historic former Roman city on the Bay of Naples where his father and uncle were born, De Laurentiis always regarded Naples as his spiritual home, even though he was born in Rome.

When SSC Napoli went bust after 78 years of history, with debts of 70 million euros, it was De Laurentiis who stepped in with dreams of restoring the club to its glory years of the 1980s, when Diego Maradona was the fulcrum of a team that became Italian champions for the first time in 1987 and won a second title three years later, landing a first major European trophy via the UEFA Cup in between.

He had to start at a lowly level, launching a new club called Napoli Soccer after the Italian football federation banned the use of the historic SSC Napoli name and placing the new entity in Serie C1, the third tier in the Italian football pyramid.

But after hiring Edoardo Reja, a coach who had won promotion for Brescia, Vicenza and Cagliari, the new club gained promotion from Serie C at the second attempt and Serie B at the first, returning to Serie A at the start of the 2007-08 season.

Walter Mazzarri, the manager who won a Champions League place for Napoli
Walter Mazzarri, the manager who took
Napoli back into Europe
By then, De Laurentiis had bought the rights to use the SSC Napoli name and proved himself a shrewd judge of coaches by appointing Walter Mazzarri in October 2009 and signing the attacking trio of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamšík. 

Under Mazzari’s guidance, Napoli finished third in Serie A in 2011 to qualify for the Champions League and won the Coppa Italia for the first time since the Maradona era the following season.

The Spaniard Rafael Benitez, famous for winning the UEFA Cup with Valencia and the Champions League with Liverpool, followed Mazzari and brought De Laurentiis a second Coppa Italia and a Supercoppa Italia as well as two more seasons in the Champions League.

Benitez’s successor Maurizio Sarri steered them to runners-up spot in Serie A twice in four seasons between 2015 and 2018, each time behind Juventus, and third in the other, before giving way to three-times Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti, under whom they were second again in 2019 and won a third Coppa Italia in 2020.

With Gennaro Gattuso in charge, Napoli missed out on a Champions League place in 2020-21 and will have to be content with a Europa League spot again in 2021-22 after finishing fifth in the season just ended, after which De Laurentiis announced that Gattuso is to leave the club.

In 2018, De Laurentiis expanded his football empire by acquiring another bankrupt former Serie A club in Bari, once Napoli’s rivals for superiority in southern Italy.

Should Bari, currently in Serie C, find their way back to Serie A after an exile of more than 10 years, De Laurentiis may face a problem as the Italian federation (FIGC) does not permit the ownership of more than once top-flight club, although the club president is actually Luigi De Laurentiis junior, Aurelio’s eldest son by his Swiss-born second wife, Jacqueline Baudit.

In September 2020, De Laurentiis revealed that he had tested positive for Covid-19, raising fears for his health given his age. Happily, the illness was short-lived and he has since made a full recovery.

Visitors to Torre Annunziata can see the remains of the Villa Oplontis, an ancient Roman complex
Visitors to Torre Annunziata can see the remains of
the Villa Oplontis, an ancient Roman complex
Travel tip:

Torre Annunziata, where De Laurentiis has family roots, is a city in the metropolitan area of Naples. Close to Mount Vesuvius, the original city was destroyed in the eruption of 79 AD and a new one built over the ruins. Its name derives from a watch tower - torre - built to warn people of imminent Saracen raids and a chapel consecrated to the Annunziata (Virgin Mary). It became a centre for pasta production - in which Dino De Laurentiis worked before entering the movie business - in the early 19th century. The Villa Poppaea, also known as Villa Oplontis, believed to be owned by Nero, was discovered about 10 metres below ground level just outside the town and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Hotels in Torre Annunziata with

A view of Piazza Ferrarese, which overlooks the harbour in the older part of the city of Bari
A view of Piazza Ferrarese, which overlooks the
harbour in the older part of the city of Bari
Travel tip:

Bari is the second largest urban area after Naples in the south of the Italy. It has a busy port and some expansive industrial areas but plenty of history, too, especially in the old city - Bari Vecchia - which sits on a headland between two harbours.  Fanning out around two Romanesque churches, the Cattedrale di San Sebino and the Basilica of St Nicholas, the area is a maze of medieval streets with many historical buildings and plenty of bars and restaurants.  There is also a castle, the Castello Svevo.  The more modern part of the city is known as the Centro Murattiano, or the Murat quarter, in that it was built during the period in the early 19th century in which Joachim Murat, for a long time Napoleon's most trusted military strategist, ruled the Kingdom of Naples, of which Bari was a part.

Find a hotel in Bari with

Also on this day:

1494: The birth of painter Jacopo Carucci da Pontormo

1671: The birth of Gian Gastone de’ Medici, the last of the dynasty to rule Florence

1751: The birth of Charles Emmanuel IV, King of Sardinia

1981: The birth of celebrity chef Simone Rugiati


13 January 2019

Veronica De Laurentiis - actress and author

Turned personal torment into bestselling book

Veronica De Laurentiis has become a fervent campaigner against domestic violence because of her own experiences
Veronica De Laurentiis has become a fervent campaigner
against domestic violence because of her own experiences
The actress and author Veronica De Laurentiis, the daughter of legendary film producer Dino De Laurentiis and actress Silvana Mangano, was born on this day in 1950 in Rome.

Although she still works in film and TV, she is best known as a campaigner against domestic violence and the author of the bestselling book Rivoglio la mia vita (I Want My Life Back), which revealed details of the attacks she was subjected to in her first marriage. Her then-husband was subsequently jailed for 14 years.

Veronica De Laurentiis was cast in the blockbuster movie Waterloo - produced by her father - when she was just 18, alongside the great actors Rod Steiger and Christopher Plummer.

She married young, however, and after the birth of her first child, Giada - now well known as a TV cook in the United States - decided to suspend her acting career in order to focus on parenthood.

