Showing posts with label Rossano Brazzi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rossano Brazzi. Show all posts

22 April 2017

Alida Valli - actress

Scandal dogged star admired by Mussolini

The actress Alida Valli was the object of Mussolini's admiration
The actress Alida Valli was the object of
Mussolini's admiration
The actress Alida Valli, who was once described by Benito Mussolini as the most beautiful woman in the world after Greta Garbo, died on this day in 2006 at the age of 84.

One of the biggest stars in Italian cinema in the late 1930s and 40s, when she starred in numerous romantic dramas and comedies, she was best known outside Italy for playing Anna Schmidt, the actress girlfriend of Harry Lime in Carol Reed’s Oscar-winning 1949 classic The Third Man.

She was cast in the role by the producer David O Selznick, who shared the Fascist leader’s appreciation for her looks, and who billed her simply as Valli, hoping it would create for her a Garboesque enigmatic allure.  Later, however, she complained that having one name made her “feel silly”.

Valli was born in Pola, Istria, then part of Italy (now Pula, Croatia), in 1921. She was christened Baroness Alida Maria Laura Altenburger von Marckenstein-Frauenberg, on account of a noble line to her paternal grandfather, Baron Luigi Altenburger, an Austrian-Italian from Trento and a descendant of the Counts d’Arco.

Her father was a journalist and professor. The family moved to Como when she was young but her father died when she was a teenager, after which she and her mother moved to Rome, where she enrolled at the capital's new film school, Centro Sperimentale.

She had no expectations of making a career in movies but the Centro's teachers recognised her talent. The name Alida Valli was invented for her, and in 1937 she made five films, each one more successful than the last. Consequently, her salary went up with each production. When she realised her earnings could support her whole family, she decided that it was a career worth taking seriously.

Alida Valli with Joseph Cotten in The Third Man
After a number of comedies and costume dramas, she won acclaim for more serious roles in Picolo mondo antico (1941) and We the Living (1942). The latter saw her star opposite Rossano Brazzi as tragic lovers in post-revolutionary St Petersburg, which pleased the Fascist regime because it seemed to convey an anti-communist message.

She felt uncomfortable about being linked with the Mussolini regime, however, especially when an anonymous letter to the United States embassy in Rome stalled her application for a visa to work in the US. The letter accused her of Fascist sympathies and being romantically involved with Hitler's propanganda chief Joseph Goebbels. The visa was granted, but only after Selznick's lawyers had disproved the allegations.

After Alida returned to Europe, she moved into more serious roles in films such as Luchino Visconti's Senso (1954) and Michelangelo Antonioni's Il Grido (1957), which had won her praise and confirmed that her beauty was underpinned with genuine acting ability.

Her success was overshadowed, however, by her relationship with Piero Piccioni, the son of Italy’s foreign minister, Attilio Piccioni, who was implicated in a sex and drugs scandal – the so-called Montesi scandal -  that emerged following the discovery of a young woman’s body on a beach near Ostia Antica, the old Roman resort, in 1953.

Piccioni was acquitted of any culpability in the woman’s death after Valli confirmed that she and Piccioni were together in Amalfi, 200 miles away, at the time, staying in a villa as guests of Carlo Ponti.  Valli had by then separated from her husband, Oscar De Mejo.

Valli with Stewart Granger in Luchino Visconti's Senso
During the next decade Alida struggled to rebuild her film career and turned to working more in theatre and television, before her reputation was re-established with parts in such films as Pier Paolo Pasolini's Oedipus Rex (1967) and Bernardo Bertolucci's The Spider's Strategem (1970), 1900 (1976) and La Luna (1979).

Valli encountered tragedy in her personal life when her lover as a young actress, the fighter pilot Carlo Cugnasca, was killed in action over Africa. In 1944, Alida married De Mejo, a jazz pianist, with whom she had a son, Carlo, in 1945, by which time Alida had been offered a Hollywood contract.  They had another son, Larry, but parted after eight years.

Valli's death at her home in Rome was announced by the office of the mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni. The Italian president, CarloAzeglio Ciampi, described her passing as “a great loss for the cinema, the theatre and Italian culture.”

The 15th century facade of Como's Duomo
The 15th century facade of Como's Duomo
Travel tip:

Como, where Valli grew up, can be found at the southern tip of the eastern branch of Lake Como. It is a pleasant town with an impressive cathedral in the historical centre, the construction of which spanned almost 350 years, which is why it combines features from different architectural areas, including Gothic and Renaissance. The façade was built in 1457, its characteristic rose window and a portal flanked by Renaissance statues of Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger, both of whom were from Como. This Duomo replaced the earlier 10th-century cathedral, San Fedele.

Travel tip:

The Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia can be found off Via Tuscolana to the south of Rome, nextdoor to the Cinecittà studio complex. It is the oldest film school in Western Europe, founded in 1935 during the Mussolini era by his head of cinema, Luigi Freddi. It is still financed by the Italian government to provide training, research and experimentation in the field of cinema.  Apart from Alida Valli, other actors and actresses to have emerged from the school include Claudia Cardinale, Domenico Modugno and Francesca Neri. Directors among the alumni include Michelangelo Antonioni, Giuseppe De Santis and Luigi Zampa.

