Showing posts with label Silvana Mangano. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Silvana Mangano. Show all posts

11 February 2024

Giuseppe De Santis - film director

Former Resistance fighter famous for neorealist classic Bitter Rice

Giuseppe De Santis used his films to highlight social problems in postwar Italy
Giuseppe De Santis used his films to highlight
social problems in postwar Italy
The writer and film director Giuseppe De Santis, who is best remembered for the 1949 neorealist film Bitter Rice - screened as Riso Amaro for Italian audiences - was born on this day in 1917 in Fondi, a small city in Lazio about 130km (81 miles) south of Rome.

De Santis is sometimes described as an idealist of the neorealism genre, which flourished in the years immediately after World War Two, yet it can also be argued that he moved away from the documentary style that characterised some of neorealism’s early output towards films with more traditional storylines.

Bitter Rice, for example, while highlighting the harsh working conditions in the rice fields around Vercelli in the Po Valley and the exploitation of labourers by wealthy landowners, is also a tale of plotting, jealousy and treachery among thieves.

Nonetheless, De Santis, a staunch opponent of Mussolini and Fascism, an Italian Communist Party member who fought against the Germans with the Italian Resistance, inevitably underpinned his work with a strong social message.

The son of a surveyor, De Santis wrote stories from an early age, drawing on the day-to-day lives of the people around him in Fondi and the surrounding countryside. He enrolled to study literature and philosophy at university in Rome, making friends among the city’s young intellectuals, meeting poets, writers and artists who shared his vision. The Osteria Fratelli Menghi in Via Flaminia was a popular hang-out.

Luchino Visconti, with whom De Santis worked on Ossessione
Luchino Visconti, with whom De
Santis worked on Ossessione
He identified cinema as the art form in which he would most like to work and began to attend Rome’s Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, a cinema school established under Mussolini - who at one time banned all foreign films from Italian cinemas - to encourage the development of a thriving Italian film industry.

Despite their opposition to Fascism, De Santis and other anti-Fascists in the industry did not turn down the chance to take advantage of the facilities available at the CSC. At the same time, aware that a group of talented young directors could achieve his aims for the industry, Mussolini turned a blind eye to their political views, which some of the articles De Santis and others - including fellow future directors Antonio Pietrangeli, Luchino Visconti and Michelangelo Antonioni - wrote for the fortnightly Cinema magazine did not disguise.

While working for Cinema magazine, De Santis met the screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, under whose influence he became proponent of early neorealist filmmakers such as Visconti, who sought to make films that mirrored the reality of life for working-class Italians in the tough years of post-war rebuilding, shooting on location and giving parts to ordinary people with no acting experience.

De Santis, in fact, worked with Visconti on scripting the latter’s 1943 film Ossessione, a crime drama based loosely on the James M Cain novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, which the Fascists initially banned as morally corrupting.

His own directing debut came in 1947 with Caccia Tragica (Tragic Hunt), the first of three films protesting about conditions for working people that culminated in Riso Amaro, which starred the already-established Vittorio Gassman and the American actress Doris Dowling in the headline roles, with former footballer and journalist Raf Vallone making his debut.

It is remembered largely for the performance of Silvana Mangano, a voluptuous 19-year-old in her first credited part, who conveyed a combination of physical strength and earthy beauty that audiences and critics found entirely convincing in the role of a peasant worker accustomed to hours of slog in the rice fields, but still with the energy to dance the night away to her beloved boogie-woogie music.  Mangano ultimately married the film’s producer, Dino De Laurentiis.

De Santis's Bitter Rice turned the previously  unknown actress Silvana Mangano into a star
De Santis's Bitter Rice turned the previously 
unknown actress Silvana Mangano into a star
The film, which premiered at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival and was a finalist for the Palme d'Or, was a box office success in Italy and the United States. The film was nominated for Best Story in the 1950 Academy Awards.