Her mother, the actress Silvana Mangano, was a star of postwar Italian cinema
Her mother, the actress Silvana Mangano,
was a star of postwar Italian cinema
With her husband, she lived in Italy until after the birth of her third child, at which point they moved to America, living first in Florida, then New York and finally in Los Angeles.

They divorced four years after the birth of their fourth child, after which Veronica sustained herself by setting up a fashion design studio in Los Angeles, where she spent 12 years designing and making clothes.

At the same time she was undergoing therapy, the culmination of which was a book, published in 2006, the shocking revelations in which saw it rocket to the top of the Italian bestseller lists.

Rivoglio la mia vita not only described the violence she suffered in her marriage and the torment that followed her daughter’s revelation that she had been abused, as well as the personal guilt she felt at being unaware that it was going on.

De Laurentiis also wrote about her mother’s depression and the suicide attempt that she helped her father avert at the age of 14, but also about her life in the family villa near the Via Appia Antica in Rome and the aggressive, controlling nature of her father, not only over her mother’s career but her own.

Dino De Laurentiis, who died in 2010, opposed the publication of the book, telling Veronica she should not “wash the family’s linen in public” but she believed she had to go ahead.

Veronica's father, the film producer Dino De Laurentiis, opposed her book
Veronica's father, the film producer Dino
De Laurentiis, opposed her book
Nowadays, married again, she has returned to acting and does some television work, but devotes much time to touring Italy speaking to women about rape, abuse, and the importance of speaking out.

She wrote a second book - Riprenditi La Tua Vita – Le otto chiavi di Veronica  (Take Back Your Life - Veronica’s Eight Keys), published in 2009.

She set up a group in Los Angeles in which she encourages women to come forward and tell their stories and began a foundation to fight domestic violence in Italy.  The first “Silvana Mangano Centre” for the victims of domestic abuse, named in honour of her mother, opened in 2011 in Formia in Lazio, midway between Rome and Naples.

Formia is now a modern port on the coast between Rome and Naples but has a rich history
Formia is now a modern port on the coast between Rome
and Naples but has a rich history
Travel tip:

Situated on the Tyrrhenian Sea coast between Rome and Naples, in Lazio but close to the border with Campania, Formia is a port town with that was a popular resort with the wealthy of Imperial Rome. One of its major attractions is the Tomba di Cicerone, a Roman mausoleum just outside the town which is said to have been built for the great Roman orator Cicero, who was reportedly assassinated on the Appian Way outside the town in 43 BC. Formia is also home to the Cisternone Romano, an underground reservoir built by the Romans. testament to Roman ingenuity.  Other remains include the towers of the forts of Mola and Castellone, once two neighbouring villages. The generally modern feel of much of the resort and harbour today is down to a bombardment suffered during the Second World War, when Formia was a point on the German army’s Gustav Line and suffered heavy damage during the Allied invasion.

The Via Antica Appia passes through the ancient port of Terracina
The Via Antica Appia passes through
the ancient port of Terracina
Travel tip:

The Via Appia Antica - the Appian Way - is the ancient Roman road that linked Rome with the port of Brindisi some 550km (340 miles) away in the southeast corner of the peninsula. Beginning at Porto San Sebastiano, two miles south of the Colosseum, while some of the road is open to traffic other sections are preserved in their original form, passing through pleasant parkland, and there are numerous catacombs, tombs and other ruins along the way.  It offers a quieter experience to visitors to Rome, away from the inevitably thronged centre. From Rome, the road followed a straight route to Terracina, followed the coast through Formia and then diverted inland through Capua and Benevento before crossing the peninsula to Taranto and on to Brindisi.

More reading:

Dino De Laurentiis - how a pasta trader from Naples helped put Italian cinema on the map

How Silvana Mangano shook off her sex-symbol image

Vittorio Gassman - Italy's 'Olivier'

Also on this day:

1898: The birth of opera singer Carlo Tagliabue

1936: The birth of operatic baritone Renato Bruson

1970: The birth of tragic cycling star Marco Pantani


21 December 2018

Moira Orfei - circus owner and actress

‘Queen of the Big Top’ became cultural icon

Moira Orfei rarely strayed from her trademark look, with  heavy make-up and a turban-style hairdo
Moira Orfei rarely strayed from her trademark look, with
heavy make-up and a turban-style hairdo 
Moira Orfei, an entertainer regarded as the Queen of the Italian circus and an actress who starred in more than 40 films, was born on this day in 1931 in Codroipo, a town in Friuli-Venezia Giulia about 25km (16 miles) southwest of Udine.

She had a trademark look that became so recognisable that advertising posters for the Moira Orfei Circus, which she founded in 1961 with her new husband, the circus acrobat and animal trainer Walter Nones, carried simply her face and the name 'Moira'.

As a young woman, she was a strikingly glamorous Hollywood-style beauty but in later years she took to wearing heavy make-up, dark eye-liner and bright lipstick, topped off with her bouffant hair gathered up in a way that resembled a turban.  Her camped-up appearance made her an unlikely icon for Italy’s gay community.

Born Miranda Orfei, she spent her whole life in the circus. Her father, Riccardo, was a bareback horse rider and sometime clown; her mother, part of the Arata circus dynasty, gave birth to her in the family’s living trailer.  Growing up, she performed as a horse rider, acrobat and trapeze artist.

Posters for Circo Moira Orfei always featured her face and first name
Posters for Circo Moira Orfei always
featured her face and first name
Her film career began the year before she was married, with minor roles in a couple of action movies based loosely on historical themes. Dino De Laurentiis, the producer of one of them, suggested she changed her name from Miranda to Moira, after which the director Mario Costa gave her a bigger part in a swashbuckling adventure movie, Queen of the Pirates.

The so-called sword-and-sandal genre, very popular in Italy at the time, remained her speciality until she was given parts in a couple of comedies written for the great Italian comic actor, Totò.

