Showing posts with label Sophia Loren. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sophia Loren. Show all posts

30 June 2023

Mario Carotenuto - actor

Roman from theatrical family made more than 100 films

Mario Carotenuto forged a career as a character actor in comedies
Mario Carotenuto forged a career
as a character actor in comedies
The actor Mario Carotenuto, who became one of the most familiar faces in the commedia all’italiana genre of Italian film, was born on this day in 1916 in Rome.

Carotenuto, who was active in the movie industry for more than 30 years having started in the theatre and on radio, acted alongside some of the greats of Italian cinema, including Totò, Alberto Sordi, Vittorio De Sica, Sophia Loren and Monica Vitti.

More often than not, he was cast in supporting roles rather than as the star, yet became respected as one of Italy’s finest character actors in comedy, winning a Nastro d'argento award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of The Professor in Luigi Comencini’s 1973 comedy-drama Lo scopone scientifico - The Scientific Card Player - which starred Sordi, Silvana Mangano and the American Bette Davis.

Carotenuto was born into an acting family. His father, Nello, made a living in Italian silent movies, while his older brother, Memmo, also had a long career in films. His nephew, Bruno, and his niece, Nennella, also entered the acting profession.

He made his stage debut at the age of eight but is said to have had a rebellious nature as a child and his involvement in petty crime and antisocial behaviour saw him receive part of his education in a reform school.

As he matured, he became fascinated with theatre and acting and alongside various jobs he took in order to earn money he was always on the lookout for opportunities to act, one of which came with a radio station in Florence, where he was given parts in radio drama productions.

Carotenuto's acting style was perfect for the  highly popular commedia all'italiana genre
Carotenuto's acting style was perfect for the 
highly popular commedia all'italiana genre
After the end of the Second World War, in which he claimed he joined the Italian Waffen SS in order to avoid being imprisoned by the Germans, he set up his own small theatre company in Milan before being discovered in 1956 by the director Giorgio Strehler, who wanted to entrust him with the part of Peachum, the king of beggars, in Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera. 

Carotenuto’s interpretation of the role gained the approval of Brecht himself and won him the San Ginesio Prize, awarded by a Milan-based magazine. He went on to have roles in plays by Shakespeare, Pirandello, Molière, Harold Pinter and Tennessee Williams.

After making his film debut in 1950, his ability to portray a broad range of characters soon saw him an actor much in demand, particularly in the comedy genre, working for famous directors such as Alberto Latuarda, Dino Risi, Mario Monicelli, Luigi Comencini, Luigi Zampa and Ugo Tognazzi. 

Ultimately, his most popular roles were those in which his character was one with which many Italians could identify in the years after the war, a character looking to make his way in a changing society in which generally people looked forward with optimism.

Carotenuto's simple memorial at  the cemetery of Grottammare
Carotenuto's simple memorial at 
the cemetery of Grottammare 
Federico Fellini used him as the voice of the actor Mario Cannochia in Otto e mezzo (8 ½).

Carotenuto had many television credits as well as his long list of movie roles but ceased to be active in either medium in the early 1980s, dividing his time between Rome and the seaside town of Grottammare in Marche, the home of his second wife, theatre actress Gabriella Cottignoli.

He had been married previously to Luisa Poselli, an actress, singer and dancer, with whom he had a daughter, Claretta, who went on to become an actress and director.

He died in Rome in the Aurelia Hospital in April 1995 at the age of 79, having for many years been ill with lung cancer.  His funeral took place in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo - the 'church of the artists' - and was attended by many personalities of cinema and entertainment. His body was then taken to be buried in the municipal cemetery at Grottammare.

Rome's principal opera house, the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, was originally the Teatro Costanzi
Rome's principal opera house, the Teatro dell'Opera
di Roma, was originally the Teatro Costanzi
Travel tip:

Carotenuto made his stage debut at the Teatro Costanzi in Via del Viminale, a short distance from Piazza della Repubblica. Today the theatre has a different identity as the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma - Rome’s main opera house. Built in 1879-80, it takes its name from Domenico Costanzi, a contractor, who financed the project. It was designed by the Milanese architect Achille Sfondrini, a specialist in the building and renovation of theatres. Built on the site of the house of the Roman emperor Elagabalus, the theatre was inaugurated in November 1880 with a performance of Semiramide by Gioachino Rossini.  Sfondrini paid particular attention to the acoustics of the theatre, the dome of which was adorned with frescoes by Annibale Brugnoli. As well as the world premiere of Pietro Mascangi's Cavalleria rusticana, the theatre staged the first production of Tosca by Giacomo Puccini in January 1900 and introduced Roman audiences to Puccini’s La fanciulla del West, Turandot and Il trittico as well as Richard Wagner’s Parsifal and Modest Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov.