De Santis made another important neorealist film three years later entitled Roma, ora 11 (Rome, 11 o’clock), a dramatic reconstruction of a real-life event in the Italian capital the previous year when a staircase collapsed under the weight of women queuing for job interviews, causing one death and multiple injuries.

In 1959 he won a Golden Globe with La strada lunga un anno (The Road a Year Long), which gained him another Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.

However, none of his subsequent work really had the same impact as Riso Amaro, which has been included on several subsequent lists of the best films in Italian cinema history.

De Santis directed his last feature film in 1972. He returned to the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in the 1980s and ‘90s, this time in the role of lecturer. In 1995 he received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Film Festival and came out of retirement to direct, jointly with Bruno Bigon, a documentary called Oggi è un altro giorno (Today is Another Day) - Milano 1945-1995, a documentary about the Resistance in Milan.  

He died in Rome in 1997 at the age of 80, suffering a heart attack. A day of mourning was declared in Italy. His widow, Gordana Miletic, joined friends in establishing the Giuseppe De Santis Foundation, which gives an annual award in his memory to an emerging young film-maker. 

The Castello Baronale, parts of which date back to the 12th century, stands proudly over Fondi
The Castello Baronale, parts of which date back
to the 12th century, stands proudly over Fondi
Travel tip:

Situated on the Via Appia, the former Roman road that was once the main route from Rome to much of southern Italy, the city of Fondi rarely features on tourist itineraries, yet travel guides often include the word charming, even enchanting, in their description. Situated on a small plain - il Piano di Fondi - between the Ausoni and Aurunci mountain ranges and the Tyrrhenian Sea, it was founded by the ancient Romans, it became an important commercial centre in mediaeval times, when the powerful Caetani family built the impressive Castello Baronale, which still dominates the skyline. Subsequently the home of the literary court of Giulia Gonzaga, in more recent times it has housed a museum. The Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta,a beautiful Gothic-style church, is another attraction. The plain also benefits from a fine stretch of natural beach and Fondi has a tradition of excellent seafood.

Find accommodation in Fondi with

An arch over the original Via Flaminia in Umbria
An arch over the original
Via Flaminia in Umbria
Travel tip:

The Osteria Fratelli Menghi, the historic tavern in Rome where De Santis would hang out with painters, actors, musicians and writers, was located in Via Flaminia on the site today occupied by the Caffè dei Pittori. The osteria was just 300m on foot from Piazza del Popolo, one of the major squares in the heart of Rome, yet there is much more to the Via Flaminia than simply a street in central Rome. It follows the route of the ancient Roman Via Flaminia, which was built by Gaius Flaminius in around 220 BC, going due north to cross the Tiber by way of the Ponte Milvio and continuing via a course over the Apennine Mountains to Ariminum (Rimini) on the coast of the Adriatic, a distance by the more recent of two routes of 328km (204 miles). The modern route from Rimini to Rome still follows closely the path of the original Roman road, a distance of 341km (), tracking the Adriatic coast to Fano, turning inland to pass close to Urbino, Perugia and Assisi and onwards towards the capital.

Rome hotels by

More reading:

Luchino Visconti - the aristocrat of Italian film

The enigmatic ‘last great’ of Italian cinema

The director known as the ‘father of neorealism’

Also on this day:

1791: The birth of architect Louis Visconti

1881: The birth of painter Carlo Carrà

1929: The Lateran Treaty gives independence to The Vatican

1948: The birth of footballer Carlo Sartori

1995: The birth of singer Gianluca Ginoble

(Picture credits: Via Flaminia by Imcarthur via Wikimedia Commons)


6 January 2022

Silvana Pampanini - actress and singer

Postwar pin-up who preceded Loren and Lollobrigida

Silvana Pampanini combined acting talent with star quality to become Italy's best paid actress
Silvana Pampanini combined acting talent with
star quality to become Italy's best paid actress
The actress and singer Silvana Pampanini, who starred in more than 50 films and was Italian cinema’s biggest box office draw in the 1950s, died on this day in 2016 in Rome.