Thereafter, although the adventure epic remained her staple, her acting talent was recognised in several movies that fell into the commedia all’Italiana genre.

She was in a cast headed by Marcello Mastroianni and Virna Lisi in Mario Monicelli’s Casanova ‘70 (in which her cousin, Liana Orfei, appeared as a lion tamer), played alongside Virna Lisi again in Pietro Germi’s Signore e Signori, with Nino Manfredi and Ugo Tognazzi in Dino Risi’s Straziami ma di baci saziami (Torture Me But Kill Me with Kisses), and with Vittorio Gassman in the Dino Risi classic Profumo di donna (Scent of a Woman).

Meanwhile, Circo Moira Orfei went from strength to strength. With Nones presenting obedient lions or tigers, she presented the circus’s performing elephants.

As a young actress, Orfei was a star of many sword-and-sandal adventure movies
As a young actress, Orfei was a star of
many sword-and-sandal adventure movies
Her animal acts gained silver and gold awards at the International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo in 1987, 1989 and 2004 and she became known in the circus world as Moira of the Elephants.

In 1969, she and Nones launched Circo sul Ghiaccio - Circus on Ice - a monumental production which combined a circus ring and a skating rink. A highly elaborate show featured frequent set and costume changes and an international cast of circus and stars.

Circus on Ice toured in a huge big top, the largest seen in Italy. Moving from place to place involved 10 tractors, 34 articulated buses, two special trains and more than 100 caravans.

Orfei retired from performing in the late 1990s, although she continued to supervise every detail of the business.  She suffered some setbacks, including a serious car crash in 2000 that left her with a broken leg and five broken ribs, and a stroke in 2006, which happened during a show in Reggio Calabria and required her to take more than a year off in recuperation.

Subsequently, her active participation in shows was limited, although she would usually parade round the ring at the start, welcoming the audience. Her son and daughter, Stefano and Lara, followed in the family tradition and became part of the show, he becoming one of Europe's foremost animal trainers, she a talented equestrian.

Moira Orfei died in Brescia in 2015 a month ahead of what would have been her 84th birthday, passing away in her sleep in her trailer, having continued to follow the itinerant life of the circus to the end. Her funeral was held in San Donà di Piave - 40km (25 miles) from Venice and about 60km (37 miles) southwest of Codroipo.

A crowd put at around 5,000 watched the funeral cortege, with a hearse drawn by four white Lipizzaners - the breed closely associated with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna - carrying her coffin to the tune of a marching band playing circus music.

The Villa Manin in Codroipo, once home of Ludovico Manin, the last Doge of the Venetian Republic
The Villa Manin in Codroipo, once home of Ludovico
Manin, the last Doge of the Venetian Republic
Travel tip:

Codroipo, which used to be part of the Venetian Republic, is best known for the Villa Manin, once the family home of Ludovico Manin, the last Doge of the Venitian Republic, who governed from 1789 until 1797, when Napoleon Bonaparte forced him to abdicate. It was at the villa in 1797 that the Treaty of Campoformio was signed, marking Napoleon's victory, the fall of the First Coalition (of European states opposed to Napoleon), and the cession of Friuli to Austria.

A typically elegant street in the town of San Donà di Piave
Travel tip:

Elegant San Donà di Piave is one of the historical main towns of the eastern Veneto, although it needed substantial reconstruction in the early 1920s after being heavily damaged during the First World War, when the drawn out Battle of Solstizio took place on the banks of the Piave river. The municipality of San Donà had been established in 1797 as the administrative centre of one of the 15 cantons of the Treviso district. It was part of the Lombard-Venetian Kingdom from 1815 and during the Austrian domination it kept its position of county seat of the district. In the first part of the 19th century, the centre of the city underwent some development, with the building of palaces, commercial buildings and a new cathedral, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Find a hotel in San Donà di Piave with TripAdvisor

More reading:

How Dino Risi helped launch the career of Sophia Loren

Why Mario Monicelli was one of the greats of Italian film

The former pasta salesman who helped put Italian cinema on the map

Also on this day:

69AD: Vespasian becomes emperor of Rome

1401: The birth of Renaissance artist Masaccio

1872: The birth of priest and composer Lorenzo Perosi


1 September 2018

Vittorio Gassman - actor

Stage and screen star once dubbed ‘Italy’s Olivier’

Vittorio Gassman in the 1948 movie Riso amaro, which provided him with his breakthrough as a screen actor
Vittorio Gassman in the 1948 movie Riso amaro, which
provided him with his breakthrough as a screen actor
Vittorio Gassman, who is regarded as one of the finest actors in the history of Italian theatre and cinema, was born on this day in 1922 in Genoa.

Tall, dark and handsome in a way that made him a Hollywood producer’s dream, Gassman appeared in almost 150 movies but he was no mere matinée idol.

A highly respected stage actor, he possessed a mellifluous speaking voice, a magisterial presence and such range and versatility in his acting talent that the Hollywood columnist Sheilah Graham once called him ‘the Lawrence Olivier of Italy’.

He enjoyed a career that spanned five decades. Inevitably, he is best remembered for his screen roles, although by the time he made his movie debut in 1945, he had appeared in more than 40 productions of classic plays by Shakespeare, Aeschylus, Ibsen, Tennessee Williams, and others.

On screen, his major successes included his portrayal of the handsome scoundrel Walter opposite Silvana Mangano in Giuseppe De Santis's neorealist melodrama Riso amaro (Bitter Rice, 1948), and several Commedia all’Italiana classics, including Mario Monicelli’s I soliti ignoti (Big Deal On Madonna Street, 1958), La grande guerra (The Great War, 1959) and L'armata brancaleone (1965), and Dino Risi's Il sorpasso (1962).