Piazza Peretti is the central square of the older part of Grottammare, which sits above the resort
Piazza Peretti is the central square of the older part
of Grottammare, which sits above the resort
Travel tip:

Grottammare, where Carotenuto is buried, is one of the beach resorts that make up the Marche region’s Riviera delle Palme, a stretch of coastline around the larger town of San Benedetto del Tronto. It is notable for a fine, sandy beach but also for the well preserved remains of a fortress overlooking the town that was built following the sacking of Grottammare by the Montenegrin Princes of Dulcigno in 1525.  The centre of the older part of the town is Piazza Peretti, a square enclosed by the Church of San Giovanni Battista, the Town Hall, Municipal Tower and Teatro dell'Arancio.  A peculiarity of which the administration of Grottammare takes pride is that it sits on the 43º parallel, the line of latitude that also passes through the cities of Assisi (Italy), Santiago de Compostela (Spain), Lourdes (France), Medjugorje (Bosnia), Vladivostok (Russia), Sapporo (Japan), Buffalo and Milwaukee (United States).

Also on this day:

1961: The birth of novelist Gianrico Carafiglio

1986: The birth of heiress Allegra Versace

First Martyrs Day


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


25 November 2019

Rosanna Schiaffino – actress

Dramatic life of Italian sex goddess

Rosanna Schiaffino became a movie goddess in the mould of Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida
Rosanna Schiaffino became a movie goddess in
the mould of Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida
Film star Rosanna Schiaffino, who for more than 20 years, between the 1950s and the 1970s, starred opposite the most famous actors of the period, was born on this day in 1939 in Genoa in Liguria.

Schiaffino worked for some of Italian cinema’s greatest directors, but in the 1980s turned her back on the cinema world to marry the playboy and steel industry heir, Giorgio Falck, entering a relationship that descended into acrimony after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Born into a wealthy family, Schiaffino was encouraged in her acting ambitions by her mother, who paid for her to go to a drama school.  She entered beauty contests and won the title of Miss Liguria when she was just 14.

She also took some modelling jobs and her photograph appeared in many magazines. She was spotted by the film producer Franco Cristaldi, who paired her with Marcello Mastroianni in Un ettaro di cielo (Piece of the Sky) in 1959.

Schiaffino made her name in her second film for Cristaldi, La Sfida (The Challenge), directed by Francesco Rosi, in which she gave a powerful, but sensitive performance as a Neapolitan girl, inspired by the real life character of Pupetta Maresca, a former beauty queen who became a famous Camorra figure after killing the murderer of her husband in revenge.  The film won acclaim at the 1958 Venice film festival.

She  won an award for her performance as Lucrezia in the film La Mandragola (The Mandrake), an adaptation of a play by Niccolò Machiavelli.

Schiaffino and Marcello Mastroianni in a  scene from A Piece of the Sky
Schiaffino and Marcello Mastroianni in a
scene from A Piece of the Sky
Schiaffino was often referred to as ‘the Italian Hedy Lamarr’ but she was more of a sex goddess in the style of Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida.

In 1966 she married the film producer Alfredo Bini, with whom she had a daughter, Antonella. They would divorce in 1976.

After making more than 40 films, working with directors including Pier Paolo Pasolini, Roberto Rossellini and Jean-Luc Godard, Rosanna gave up acting to enjoy a new life mixing with the jet set, her activities often featuring in gossip magazines all over the world.

During the summer of 1980 in Portofino, she met Giorgio Falck, who was newly divorced, and they had a well publicised affair. They had a son, Guido, in 1981 and were married in 1982.

In 1991 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and the marriage then went into decline. They divorced after unpleasant disputes over the custody of their son and the allocation of money.

She died of the illness in 2009, aged 69, in Milan.

The maritime city of Genoa is the capital of Liguria and the sixth largest city in Italy
The maritime city of Genoa is the capital of Liguria and
the sixth largest city in Italy
Travel tip:

Genoa, where Rosanna Schiaffino was born, is the capital city of the region of Liguria and the sixth largest city in Italy. It has earned the nickname of La Superba because of its proud history as a major port. Part of the old town was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2006 because of the wealth of beautiful 16th century palaces there.

The picturesque fishing village of Portofino has become a draw for artists and celebrities
The picturesque fishing village of Portofino has become
a draw for artists and celebrities
Travel tip:

The region of Liguria in northwest Italy is also known as the Italian Riviera. It runs along a section of the Mediterranean coastline between France and Tuscany and is dotted with pretty seaside villages, with houses painted in different pastel colours.  The fishing village of Portofino, about an hour’s drive southeast along the coast from Genoa, has become famous for its picturesque harbour and for its associations with artists and celebrities. A novel published in 1922 is credited with making Portofino famous. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim was inspired by the author’s stay in Portofino and was made into a film in 1991 with a cast including Joan Plowright, Miranda Richardson and Alfred Molina. The film was nominated for three Oscars.