She was 90 years old and had been hospitalized for some weeks following abdominal surgery. Her funeral took place at the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, in the Esquilino district to the southeast of the city centre.

Born in Rome into a family of Venetian heritage in 1925, she had ambitions to become an opera singer, inspired by the career of her aunt, Rosetta Pampanini, a noted soprano who sang at many of the world’s great opera houses.

She enrolled at the renowned Conservatorio Santa Cecilia in Rome, where her male teacher was so struck by her physical beauty that without her knowledge he entered her for the 1946 Miss Italy contest, the first to be staged after the end of World War Two.

Though taken aback at first, Pampanini was a confident young woman and went along with it. Indeed, the audience were so appreciative of her curvy figure, green eyes and long legs that when the jury awarded the title to Rossana Martini, another future actress, there was a near riot and police had to be called to restore order. Later, the result was amended and the contest declared a draw.

Pampanini was unashamedly promoted as a sex symbol during the 1950s Italian cinema boom
Pampanini was unashamedly promoted as a sex
symbol during the 1950s Italian cinema boom
Beauty contests were fertile ground for movie makers in search of the next starlet and although Pampanini wanted to be appreciated for her singing voice as well as her visual appeal it was the latter quality that producers were so keen to exploit.

After her screen debut in 1946, her fame grew steadily and her photo frequently appeared on the front covers of Italy’s booming weekly magazines. Her father, who initially disapproved of her dream of becoming a movie star, soon changed his mind and became her agent. By 1951, when she starred alongside Delia Scala in Carlo Campogalliani’s musical comedy Bellezze in bicicletta - Beauties on Bicycles - and as the Empress Poppea in Mario Soldati’s comedy, OK Nerone, she was the highest paid actress in Italy and was making up to eight films per year.

Those titles unashamedly showcased her pin-up status but Pampanini was not without talent as an actress. Titles such as Luigi Comencini’s drama La Tratta delle bianche - The White Slave Trade - Paolo Moffa’s La principessa delle Canarie - The Princess of the Canaries - Gianni Franciolini’s Racconti Romani - Roman Tales - and Dino Risi’s Il Gaucho - The Gaucho - saw her perform opposite major actors such as Vittorio Gassman, Marcello Mastroianni, Totò and Vittorio De Sica.

La strada lungo un anno won a Golden Globe in 1958
La strada lungo un anno won
a Golden Globe in 1958
In 1958 she took a part in Giuseppe De Santis's La strada lungo un anno - The Road a Year Long - which won the Golden Globe award for best foreign film and was nominated for an Oscar in the same category.

She became popular as far afield as Egypt, Mexico and Japan as well as in Spain and France, where she was known as Niní Pampan. She became a worldwide symbol of Italian beauty alongside such stars as Lucia Bosè and Silvana Mangano, and later Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida.

There were countless offers to take her appeal to Hollywood, but Pampanini baulked at the idea of spending hours learning English and turned them all down. 

Nonetheless, she travelled extensively, happy to be a smiling ambassador for Italian cinema In Europe, South America, North Africa and even the Soviet Union, often appearing on local TV shows or accepting invitations to be a guest panel member at film festivals. 

Although she was frequently linked romantically with co-stars such as Orson Welles, Omar Sharif, William Holden and Tyrone Power, she never married, despite having, in her own words, ‘more suitors than headaches’ in her life.

She rejected an offer of marriage from comic actor Totò because of his age - he was 27 years’ her senior. There were rumours of affairs with the Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, and Egypt’s King Farouk, who were both said to be smitten after meeting her.

Pampanini with the comic actor Totò, one of a number of suitors she ultimately rejected
Pampanini with the comic actor Totò, one of
a number of suitors she ultimately rejected
Pampanini was pursued with particular ardour by the Greek-born producer Moris Egas, who showered her with jewels and furs and other valuable items. When she ultimately rejected him, he took legal action to try to recover his gifts but lost the case.