With Silvana Mangano and Alberto Sordi (right), his co-stars in the comedy classic La grande guerra (1959)
With Silvana Mangano and Alberto Sordi (right), his co-stars
in the comedy classic La grande guerra (1959)
At this time, his popularity was rivalled only by Alberto Sordi, his co-star in La grande guerra, which shared the Golden Lion prize at Venice in 1959 with a Rossellini film.

Gassman’s portrayal of a blind military man in Risi’s 1974 film Profumo di donna received the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. Al Pacino played the same part and won an Oscar in the 1992 remake, Scent of a Woman.

His flirtation with Hollywood came after he met and fell in love with the American actress Shelley Winters while she was touring Europe.

When Winters returned to Hollywood because of contractual obligations, he followed her there and married her. With his natural charisma and fluency in English he landed a number of roles in Hollywood, including Charles Vidor’s Rhapsody opposite Elizabeth Taylor, and with Gloria Grahame in Maxwell Shane’s film noir The Glass Wall.

He was the only Italian star in the cast of King Vidor's epic War And Peace (1956), produced by Dino De Laurentiis in Rome and for which the Italian composer Nino Rota wrote the music score. Later, Gassman gave distinguished performances in the Robert Altman films A Wedding (1978) and Quintet (1979).

Gassman was the only Italian cast in the 1956 epic War and Peace, in which he is pictured with Audrey Hepburn
Gassman was the only Italian cast in the 1956 epic War and
in which he is pictured with Audrey Hepburn
Born to a German father and a Jewish Italian mother, Gassman had aspirations to be a lawyer. But his mother encouraged him to pursue his interest in acting and he remained devoted to his first love, theatre, throughout his career.

A student at the Accademia Nazionale d'Arte Drammatica in Rome, he made his stage debut in Milan in 1942 before moving back to Rome to work at the Teatro Eliseo.

Even after his film debut in 1946 was followed by his breakthrough role in Bitter Rice two years later, he devoted much energy to Luchino Visconti's theatre company in productions such as Tennessee Williams' Un tram che si chiama desiderio (A Streetcar Named Desire) and Come vi piace (As You Like It) by Shakespeare.

In 1952 he co-founded and co-directed the Teatro d'Arte Italiano, which produced the first complete version of Hamlet in Italy.  Later in his career, he created his own company, Teatro Popolare Itinerante, with which he toured Italy staging the works of 20th century authors and playwrights as well as the classics of Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky and the Greek tragicians. He also founded a theatre school in Florence.

For a while he was the star of a popular TV series, Il Mattatore, which was later turned into a movie.

Married three times - to actresses Nora Ricci, Shelley Winters and Diletta D'Andrea - he also had numerous affairs.  The father of two daughters and two sons - one of whom, Alessandro, became a film actor - Gassman died in June 2000, in Rome, following a heart attack.

The Piazza de Ferrari in the centre of Genoa
The Piazza de Ferrari in the centre of Genoa
Travel tip:

Gassman’s home city of Genoa boasts Italy's largest sea port, its maritime power going back to the 12th and 13th centuries, when the Republic of Genoa ruled the Mediterranean. The old city is fascinating for its large maze of narrow caruggi (streets), opening out occasionally into grand squares such as Piazza de Ferrari, site of an iconic bronze fountain and Teatro Carlo Felice opera house. There is a Romanesque duomo, the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, recognisable for its black-and-white-striped facade and frescoed interior.

The Accademia Nazionale d'Arte Drammatic in Rome
The Accademia Nazionale d'Arte Drammatic in Rome
Travel tip:

The Accademia Nazionale d'Arte Drammatica "Silvio d'Amico", the dramatic arts academy where Gassman trained as an actor, can be found in Via Bellini, between Villa Borghese and the Parioli district, in an elegant four-storey building. Founded in 1936 by the critic and theatrical theorist Silvio D'Amico, in addition to Gassman it has seen students such as Rossella Falk, Anna Magnani, Paolo Stoppa, Nino Manfredi, Gian Maria Volonté, Monica Vitti, Michele Placido, Nicoletta Braschi and Luca Zingaretti attend lectures and workshops there.

More reading:

Mario Monicelli - the father of Commedia all'Italiana

The genius of Alberto Sordi

How Silvano Mangano's acting talents overcame her critics

Also on this day:

1878: The birth of conductor Tullio Serafin

1886: The birth of vaudeville star Guido Deiro


21 April 2018

Silvana Mangano - actress

Star who married the producer Dino De Laurentiis

Silvana Mangano worked as a model before breaking into the cinema
Silvana Mangano worked as a model before
breaking into the film industry
The actress Silvana Mangano, who was decried as a mere sex symbol and later hailed as a fine character actress during a quite restricted career, was born on this day in 1930 in Rome.

She found fame through Giuseppe De Santis’s neorealist film Bitter Rice, in which she played a female worker in the rice fields in the Po Valley who becomes involved with a petty criminal Walter, played by Vittorio Gassman.

Mangano’s character was a sensual, lustful young woman and the actress, a former beauty queen, carried it off so well she was hailed by one critic as “Ingrid Bergmann with a Latin disposition” and likened also to the American glamour queen Rita Hayworth.

She went on to work with many of Italy's leading directors, including Alberto Lattuada, Vittorio De Sica, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Luchino Visconti, but she made only 30 films, in part because she preferred to spend time with her family but also because Dino De Laurentiis, the producer of Bitter Rice who soon became her husband, controlled her career.

It is said that she was offered the important part of Maddalena in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita but that De Laurentiis prevented her from taking it, the role instead going to the French actress Anouk Aimée.

The daughter of a Sicilian railway worker and his English wife, Ivy Webb, who was from Croydon, Mangano grew up in difficult circumstances in wartime Rome.  After the conflict was over her family lived effectively in poverty but she was determined to make something of herself and paid for seven years of dance lessons by earning money as a model.