Also on this day:

1343: Amalfi is destroyed by a tsunami

1881: The birth of Pope John XXIII

1950: The birth of writer and entertainer Giorgio Faletti

1955: The birth of choreographer and dancer Bruno Tonioli


3 January 2019

Renato Carosone – singer-songwriter

Composer revived popularity of the traditional Neapolitan song

Renato Carosone wrote such classic songs as  Tu vuo' fa' l'Americano and Mambo Italiano
Renato Carosone wrote such classic songs as
 Tu vuo' fa' l'Americano and Mambo Italiano
Renato Carosone, who became famous for writing and performing Neapolitan songs in modern times, was born Renato Carusone on this day in 1920 in Naples.

His 1956 song Tu vuo’ fa’ l’Americano - 'You want to be American' - has been used in films and performed by many famous singers right up to the present day.

Torero, a song released by him in 1957, was translated into 12 languages and was at the top of the US pop charts for 14 weeks.

Carosone studied the piano at the Naples Conservatory of San Pietro a Majella and obtained his diploma in 1937, when he was just 17. He went to work as a pianist in Addis Ababa and then served in the army on the Italian Somali front. He did not return to Italy until 1946, after the end of the Second World War.

Back home, he had to start his career afresh and moved to Rome, where he played the piano for small bands.

Carosone's Tu vuo' fa' l'Americano featured in a 1958 movie starring Totò
Carosone's Tu vuo' fa' l'Americano featured
in a 1958 movie starring Totò
He was asked to put together a group for the opening of a new club and signed Dutch guitarist, Peter van Houten and Neapolitan drummer, Gegè di Giacomo, with whom he launched the Trio Carosone.

When Van Houten left to pursue a solo career, Di Giacomo remained with Carosone and they recruited more musicians to form a new band.

The band was popular both in Italy and abroad during the 1950s and the songs Carosone composed, many inspired by his native city, achieved high sales after being recorded.

In 1957, Carosone and his band started off a US tour with a concert in Cuba and finished off with a triumphant performance at Carnegie Hall in New York.

In 1960, Carosone made the shock announcement that he was retiring. He was at the height of his career and his decision caused uproar. It was even suggested that he had received criminal threats, but nothing was ever proved. Away from the music business, Carosone took up painting.

He made a comeback in 1975 in a televised concert. He then performed in live concerts and at the Sanremo Music Festival, continuing to make TV appearances until the late 1990s.

Carosone retired from the music scene in 1960 but made a comeback at the 1975 Sanremo Music Festival
Carosone retired from the music scene in 1960 but made
a comeback at the 1975 Sanremo Music Festival
His biggest hits, such as Tu vuo’ fa’ l’Americano, Mambo Italiano and Torero were written in collaboration with the Neapolitan lyricist Nicola Salerno, who was known as Nisa. They developed a perfect understanding and it was said that after just a few words from Carosone, Nisa could write a funny story based on them.

Carosone's original version of Tu vuo' fa' l'Americano was performed by him in the film Totò, Peppino e le fanatiche (directed by Mario Mattoli, 1958). The song was featured in the 1960 Melville Shavelson film It Started in Naples, in which it was sung by Sophia Loren. It was also performed by Rosario Fiorello in the 1999 film The Talented Mr. Ripley.

The melodies of Carosone, influenced by jazz and swing, helped revive the popularity of Neapolitan songs, which he presented in a modern manner.

Carosone died in 2001 in Rome at the age of 81 and was buried in the Flaminio Cemetery in the city.

Carosone's boyhood home in Naples was in a street close to the historic square, Piazza Mercato
Carosone's boyhood home in Naples was in a street close
to the historic square, the vast Piazza Mercato
Travel tip:

Carosone lived as a child in Vico dei Tornieri, in the historic centre of Naples near Piazza Mercato, which is now a lively commercial area, but was once the setting for the city’s important executions. He studied the piano at the Naples Conservatory, which has been housed in a monastery next to the Church of San Pietro a Majella since 1826. The church and monastery are in Via San Pietro a Majella, which leads off the top of Via dei Tribunali.

The Cimitero Flaminio in Rome, where Carosone was buried, is the largest cemetery in the city
The Cimitero Flaminio in Rome, where Carosone was
buried, is the largest cemetery in the city

Travel tip:

Carosone was laid to rest in the Cimitero Flaminio in Via Flaminio in Rome, which is also known as Cimitero di Prima Porta, and is the largest cemetery in the city. Prima Porta is a suburb of Rome on the right bank of the Tiber. An important marble statue of Augustus Caesar was discovered in the area in 1863.

More reading:

The classic songs of Cesare Andrea Bixio

Giambattista De Curtis - the man behind Torna a Surriento

Why Totò is still regarded as Italy's finest funny man

Also on this day:

1698: The birth of poet and librettist Pietro Metastasio

1929: The birth of film director Sergio Leone

1952: The birth of politician Gianfranco Fini

Watch Renato Carosone and his musicians perform Tu vuo' fa' l'Americano


30 September 2018

Monica Bellucci - actress and model

Movie actress who is face of Dolce & Gabbana

Monica Bellucci has appeared in more than 60 films alongside her modelling
Monica Bellucci has appeared in more
than 60 films alongside her modelling
The actress and model Monica Bellucci, who has appeared in more than 60 films in a career that began in 1990, was born on this day in 1964 in Città di Castello in Umbria.