Later, in an autobiography entitled Scandalamente perbene - Scandalously Respectable - she claimed that the love of her life had been an older man - another actor - who had died a month before they were to wed, but she declined to name him. 

Pampanini had a fiery temperament. After the Miss Italy contest that shot her to fame, she gave a radio interview alongside her joint-winner that had to be curtailed when the two began to quarrel and pull each other’s hair. Years later, at the Venice Lido Film Festival, she physically attacked a journalist who had been unkind to her in a magazine article.

Her career effectively came to an end in her mid-60s, when she gave up full-time work to look after her elderly parents. After they died, she moved for a while to Monte Carlo and lived in relative obscurity.  She made some TV appearances, the last of which was in 2002.

Rome's Parioli district is an upmarket residential area notable for its tree-lined streets
Rome's Parioli district is an upmarket residential
area notable for its tree-lined streets
Travel tip:

The Parioli district, where Pampanini lived at the height of her fame, is one of Rome's wealthiest residential neighbourhoods. Located north of the city centre, it is notable for its tree-lined streets and elegant houses, and for some of Rome's finest restaurants. The Auditorium Parco della Musica and the Villa Ada, once the Rome residence of the Italian royal family and surrounded by the second largest park in the city, can also be found within the Parioli district, which takes its name from the Monti Parioli hills.

The entrance to the historic Conservatorio in Via dei Greci
The entrance to the historic
Conservatorio in Via dei Greci
Travel tip:

The Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia, where Silvana Pampanini trained as a singer, dates back to 1875. It was set up under the auspices of one of the oldest musical institutions in the world, now known as the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, which was established in 1565. The Conservatorio can be found in Via dei Greci, not far from the Spanish Steps in central Rome. The Academy is located at the Parco della Musica in the northern part of Rome in Viale Pietro de Coubertin in the Flaminio district, close to the location of the 1960 Summer Olympic Games.

Also on this day:

Befana - Italy’s 6 January tradition

1695: The birth of oboist and composer Giuseppe Sammartini

1819: The birth of painter Baldassare Verazzi

1907: The first Montessori school opens in Rome

1938: The birth of singer and actor Adriano Celentano


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


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


2 December 2017

Roberto Capucci - fashion designer

'Sculptor in cloth' who rejected ready-to-wear

Roberto Capucci is still involved with the  fashion world even in his 80s
Roberto Capucci is still involved with the
fashion and design world even in his 80s
The fashion designer Roberto Capucci, whose clothes were famous for their strikingly voluminous, geometric shapes and use of unusual materials, was born on this day in 1930 in Rome.

Precociously talented, Capucci opened his first studio in Rome at the age of 19 and by his mid-20s was regarded as the best designer in Italy, particularly admired by Christian Dior, the rising star of French haute-couture.

It was during this period, towards the end of the 1950s, that Capucci revolutionised fashion by inventing the Linea a Scatola – the box-line or box look – in which he created angular shapes for dresses and introduced the concept of volume and architectural elements of design into clothing, so that his dresses, which often featured enormous quantities of material, were almost like sculpted pieces of modern art, to be not so much worn as occupied by the wearer.

Growing up in Rome, Capucci was artistically inclined from an early age. He attended the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma and wanted to become either an architect or a film director, designing clothes initially as no more than a diversion.

Yet he quickly revealed a talent for creating innovative, non-conformist dresses and fashion became his main occupation. He opened his first atelier in the Via Sistina in Rome in 1950 and the following year was invited to exhibit at one of the earliest fashion shows in Italy, organised by the aristocratic entrepreneur Giovanni Battista Giorgini.

Some of the Capucci designs on display at the Roberto Capucci Foundation Museum in Florence
Some of the Capucci designs on display at the Roberto
Capucci Foundation Museum in Florence
His coats lined with ermine and leopard and capes trimmed with fox fur would not have found favour with many of today’s buyers yet at the time were a hit.  The press noted Capucci’s youth and dubbed him ‘the boy wonder’. Giorgini was well aware of the appetite for spending among post-War jet setters and promoted his young protégé for all his worth.