Mangano's character in the 1951 film Anna was a dancer who gives up nightclubs to take holy orders
Mangano's character in the 1951 film Anna was a dancer who
gives up nightclubs to take holy orders
Beauty pageants were an established route into the growing film industry.  Mangano won the Miss Rome competition in 1946 and entered Miss Italia the following year, against an extraordinary field that included Lucia Bosé, Gina Lollobrigida, Eleonora Rossi Drago and Gianna Maria Canale, all of whom would become stars.

Mangano did not win but attracted attention.  She had a brief affair with Marcello Mastroianni, then an upcoming actor, and had a number of small parts, in Italy and in France.

Bitter Rice provided her with her big break in 1949, although with a certain irony she was almost rejected by De Santis as too glamorous after she turned up for the audition dressed to kill and heavily made up.  It was only after bumping into De Santis later on the Via Veneto, having removed her make-up, which she seldom wore off screen anyway, and with her hair wet from the rain, that she won the part.

After Bitter Rice, it took a long time for Mangano to shake off he image as sex symbol but between the 50s and the 70s she gradually acquired a reputation for delivering solid acting performance in strong character roles.

Mangano's breakthrough came in the  neorealist movie Bitter Rice
Mangano's breakthrough came in the
neorealist movie Bitter Rice 
Her notable successes included Lattuada’s Anna (1951), in which she played a dancer who abandons the nightlife to become a nun, and the The Gold of Naples (1954), directed by Vittorio De Sica, in which she took the part of a prostitute, Teresa.

Later she played opposite Vittorio Gassman again in Robert Rossen’s Mambo (1955), portrayed a bourgeois mother in Pasolini’s Theorem (1968) and was the mother of Tadzio in Visconti’s Death in Venice (1971).

She won several Italian film industry awards, including three David di Donatellos, two Silver Ribbons and one Nastro d’Argento (Gold Ribbon) for best actress in Death in Venice.

Mangano and De Laurentiis married in 1949 and the couple had four children: Veronica, Raffaella, Francesca, and Federico. Raffaella went on to to be a film producer herself. Federico died in an plane crash in 1981.

Veronica’s daughter, Giada De Laurentiis, who moved to California after her parents divorced, became the host of Everyday Italian and Giada at Home on the Food Network TV channel, as well as the founder of GDL Foods and the owner of two restaurants in Las Vegas,

Mangano and Dino De Laurantiis separated in 1983, at around the same time Mangano began to suffer from ill health.  Afflicted by insomnia and bouts of depression, she was discovered to have a tumour close to her stomach, between her lungs.

She left Italy to live in Spain.  A year after her divorce from De Laurentiis she underwent surgery in Madrid in December 1989 but was left in a coma and died two weeks later, the cause of death recorded as lung cancer,

Streets in the Vallerano neighbourhood are named after actors, actresses and writers
Streets in the Vallerano neighbourhood are named after
actors, actresses and writers
Travel tip:

Mangano has a road named after her in the Vallerano neighbourhood of suburban Rome, about 16km (10 miles) south of the centre of the city in the direction of the Pontine marshes and adjoining an area of nature reserves. The area is primarily residential, its broad streets named after performing artists Italian and foreign, including many movie stars, as well as journalists and publishers.

The Villa Oplontis at Torre Annunziata
The Villa Oplontis at Torre Annunziata
Travel tip:

Mangano’s husband, Dino De Laurentiis, was born in Torre Annunziata, a former small city now absorbed into the greater Naples metropolitan area. Close to Mount Vesuvius, it was destroyed in the eruption of 79 AD and was rebuilt over the ruins. Its name derives from a watch tower - torre - built to warn people of imminent Saracen raids and a chapel consecrated to the Annunziata (Virgin Mary). It became a centre for pasta production in the early 19th century. The Villa Poppaea, also known as Villa Oplontis, believed to be owned by Nero, was discovered about 10 metres below ground level just outside the town and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

More reading:

How Dino De Laurentiis made Italian cinema famous

The genius of Federico Fellini

Luchino Visconti, the aristocrat of Italian cinema

Also on this day:

753BC: The birth of Rome

1574: The death of Cosimo I de' Medici


1 March 2017

Cesare Danova - movie actor

Acclaim came late for Bergamo-born star

Cesare Danova
Cesare Danova 
The actor Cesare Danova, who appeared in more than 300 films and TV shows over the course of a 45-year career, was born Cesare Deitinger on this day in 1926 in the Lombardy city of Bergamo. 

The son of an Austrian father and an Italian mother, he adopted Danova as his professional name after meeting the film producer, Dino De Laurentiis, in Rome.

De Laurentiis gave him a screen test and was so impressed he immediately cast Danova in the 1947 movie The Captain's Daughter, playing alongside Amedeo Nazzari and Vittorio Gassman.

So began a career that was to see Danova star opposite Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Joseph L Mankiewicz's 1963 hit Cleopatra, opposite Elvis Presley and Ann-Margaret in Viva Las Vegas (1964), alongside Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel in Martin Scorsese's cult movie Mean Streets (1973) and as part of a star-studded cast in National Lampoon's Animal House (1978).

Danova made his big screen debut in 1947 in the film
The Captain's Daughter, starring  Irasema Dilián
In his later years, Danova became a familiar figure on TV screens in America, making appearances in almost all the popular drama series of the 1980s, including Charlie's Angels, Murder, She Wrote, Falcon Crest, Hart to Hart and Mission: Impossible.

He never retired.  Indeed, he had appeared in an episode of In the Heat of the Night shortly before he died in 1992 of a heart attack, aged 66.

Danova was an individual blessed with a wide range of talents. He spoke five languages, was a licensed pilot and a self-taught painter.

Standing 6ft 4ins (1.93m) tall, he was also an accomplished athlete, winning a fencing championship at the age of 15 and playing for the Italian national rugby team at 17. He was a low-handicap golfer, a respectable tennis player, an amateur swimming champion, an expert horseman and polo player, and a master archer.