Bellucci, who is associated with Dolce & Gabbana and Dior perfumes, began modelling to help fund her studies at the University of Perugia, where she was enrolled at the Faculty of Law with ambitions of a career in the legal profession.

But she was quickly brought to the attention of the major model agencies in Milan and soon realised she had the potential to follow a much different career.

Bellucci, whose father Pasquale worked for a transport company, soon began to attract big-name clients in Paris and New York as well as Italy, but decided not long into her modelling career that she would take acting lessons.

She claimed to have been inspired by watching the Italian female movie icons Claudia Cardinale and Sophia Loren and gained her first part in a TV miniseries directed by the veteran director Dino Risi in 1990.

The following year she made her big screen debut with a leading role in the film La raffa, directed by Francesco Laudadio.  Her first major international movie came in 1992, when she played one of the brides of Dracula in Francis Ford Coppola’s Gothic horror film Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Bellucci was studying to be a lawyer when she began modelling to help pay for her education
Bellucci was studying to be a lawyer when she began
modelling to help pay for her education
Other movies for which Bellucci is well known include Persephone in the 2003 science-fiction films The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. She also played Malèna Scordia in the Italian-language romantic drama Malèna (2000), directed and written by Giuseppe Tornatore from a story by Luciano Vincenzoni, which won the Grand Prix at the 2001 Cabourg Film Festival.

She starred in the controversial Gaspar Noé arthouse horror film Irréversible (2002), and Mel Gibson's biblical drama The Passion of the Christ (2004), in which she portrayed Mary Magdalene. At 50, she became the oldest Bond girl ever in the James Bond film franchise, playing Lucia Sciarra in Spectre (2015).

In her simultaneous modelling career, Bellucci soon became known as one of the most beautiful women in the world. She appeared in the 1997 Pirelli Calendar as well as calendars for the magazines Max and GQ, for which she posed for leading photographers Richard Avedon, Fabrizio Ferri and Gianpaolo Barbieri.

She has endorsed Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi and many major world brands, including Alessandro Dell'Acqua and Blumarine, has been on the cover of Elle and Vogue magazines and in 2012, she became the new face of Dolce & Gabbana.

Bellucci has been married twice, first to a young Italian photographer of Argentine origin, Claudio Carlos Basso, from whom she separated after a few months.

She had a six-year relationship with the Italian actor Nicola Farron until on the set of the film L'appartamento she met the French actor Vincent Cassel, whom she married in 1999 in Monte Carlo. They had two daughters, Deva, and Léonie, but they divorced after 14 years. She lives with her daughters in Paris, and also owns a house in Lisbon.

A view over the town of Città di Castello
Travel tip:

Città di Castello, where Bellucci was born, is a town 55km (34 miles) north of Perugia that is rich in history, with an artistic heritage that dates back to the patronage of the Vitelli family in the 15th century. Works by great artists of the 15th-16th century such as Signorelli, Raffaello, Rosso Fiorentino and Raffaellino del Colle can be found there. The 14th century church of San Domenico and the Palazzo Vitelli alla Cannoniera are worth visiting, in particular the latter, which now houses the Municipal Art Gallery, with some impressive 15th century paintings including paintings by Raphael, Lorenzetti, Ghirlandaio and Signorelli and a sculpture by Ghiberti.

Bufalini Castle is preserved almost as it was in 15th century
Bufalini Castle is preserved almost as it was in 15th century
Travel tip:

Bellucci grew up in San Giustino, just outside Città di Castello, where the imposing Bufalini Castle is an impressive sight. Perfectly preserved, it was built in the 15th century as a military fortress, a border post at the boundary between the Papal States and the Florentine Republic.  The church of San Giustino at the centre of the town was built on the site of a large seventh-century parish church founded by the Christian martyr Giustino.  The church of the Santissimo Crocifisso is rich in frescoes and stuccos by the Della Robbia brothers.

More reading:

How Sophia Loren was brought up by her grandmother on the Bay of Naples

Giuseppe Tornatore - brilliant Oscar-winning director of Cinema Paradiso

Why Dino Risi is seen as a master of Italian comedy

Also on this day:

1863: The birth of ballerina Pierina Legnani

1885: The birth of Angelo Cerica, the man who arrested Mussolini


23 December 2017

Dino Risi – film director

Film comedy director helped launch career of Sophia Loren

Dino Risi won a number of top awards for his work in Italian cinema
Dino Risi won a number of top awards
for his work in Italian cinema
The director Dino Risi, who was regarded as one of the masters of Italian film comedy, was born on this day in 1916 in Milan.

He had a string of hits in the 1950s and 1960s and gave future stars Sophia Loren, Alberto Sordi and Vittorio Gassman opportunities early in their careers.

Risi’s older brother, Fernando, was a cinematographer and his younger brother, Nelo, was a director and writer.