It was not long before Capucci was being hailed as Italy’s best designer and was becoming known in Paris, the world’s fashion capital.  But it was the American market that Giorgini was keen to exploit, having made good contacts while the Allies were liberating Italy.

After he had unveiled his Linea a Scatola collection in 1958 Capucci was awarded the Boston Fashion Award, considered to be the clothing trade’s equivalent of an Oscar, which established his reputation beyond Italy.

He opened an atelier in Paris in 1962 and remained in the French capital for six years, living in some style in a suite at the Ritz Hotel and keeping the company of Coco Chanel among others.  He launched a perfume range, the first Italian to do so in France, but in 1968 he decided to go back to Italy, establishing a new Rome studio in Via Gregoriana.

The logo of today's Capucci fashion house
The logo of today's Capucci fashion house
Where Capucci differed from other designers is that he was not interested in producing clothes for the mass market.  He considered himself an artist and an architect and regarded his creations less as garments so such as sculptures in cloth.  He used yards and yards of material in order to create volume and shape; one critic observed that his clothes were ‘like soft body armour’.

So when ready-to-wear clothing and consumer fashion took hold in Italy in the 1980s, Capucci withdrew.  He would not allow his agenda to be set by the demands of the market and resigned from the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, the body that promoted Italian design, membership of which would have required him to participate in four fashion shows each year.  He would exhibit, but only at times that suited him and in carefully chosen settings, often museums.

He also opposed the cult of the supermodel, which in his opinion was a distraction from the garment.  He preferred to create dresses for individuals – opera singers, actresses, the wives of politicians and debutantes from Roman society. He made outfits for Marilyn Monroe, Gloria Swanson, Jacqueline Kennedy and Silvana Mangano, the Italian actress, who was raised in poverty in Rome during the Second World War but who blossomed, in his opinion, to be ‘the most elegant woman in the world’.

Capucci today is a brand, with a ready-to-wear range established in 2003. The clothes are not designed by Capucci himself but by young designers such as the German Bernhard Willhelm and the American Tara Subkoff, who have access to a huge archive of the maestro’s work, which runs to 30,000 individual designs.

Today, aged 87, he remains involved through the Fondazione Roberto Capucci, set up in 2005, which preserves an archive of 439 historical dresses, 500 signed illustrations, 22,000 original drawings and a large photo and media library.

In 2007, at Villa Bardini in Florence, he opened the Roberto Capucci Foundation Museum, which hosts organised exhibitions and teaching activities.

The Via Sistina in Rome looking towards Piazza Trinità dei Monti
The Via Sistina in Rome looking towards
Piazza Trinità dei Monti
Travel tip:

Via Sistina, where Capucci opened his first studio in Rome, is the wealthy Campo Marzio district of the city centre, linking Piazza Barberini with the church of Trinità dei Monti, at the top of the Spanish Steps.  It was orginally part of the Strada Felice, commissioned by Pope Sixtus V to link the Pincian Hill with the Basilica of Santa Croce in Jerusalem, about two kilometres to the east of the centre.  The street today is lined with elegant palaces. The Via Gregoriana, where Capucci established his second studio in the city, runs almost parallel with Via Sistina

Elegant Via della Spiga in Milan's 'fashion quadrilateral'
Elegant Via della Spiga in Milan's
'fashion quadrilateral'
Travel Tip

Anyone wishing to admire the designs of today’s Capucci fashion house should head for Via della Spiga in Milan, where the company has its main prestige showroom. The elegant, pedestrianised street forms the northeast boundary of the luxurious Quadrilatero della Moda – the fashion quadrilateral – bordered by Via Monte Napoleone, Via Manzoni, Via Sant'Andrea and Corso Venezia.