Danova (left) with Harvey Keitel and Martin Scorcese on the set of the 1973 cult movie Mean Streets
Danova (left) with Harvey Keitel and Martin Scorsese on the
set of the 1973 cult movie Mean Streets
He might have made a career in professional sport but his parents wanted him to become a doctor.  While studying at Rome University, he became interested in acting, but was determined not to disappoint his parents and pushed himself so hard in his academic work he suffered a nervous breakdown.

It was while he was recuperating that a friend introduced him to De Laurentiis, by then an up-and-coming producer, whose gamble on giving this unknown a part in a prestigious title paid off, launching Danova as a kind of Italian Errol Flynn, cast as the dashing lead in about 20 Italian action-romance movies.

Danova moved to the United States in the 1950s. he had been spotted by MGM when appearing in the German-backed 1955 movie Don Giovanni and signed a long-term contract with the studio in June 1956.

He was touted as a possible Ben-Hur amid stories that director William Wyler had lured him from Europe specifically to be groomed for the lead role in what was a carefully planned epic production. He was talked about as a glamour boy to fill the shoes of Rudolph Valentino.

The original movie poster from Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets
The original movie poster from
Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets
Danova spoke no English when he arrived in the United States but spent six months learning the language and it seemed certain he would land the role. However, just as filming was about to begin in March 1957, Wyler decided he did not want an actor with an accent and instead chose Charlton Heston. Danova was stunned, believing the role would have made him an international star. Indeed, it won Heston an Oscar for best actor.

Clearly, luck was not always Danova's friend.  When he was given his second chance to break through as a major star, he was cast in Cleopatra as one of a trio of lovers vying for the attention of the glamorous ruler of Egypt alongside Rex Harrison's Julius Caesar and Richard Burton's Marc Antony. He filmed a number of love scenes with Elizabeth Taylor. But after a real-life romance between Taylor and Burton made headlines, the producers decided they needed to exploit the Burton-Taylor chemistry and most of Danova's scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.

Thereafter, the stellar hit he craved never really came about, although he would win acclaim in the 70s as the Mafia Don Giovanni Cappa in Mean Streets, Scorsese's brilliant story about life among the small-time hoods in New York, and as corrupt mayor Carmine DePasto in Animal House. 

Married twice, Danova had two sons, Marco and Fabrizio, by his first wife, Pamela.

The Palazzo della Ragione in Bergamo's Piazza Vecchia
The Palazzo della Ragione in Bergamo's Piazza Vecchia
Travel tip:

Most visitors to the Lombardy city of Bergamo, where Danova was born, want to spend some time in Piazza Vecchia, the beautiful square at the heart of the Città Alta, the historic city that stands on a hill above Bergamo's more modern metropolis. Features of the square are the 12th century Palazzo della Ragione, which has a beautiful covered staircase to one side, the tall bell tower known as il Campanone, the 14th century Palazzo del Podesta Veneto (the Palace of the Mayor of Venice), which is now part of the University of Bergamo, the white marble Biblioteca Civica, the fountain decorated with white marble lions, which was donated to the city in 1780 by former mayor Alvise Contarini, and the statue of Torquato Tasso, one of the greatest Italian renaissance poets, who was the son of a Bergamo nobleman.

Find a hotel in Bergamo with

The church of Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza
The church of Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza
Travel tip:

The University of Rome - often referred to as the Sapienza University of Rome or simply La Sapienza, meaning 'knowledge' - was founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII, as a place for  ecclesiastical studies over which he could exert greater control than the already established universities of Bologna and Padua. The first pontifical university, it expanded in the 15th century to include schools of Law, Medicine, Philosophy and Theology. Money raised from a new tax on wine enabled the University to buy a palace, which later housed the Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza church. The University was closed during the sack of Rome in 1527 but reopened by Pope Paul III in 1534. In 1870, La Sapienza ceased to be the papal university and as the university of the capital of Italy became recognised as the country's most prestigious seat of learning. A new modern campus was built in 1935 under the guidance of the architect Marcello Piacentini. 

More reading:

Dino De Laurentiis, the former pasta salesman who helped sell Italian cinema to the world

How Amedeo Nazzari was touted as Italy's Errol Flynn

Why Rossano Brazzi gave up a legal career to go to Hollywood

Also on this day:

1773: The death of architect Luigi Vanvitelli, who built the Royal Palace at Caserta

1869: The birth of sculptor Pietro Canonica

1930: The birth of cycling champion Gastone Nencini

Selected books:

The History of Italian Cinema: A Guide To Italian Film From Its Origins To The Twenty-First Century, by Gian Piero Brunetta

A History of Italian Cinema, by Peter Bondanella and Federico Pacchioni

(Picture credit: Church of Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza by Fb78 via Wikimedia Commons)


8 November 2016

Virna Lisi - actress

Screen siren turned back on glamour roles to prove talent

Virna Lisi in a Hollywood publicity shot
Virna Lisi in a Hollywood publicity shot
The actress Virna Lisi, born on this day in 1936, might have become the new Marilyn Monroe if she had allowed Hollywood to shape her career in the way the movie moguls had planned.

She was certainly blessed with all the physical attributes to fulfil their commercial ambitions - no less a screen goddess than Brigitte Bardot called her 'the most beautiful woman in the world' - but decided she was too good an actress to be typecast as mere window dressing or eye candy and ultimately rejected their advances.

In time she proved to herself that she made the right decision when her portrayal of the manipulative Catherine de' Medici, the Italian who was Queen of France between 1547 and 1559, in Patrice Chéreau’s 1994 film La Reine Margot won her three awards - Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival, a César (the French equivalent of an Oscar) and the Italian film critics' award, the Nastro d'Argento (Silver Ribbon).