He started his career as an assistant to Mario Soldati and Alberto Lattuada and then began directing his own films.

One of Risi’s early successes was the 1951 comedy, Vacation with a Gangster, in which he cast the 12-year-old actor Mario Girotti, who later became well known under the name Terence Hill.

His 1966 film, Treasure of San Gennaro was entered into the 5th Moscow International Film Festival where it won a silver prize.

Among his best-known films are Pane, amore e… in 1955, Poveri ma belli in 1956, Una vita difficile in 1961 and Profumo di donna in 1974.

Agostina Belli and Vittorio Gassman in a scene from Dino Risi's Profumo di donna
Agostina Belli and Vittorio Gassman in a scene from
Dino Risi's Profumo di donna
He was awarded the David di Donatello award for best film director in 1975 for Profumo di donna.  The actor Al Pacino would win an Oscar for a remake of the movie as Scent of a Woman in 1992.

In 2002 Risi was awarded the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival for his lifetime’s work.

Two of his films, Il giovedi and Il commissario Lo Gatto, were shown in a retrospective section on Italian comedy at the 67th Venice International Film Festival.

Risi died at the age of 91 in 2008 at his home in Rome, where he had lived for 30 years in an apartment in the Aldrovandi Residence in the Parioli district. He was survived by his two children, Claudio, and Marco, who is a film director.

Teatro alla Scala is Milan's famous opera house
Teatro alla Scala is Milan's famous opera house
Travel tip:

Milan, Risi’s town of birth, is the capoluogo – the most important city – of Lombardia. As well as being an important financial centre, Milan is a mecca for fashion shoppers and a magnet for opera lovers. Visit Piazza Duomo in the centre of the city where you are bound to be impressed with the Duomo, which is the third largest cathedral in the world. Walk through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele where there are elegant bars and restaurants and designer shops. At the other end, Piazza Scala is home to the world famous opera house, Teatro alla Scala, where there is a fascinating museum with original costumes and scores and some items that belonged to the composer Giuseppe Verdi. You can walk along the Via Manzoni to see the Grand Hotel et de Milan where Verdi died in 1901. From there turn into Via Montenapoleone where the top Italian and international fashion designers have shops.

Venice Lido has hosted the Venice Film Festival since 1932
Venice Lido has hosted the Venice Film Festival since 1932
Travel tip:

The Venice Film Festival, where Risi was honoured, was first held in 1932 and took place between 6 and 21 August on the terrace of the Hotel Excelsior at the Venice Lido. The festival was considered a success and was held again in 1934 from August 1-20, when it involved a competition for the first time. In 1935 the Film Festival became a yearly event in Venice and the Coppa Volpi (Volpi Cup), an award for actors, was introduced for the first time. The Venice Lido is an eight-mile long sand bank that forms a natural barrier between Venice and the open sea and has become a seaside resort for the city. It is the only island in the lagoon with roads and can be reached from the mainland by car ferry. The Lido is served by regular vaporetti – water buses – from Venice and has plenty of hotels. It became a fashionable holiday destination at the beginning of the 20th century for royalty, writers and film stars. The atmosphere at the time was brilliantly captured by Thomas Mann’s book Death in Venice, published in 1912, which was made into a film in 1971 directed by Luchino Visconti.

28 September 2017

Marcello Mastroianni – actor

Film star who immortalised the Trevi Fountain

Marcello Mastroianni was an icon of Italian cinema for more than 45 years
Marcello Mastroianni was an star of
Italian cinema for more than 45 years
Marcello Vincenzo Domenico Mastroianni, who grew up to star in some of the most iconic Italian films of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1924 in Fontana Liri, in the province of Frosinone in Lazio.

He was the son of Ida Irolle and Ottone Mastroianni, who ran a carpentry shop. His uncle, Umberto Mastroianni, was a sculptor.

At the age of 14, Marcello Mastroianni made his screen debut as an extra in a 1939 film called Marionette.

His career was interrupted by the Second World War, during which he was interned in a German prison camp until he managed to escape and go into hiding in Venice.

He made several minor film appearances after the war until he landed his first big role in Atto d’accusa, directed by Giacomo Gentilomo, in 1951.

Ten years later, Mastroianni had become an international celebrity, having starred in Federico Fellini’s La dolce vita opposite Anita Ekberg. He played a disillusioned tabloid journalist who spends his days and nights exploring Rome’s high society. The film is most famous for the scene in which Ekberg's character, Sylvia, wades into the Trevi Fountain.

Mastroianni followed this with a starring role in Fellini’s   - Otto e mezzo - in which he played a film director who suffers from creative block while making a movie.

Mastroianni's famous Trevi Fountain scene with Anita Ekberg in Federico Fellini's La dolce vita
Mastroianni's famous Trevi Fountain scene with Anita
Ekberg in Federico Fellini's La dolce vita
He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor three times, for Pietro Germi's Divorce, Italian-style, Ettore Scola's A Special Day and Dark Eyes, directed by Nikita Mikhalkov. He is one of only three actors to have twice been awarded the Best Actor award at the Cannes film festival.