More reading:

18 September 2016

Rossano Brazzi - Hollywood star

Actor quit as a lawyer for career on the big screen

Rossano Brazzi in a publicity shot from a 1952 Italian magazine
Rossano Brazzi in a publicity shot
from a 1952 Italian magazine
The movie actor Rossano Brazzi, whose credits include The Barefoot Contessa, Three Coins in the Fountain and South Pacific, was born on this day in 1916 in Bologna.

Brazzi gave up a promising career as a lawyer in order to act and went on to appear in more than 200 films, more often than not cast as a handsome heartbreaker or romantic aristocrat.

He was at his peak in the 50s and 60s but continued to accept parts until the late 80s. His last major role was as Father DeCarlo in Omen III: The Final Conflict in 1981.

Brazzi's family moved to Florence when he was aged four. His father Adelmo, a shoemaker, opened a leather factory in which Rossano, his brother Oscar and his sister, Franca, would all eventually work.

Adelmo had ambitions for Rossano, however, helping him win a place at the University of Florence, where he obtained a law degree, and then sending him to Rome to work in the legal practice of a family friend.

But Rossano had become involved in a drama group at university and looked for opportunities to continue acting.  Eventually, he was approached by a film director and when he was offered a part in a film in 1939 he quit his job with the legal practice in order to devote himself to acting as a career.

He became something of a screen idol in Italy, where the cinema provided a release for Italians growing weary of the privations of war.  Brazzi fought with the Italian Resistance in Rome, motivated in part by the fate of his parents, who were persecuted by Mussolini's blackshirts after Adelmo had spoken out against the rise of the Fascist party.

The United Artists poster for the 1955 David Lean film Summertime
The United Artists poster for the 1955
David Lean film Summertime
After the war, Italian film directors began to move towards gritty realism and parts for traditional male leads became scarce.  It prompted Brazzi to move to America and this proved a smart decision.

At the time, cinema audiences in America were declining as television persuaded people to stay at home.  It led the American film industry to recruit stars from Germany, France and Italy in the hope that their American films would attract large audiences in their native countries.  Brazzi, adept at portraying impeccably groomed romantic figures, became Hollywood's favourite Italian male lead for several years.

He made his first Hollywood appearance in Little Women in 1949, alongside June Allyson and Elizabeth Taylor, but it was his performance as an Italian count in The Barefoot Contessa in 1954, which also starred Ava Gardner and Humphrey Bogart, that revitalised his career.

That year brought him another success in Three Coins in the Fountain, about the romantic adventures of three American girls in Rome. The following year, Summertime, set in Venice, in which Brazzi played the part of a businessman who has a romantic affair with an American tourist portrayed by Katharine Hepburn, bolstered his comeback.

An original poster from the movie South Pacific
An original poster from the
movie South Pacific
In 1958, he played Emile de Becque, the South Seas planter who wins the heart of Nellie Forbush, a Navy nurse played by Mitzi Gaynor, in the screen adaptation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific.

In the 1960s, he starred in The Battle of the Villa Fiorita (1965), and Woman Times Seven (1967), followed by roles in Krakatoa East of Java and The Italian Job, starring Michael Caine, in 1969.

Brazzi was married twice.  His first marriage ended after 41 years in 1981 with the death of his wife, Lidia.  In 1984 he married their former housekeeper, the German-born Isle Fischer, with whom he lived in Rome until his death in 1994, aged 78.

Travel tips:

The University of Florence is situated close to the centre of Tuscany's regional capital, adjoining Piazza San Marco, just a few steps from the Galleria dell'Accademia, where Michelangelo's statue of David is the major attraction.  Alumni include past and current Prime Ministers Lamberto Dini and Matteo Renzi and the film director Franco Zeffirelli.

Campo San Vio in Venice was one of the locations used in the Rossano Brazzi-Katherine Hepburn film Summertime
Campo San Vio in Venice was one of the locations used in
the Rossano Brazzi-Katherine Hepburn film Summertime
Travel tip:

One of the key locations in Summertime, the David Lean film in which Brazzi starred opposite Katherine Hepburn, is a pensione overlooking the Grand Canal.  For many years this was assumed to be the real-life Pensione Accademia, close to the Accademia Bridge.  In fact, the terrace of the supposed pensione was a set erected in Campo San Vio, a small square that looks out over the Grand Canal just along from the Peggy Guggenheim Museum at the end of Fondamenta Bragadin in the Dorsoduoro district.

More reading:

How Pier Angeli - 'Italy's Greta Garbo' - conquered Hollywood but died tragically young

The beauty and talent of screen goddess Gina Lollobrigida

Federico Fellini and La Dolce Vita

(Photo of Venice by Wolfgang Moroder)