Born Virna Pieralisi in the town of Jesi, in the province of Ancona  in Marche, where her father had a marble importing business, she moved with her family to Rome in the early 1950s and Virna's progress through school had her earmarked for a place at business college.

But on the recommendation of a friend of the family, the singer and actor Giacomo Rondinella, she was given a part in a film, E Napoli canta (And Naples sings).  Just 17 years old and a natural beauty, so much did she charm Italian film producers that she was quickly in demand.

It was clear to the critics that she could act, winning praise for her performance in Sergio Corbucci's Romolo e Remo (Romulus and Remus), and she won many parts in Italian TV dramas. But it was her looks that were most sought after, earning her a lucrative contract advertising toothpaste in a TV commercial, her face accompanied by the slogan 'con quella bocca può dire ciò che vuole' (with that mouth, she can say whatever she wants).

Hollywood studio bosses wanted Virna Lisi  to become the new Marilyn
Hollywood studio bosses wanted Virna Lisi
 to become the new Marilyn 
She minded less about her acting talent being overlooked in the early 1960s than she would later, especially when the chance came to make significant money in Hollywood.

Transformed into a blue-eyed blonde temptress, Lisi starred opposite Jack Lemmon in the comedy How to Murder Your Wife, famously making her entrance by emerging from a giant cake, and had other hits with Tony Curtis, Frank Sinatra and Rod Steiger.

The press fawned over her, one magazine article describing her as 'like Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly put together', but although she accepted being a cover girl she soon tired of lightweight, fluffy roles. She wanted to be seen as an actress, rather than simply someone who looked good on screen.

She turned down an invitation to pose in Playboy magazine, bought herself out of her contract with United Artists and returned to Italy. Back home, as if to prove she was serious about wanting different, more challenging parts, she rejected the title role offered by Dino de Laurentiis in Roger Vadim's film Barbarella, which went instead to Jane Fonda.

It took a while to achieve her ambitions but, little by little, Lisi shed her former image.  Her performance alongside Anthony Quinn and Anna Magnani in The Secret of Santa Vittoria, in which an Italian wine-producing village hides millions of bottles from plundering Nazis, was one step in her chosen direction.

She took a break into the early 1970s to spend more time with her husband and their son, Corrado, but on her return was acclaimed for her role as the sister of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil, which won her the first of six Nastro d'Argento awards for best actress or best supporting actress.

Virna Lisi as Catherine de' Medici
Virna Lisi achieved her ambition where her portrayal
of Catherine de' Medici won acclaim and awards
At the age of 57, she was overcome with emotion when he name was read out for La Reine Margot at Cannes. "My son told me not to cry," she said later. "It was very stupid - but it had taken me 35 years."

Two years later, Lisi won an Italian Golden Globe for best actress in Follow Your Heart (1996), in which she played an elderly woman dying of cancer.

Lisi continued to work until she died in Rome in December 2014, aged 78, having filmed a television comedy earlier in the same year.  Her husband, Franco Pesci, an architect she had met in Rome in the late 1950s and to whom she had been married 53 years, passed away in 2013.

Travel tip: 

Rome's Colosseum, the largest and most famous Roman amphitheatre in the world, was constructed over eight years between 72 AD and 80 AD. It was capable of accommodating 50,000 spectators and had 80 entrances. It remains the city's most visited tourist attraction, ahead of St Peter's Basilica and The Pantheon.

Hotels in Rome by

The 18th century Teatro Pergolesi in Jesi
The 18th century Teatro Pergolesi in Jesi
Travel tip:

Jesi, which was the site of a settlement in the fourth century BC, has developed as an industrial centre but maintains its cultural heritage within perfectly preserved medieval walls, built along the lines of its old Roman defences between the 13th and 14th centuries.  Notable buildings include the Cathedral of San Settimio in Piazza Federico II, the nearby 12th century church of San Floriano, which once contained paintings by Lorenzo Lotto that are now housed in the Pinacoteca Civica.  The Teatro Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, named in honour of the 18th century musician and composer who was born in Jesi, stands in the elegant Piazza della Repubblica.

Hotels in Jesi by

More reading:

Anna Magnani - Oscar-winner whose characters shared her down-to-earth qualities

Dino de Laurentiis - producer who help take Italian cinema to the world

Roberto Benigni - eccentric comedian, actor and director who scored a first for Italy

Also on this day:

1830: Death of the king of Naples and Sicily

(Photos of Virna Lisi from YouTube; photo of Teatro Pergolese from gaspa via Wikimedia Commons)


10 August 2016

Carlo Rambaldi - master of special effects

Former commercial artist who created E.T.

Carlo Rambaldi, the special effects animator, pictured in 2010
Carlo Rambaldi, pictured in 2010
Carlo Rambaldi, the brilliant special effects artist who created Steven Spielberg's ugly-but-adorable Extra-Terrestrial known as E.T. and Ridley Scott's malevolent Alien, died on this day in 2012 in Lamezia Terme, the city in Calabria where he settled in later life.  He was a month away from his 87th birthday.

Unlike modern special effects, which consist of computer generated images, Rambaldi's creatures were typically made of steel, polyurethane and rubber and were animated by mechanically or electronically powered rods and cables.

Yet his creations were so lifelike that the Italian director of one of his early films was facing two years in prison for animal cruelty until Rambaldi brought his props to the court room to prove that the 'animals' on screen were actually models.

It was during this time that Rambaldi, a former commercial artist who had graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, not far from his home town of Vigarano Mainarda in Emilia-Romagna, pioneered the use animatronics (puppets operated mechanically by rods or cables) and mechatronics, which combined mechanical and electronic engineering.

He mostly found employment on low-budget horror films, but would occasionally be invited to bring his expertise to something a little less grisly and it was Rambaldi's work on the Italian director Dario Argento's stylish 1975 thriller Profondo Rosso (Deep Red) that caught the eye of Dino De Laurentiis, the US-based Italian producer who was looking for a special effects artist for a remake of King Kong.