A Special Day was one of 11 films in which he starred opposite Sophia Loren, his on-screen partnership with whom was a feature of Italian cinema in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Mastroianni married Flora Carabella in 1950 and they had a daughter, Barbara. After they separated, he had a relationship with the actress Faye Dunaway. He later lived with French actress Catherine Deneuve and they had a daughter, Chiara Mastroianni.

Mastroianni in Divorce, Italian-style
Mastroianni in Divorce, Italian-style
He was rumoured to have had affairs with other actresses until, in 1976, he became involved with Anna Maria Tato, an author and film maker.

Mastroianni died from pancreatic cancer in 1996 at the age of 72. Both of his daughters, as well as Deneuve and Tato, were at his bedside.

The Trevi Fountain was turned off and draped in black as a tribute to him.

Travel tip:

Fontana Liri, where Marcello Mastroianni was born, is a small village in the Apennines, about 90km (56 miles) southeast of Rome and about 15km (9 miles) east of Frosinone. It falls within the remote hilly part of Lazio known as the Ciociaria, which is south of Rome and north of Naples and is named after the ciocie, sandals, traditionally worn by local people.

The Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome
The Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome
Travel tip:

The Trevi Fountain in Rome, where Marcello Mastroianni paddled with Anita Ekberg in La dolce vita, was symbolically turned off and draped in black as a tribute to the actor after he died. The fountain was officially opened by Pope Clement XIII in 1762. Standing at more than 26m (85 feet) high and 49m (161 feet) wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome and probably the most famous fountain in the world. It was designed by a Roman architect, Nicola Salvi, but he died when it was only half finished. Made from Travertine stone quarried in Tivoli near Rome, the fountain was completed by Giuseppe Pannini, with Oceanus (god of all water), designed by Pietro Bracci, set in the central niche. Coins are traditionally thrown into the fountain by visitors, using the right hand over the left shoulder. It is estimated about 3000 euros are thrown into the fountain each day, money which is used to subsidise a supermarket for the poor in Rome.

20 September 2017

Sophia Loren – actress

Glamorous star one of just three Italian Oscar winners

Sophia Loren, aged 19 in this picture, captivated audiences from the start of her career
Sophia Loren, aged 19 in this picture, captivated
audiences from the start of her career
The actress Sophia Loren, who came to be regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful women and is the most famous name in Italian cinema history, was born on this day in 1934 in Rome.

In a career spanning more than 60 years, Loren appeared in almost 90 films made for the big screen and several others for television.  Although she was often picked for her looks and box-office appeal, she proved her acting talent by winning an Oscar for her role in Vittorio De Sica’s gritty 1960 drama Two Women, released in Italy as La Ciociara.

In doing so she became one of only three Italians to win the Academy Award for Best Actor or Actress and the first of either sex to win the award for an Italian-language film. She followed Anna Magnani, who had won in 1955 for The Rose Tattoo, as the second Italian Oscar winner.

Loren stayed away from the awards ceremony in 1961 on the grounds that the suspense of waiting to learn whether she had won was something she would rather suffer in private but she was there in person to accept an honorary Oscar in 1991, recognising her career achievements.

She also attended the 1993 Oscars to present an honorary award to the director Federico Fellini, and the 1999 ceremony to present the Academy Award for Best Actor to her compatriot Roberto Benigni, the first Italian male to win the award, for Life is Beautiful.

Loren, aged 52, photographed by the English  photographer Allan Warren in Los Angeles
Loren, aged 52, photographed by the English
photographer Allan Warren in Los Angeles
Loren was born Sofia Costanza Brigida Villani Scicolone at the Clinica Regina Margherita in Rome. Her father, Riccardo Scicolone, was a construction engineer of distant noble descent and her mother, Romilda Villani, a piano teacher.

Scicolone was already married, however, and ultimately abandoned Villani, who left Rome with Sofia and her younger sister, Maria, to live with their grandmother in Pozzuoli, a port town just outside Naples, which is why Loren came to think of herself as Neapolitan rather than Roman.

Growing up in Pozzuoli in wartime was dangerous, the port coming under frequent attack from Allied bombers.  After Sofia was wounded by shrapnel while running to a shelter, the family moved to a safer location with relatives in Naples.

After the war, they returned to Pozzuoli, where Villani’s mother opened a bar, in which Romilda played the piano and her daughters waited on tables.  The bar became popular with America servicemen in particular.

It was after reaching the final of the Miss Italia beauty pageant in 1950 that Loren was encouraged to take acting lessons by Carlo Ponti, a film producer who was one of the judges.

Loren won an Oscar for her role in the 1960 film Two Women
Loren won an Oscar for her role in the
1960 film Two Women
She and Ponti would later marry, despite there being 22 years between them, remaining together from 1957 until his death in 2007 at the age of 94.