Rambaldi's creation, the Extra-Terrestrial E.T.
Rambaldi's creation, the Extra-Terrestrial E.T.
Rambaldi moved to America, where he created Spielberg's benign musical aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) followed by the parasitic Alien of Scott's 1979 blockbuster before delivering his greatest triumph with E.T., which beguiled audiences with its wizened skin and cat-like eyes and was capable of 150 separate moves, even down to furrowing the brow and wrinkling the nose.

Rambaldi confessed that even he cried a little when he watched the finished movie, in which E.T., marooned on earth after the spaceship in which he arrives leaves without him, befriends a lonely boy called Elliott, who in turn helps him contact his home planet.  Spielberg based E.T. on an imaginary friend he created for himself as a boy when his parents divorced.

In 1983, E.T. surpassed Star Wars as the highest-grossing film of all-time. By the end of its run it had grossed $359 million in North America and $619 million worldwide.

E.T. won Rambaldi his third Oscar for special effects following King Kong and Alien.

The last film for which he produced the special effects was Primal Rage, released in 1988 and directed by his son, Vittorio.  He distrusted the digital technology on which so many directors now rely, claiming that emotions he was able to convey in E.T. could not be reproduced by any computer programme.

On their return to Italy, Rambaldi and his wife Bruna settled in Lamezia Terme. They had another son, Alex, and a daughter, Daniela.

The Castello Estense in Ferrara
The Castello Estense in Ferrara
Travel tip:

Vigarano Mainarda is a small town situated about 9km (6 miles) from Ferrara, the beautiful city in Emilia-Romagna that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for its cultural importance.  Formerly the seat of the powerful Este family, who ruled the city from 1240 to 1597, it shares with Lucca the distinction of having the best preserved Renaissance walls in Italy.  At the centre of the city is the impressive brick built Castello Estense, which dates back to 1385 and underwent extensive restoration in 1999.

Travel tip:

Lamezia Terme as a municipality has existed only since 1968, when the former communities of Nicastro, Sambiase and Sant'Eufemia Lamezia were merged.  There are Byzantine, Roman and Greek remains, including the ruins of a castle thought to have been built by Greek colonists and developed by the Normans.  There is also a well preserved watchtower, the Bastion of the Knights of Malta, built in about 1550 by the Spanish viceroy of Naples, Pedro de Toledo.


8 August 2016

Dino De Laurentiis – film producer

Campanian pasta seller helped make Italian cinema famous 

Dino de Laurentiis, pictured in about 1950, shortly before he produced the Oscar-winning movie La Strada
Dino De Laurentiis, pictured in about 1950
The producer of hundreds of hit films, Agostino ‘Dino’ De Laurentiis was born on this day in 1919 at Torre Annunziata, near Naples in Campania.

He made Italian cinema famous internationally, producing Federico Fellini’s Oscar- winning La Strada in 1954 in Rome.

After moving to the US he enjoyed further success with the film Serpico in 1973.

De Laurentiis was the son of a pasta manufacturer for whom he worked as a salesman during his teens.

While selling pasta in Rome in the 1930s he decided on impulse to enrol at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in the city as an actor.

He quickly realised he had more talent for producing and after gaining experience in the different sectors of the industry made his first film, L’Amore Canta - 'Love Song' - in 1941 when he was just 22.

After serving in the army during the second world war, De Laurentiis became an executive producer at one of Rome’s emerging film companies, Lux.

Among the films he produced for Lux was Riso Amaro - 'Bitter Rice' - starring Silvana Mangano, whom he later married and had four children with. The film was a box-office success both at home and abroad.

An early publicity poster for the De  Laurentiis production La Strada
An early publicity poster for the De
 Laurentiis production La Strada
Proud of his Campanian origins, De Laurentiis made Napoli Milionaria, - 'Naples Millionaire' - a comedy presenting a slice of life in Naples during and after the war.

In 1950 De Laurentiis and Carlo Ponti formed their own film company and produced Fellini’s La Strada which won the Oscar for best foreign language feature in 1957.

The soundtrack was written by Nino Rota, who scored many of Fellini's films and is also known for the music that accompanied the first two Godfather films.

He moved to the US in the 1970s where he made Serpico starring Al Pacino and Conan the Barbarian, which helped launch the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Although De Laurentiis became an American citizen, he returned to Italy frequently, shooting scenes in Florence for Hannibal in 2001 starring Anthony Hopkins.

De Laurentiis and Silvana Mangano divorced shortly before her death in 1989 and he married Martha Schumacher in 1990, with whom he had another two daughters.

De Laurentiis died in 2010 at the age of 91 at his residence in Beverly Hills.

The harbour at Torre Annunziata, just outside Naples
The harbour at Torre Annunziata, just outside Naples
Travel tip:

Torre Annunziata, where De Laurentiis was born, is a city near Naples in Campania. Close to Mount Vesuvius, it was destroyed in the eruption of 79 AD and was rebuilt over the ruins. Its name derives from a watch tower - torre - built to warn people of imminent Saracen raids and a chapel consecrated to the Annunziata (Virgin Mary). It became a centre for pasta production in the early 19th century. The Villa Poppaea, also known as Villa Oplontis, believed to be owned by Nero, was discovered about ten metres below ground level just outside the town and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Travel tip:

The Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia (Experimental Film Centre) was established in 1935 in Rome to promote the art and technique of film making. It is located near Cinecittà, the hub of the Italian film industry, to the south of the city. Cinecittà was bombed during the Second World War but rebuilt and used again in the 1950s for large productions, such as Ben-Hur. A range of productions, from television drama to music videos, are filmed there now and it has its own dedicated Metro stop.

More reading:

(Photo of movie poster by Pabloglezcruz CC BY-SA 3.0)