Although Ponti obtained a divorce from his wife, Giuliana, in Mexico so that he could marry Loren, the divorce was not recognised in Italy and the marriage had to be annulled so Ponti would not face arrest for bigamy.

They married again in 1966, but only after Giuliana had agreed that all three should become citizens of France so that she and Ponti could be divorced in the French courts, allowing Loren to marry her ex-husband in a civil ceremony.

Loren began her acting career as Sofia Lazzaro, changing her screen name to Sophia Loren in 1952. Her breakthrough role came in De Sica’s 1954 anthology The Gold of Naples, filmed as a series of episodes from Neapolitan life.

In the same year she filmed the first of 11 movies in which she starred with Marcello Mastroianni, the best known of which were the romantic comedy-dramas Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963) and Marriage, Italian Style (1964), both directed by De Sica, and Robert Altman’s Prêt-à-Porter (1994).

Loren enjoyed a successful career in the United States, too, signing a contract with Paramount Studios and appearing in a series of Hollywood films opposite such major stars as Cary Grant (Houseboat, 1968), Clark Gable (It Started in Naples, 1960), Frank Sinatra (The Pride and the Passion, 1957, also with Grant), Alan Ladd (Boy on a Dolphin, 1957), William Holden (The Key, 1958), and Paul Newman (Lady L, 1965).

Loren and Marcello Mastroianni starred  together in 11 films
Loren and Marcello Mastroianni starred
together in 11 films
Because she was 1.75m (5ft 9ins) tall – even taller with heels and her hair stacked up – some actors were reluctant to star opposite her. In fact, so that she did not appear to tower over the notably small Alan Ladd in Boy on a Dolphin she filmed some scenes standing in a trench.

Loren had a brief affair with Cary Grant while filming The Pride and the Passion but ultimately rejected him in favour of Ponti. Later she resisted the advances of Peter Sellars, who starred with her in The Millionairess (1960) and recorded a single, Goodness Gracious Me, with her that reached number four in the UK charts.

Among her numerous awards were five Golden Globes, eight Bambi Awards and 10 David di Donatellos – Italy’s own ‘Oscars’ – six as best actress.

Her success with Two Women, which won her eight awards, including a BAFTA, a David di Donatello, a Nastro d’Argento and a Cannes Film Festival award, came after she rejected her original casting and insisted on playing the older of the two women of the title – the mother – after it was assumed she would take the role of the more glamorous daughter.

She and Ponti had two children – Carlo Jr, now an orchestra conductor, and Eduardo, a film director – after Loren suffered two miscarriages, which prompted doctors to order her to spend almost her entire subsequent pregnancies resting in bed.  They have four grandchildren.

Chosen by Empire magazine at number 25 in a list of the 100 Sexiest Stars in film history, Loren posed in lingerie for the 2007 Pirelli Calendar at the age of 72.  Asked how she had kept her voluptuous figure, she famously remarked: "Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti."

The tree-lined Viale Regina Margherita in the area of Rome where Loren was born
The tree-lined Viale Regina Margherita in
the area of Rome where Loren was born
Travel tip:

Viale Regina Margherita, the area in which Loren was born in the charity ward of a hospital, is a long boulevard in the Rome suburbs to the northeast of the city centre, linking the neighborhoods of Trieste, Salario and Nomentano. It ends at Piazza Sassari, near the Polyclinic Umberto I and Sapienza University.  The boulevard has many pretty buildings and villas built in the period between 1910 and 1917, designed mainly by Pio Piacentini and his son, Marcello.

Travel tip:

Once one of the busiest ports on the Mediterranean, much bigger in its heyday than neighbouring Naples, Pozzuoli is less important now but remains a centre for commercial shipping, fishing and tourism with a population of around 80,000 people.  The relics of an enormous Roman amphitheatre attract many visitors – it was supposedly the arena in which the patron saint of Naples, San Gennaro, survived being thrown to the lions – as does nearby Solfatara, the shallow crater of a dormant volcano characterised by numerous fumaroles and bubbling mud pools.

27 October 2016

Roberto Benigni - Oscar winner

How Life is Beautiful made Tuscan actor and director famous

Roberto Benigni
Roberto Benigni
Roberto Benigni, whose performance in the 1997 film Life is Beautiful won him an Oscar for Best Actor, was born on this day in 1952 in rural Tuscany, around 20km south of Arezzo.

The Academy Award, for which he beat off strong competition from Nick Nolte (Affliction) and Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan) among others, put him in the company of Anna Magnani (1955) and Sophia Loren (1961) as one of just three Italian winners of best actor or actress.

Benigni, who also directed Life is Beautiful, had won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film earlier in the awards ceremony, which delighted him so much he famously clambered on to the back of the seats of audience members in the row in front of his to lead the applause before stepping up to the stage to receive the award from Sophia Loren.

When Helen Hunt called out his name for Best Actor - the first since Loren to win the most coveted prize with a foreign language film - he began his acceptance speech by apologizing for having "used up all my English", before proceeding to deliver another joyously emotional expression of gratitude.

Benigni was born in the hamlet of Manciano la Misericordia, near the walled town of Castiglion Fiorentino.  His family moved when he was six years old to Vergaio, a village near Prato, to which he made reference in his speech, thanking his parents, Luigi and Isolina, for "the gift of poverty", despite which he had a happy childhood and believes shaped his character and made him appreciate his good fortune all the more.

Roberto Benigni with his wife and co-star, Nicoletta Braschi
Roberto Benigni with his wife
and co-star, Nicoletta Braschi
He based Life is Beautiful, the story of a Jewish Italian bookshop owner who uses his comic imagination to shield his son from the horrors of internment in a Nazi concentration camp, in part on the experiences of his father, who spent almost three years in the Belsen concentration camp in Germany.

Written in collaboration with Vincenzo Cerami, the film was attacked by some critics for presenting an unrealistic picture of the Holocaust which contained too little suffering, and suggested that "laughing at everything" was disrespectful to the millions of victims.

However, others praised Benigni for having the artistic daring and skill to create such a sensitive comedy against a background of dark, unparalleled tragedy.

Before the huge fame the movie brought him, Benigni, who was raised as a Catholic and was an altar boy in his local church, had enjoyed relatively modest success in his acting and directing career.

After studying initially to become a priest, a path he abandoned after the school he attended in Florence was damaged in the floods of 1966, he developed a fascination with a circus that was playing near his home and was offered work as a magician's assistant.

He had his first taste of theatre in Prato before moving to Rome, where he appeared in avant-garde theatre and became popular for his improvisation of epic poems, such as those of Ludovico AriostoEdmund Spenser and Dante Alighieri.

It was in Rome that he met Giuseppe Bertolucci - brother of Bernardo - who cast him in a film entitled Berlinguer, I love You, that appealed to his Communist sympathies.  Enrico Berlinguer was the leader of the Italian Communist Party.

See Roberto Benigni's acceptance speech for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar

He appeared in a number of TV shows directed by Renzo Arbore, one of which was banned by the censors, and worked on films with Bernardo Bertolucci and Federico Fellini.

The first of his nine films as a director was Tu mi turbi (You disturb me), a comedy that satirizes religion and the banking system.  He also starred in the film opposite Nicoletta Braschi, an actress from Cesena with whom he became romantically involved.  They have been married since 1991.  Braschi also appears in Life is Beautiful as the wife of Benigni's character.

Benigni's two films after Life is Beautiful - Pinocchio and The Tiger and the Snow - played well with home audiences but were less well received outside Italy and in the 11 years since the latter he has not made another film, although he hinted recently that he has a new project in mind.

Roberto Benigni on stage in his touring  one-man show, TuttiDante
Roberto Benigni on stage in his touring
one-man show, TuttiDante
He has remained successful on stage and television with his 90-minute one-man show TuttiDante, in which he has returned to his love of improvisatory poetry - a particularly Tuscan art form for which his father was an enthusiast.

During the show, Benigni combines current events with his memories of the past in a passionate interpretation of Dante's Divine Comedy.

No stranger to controversy, apart from his role in the Abore TV show that was taken off the air, he attracted headlines for appearing to call Pope John Paul II by an impolite name, for lifting a startled Enrico Berlinguer off his feet in an embrace at a Communist rally, and then for gatecrashing a TV news bulletin reporting on a protest against Silvio Berlusconi in which he had taken part, removing his shirt, draping it around the shoulders if the presenter and declaring (falsely) that Berlusconi had resigned.

Travel tip:

Arezzo, where much of Life is Beautiful is filmed, is a city in eastern Tuscany famous among other things for the frescoes of the artist, Piero della Francesco, in the 13th century church of San Francesco.  The Legend of the True Cross, painted between 1452 and 1466, is considered to be one of Italy’s greatest fresco cycles.  Arezzo is also the birthplace of the 14th century Renaissance poet, Francesco Petrarca, widely known by his English name, Petrarch.

The view through one of the archways in Giorgio Vasari's loggia
The view through one of the archways
in Giorgio Vasari's loggia
Travel tip:

Apart from its 13th century walls, the Tuscan hill town of Castiglion Fiorentino, of which Manciano la Misericordia, Benigni's birthplace, is a frazione (parish), is notable for a handsome nine-arch loggia designed by the 16th century artist and architect, Giorgio Vasari, along one side of the Piazza del Municipio, which offers a beautiful vista looking out over the Val di Chio below the town.  Vasari, who worked for the Medici family in Florence, designed the loggia at the Palazzo degli Uffizi and the Vasari Corridor, which connects the Uffizi with the Medici residence across the River Arno at Palazzo Pitti and includes the covered Ponte Vecchio bridge.

More reading:

(Top photo of Benigni by Gorup de Besanez CC BY-SA 4.0)
(Second photo of Benigni by Georges Biard CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of Vasari's loggia view by Silviapitt CC BY-SA 3.0)