Showing posts with label Virna Lisi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Virna Lisi. Show all posts

7 May 2019

Raimondo Vianello - actor and TV host

Big-screen star who conquered television too

For many years, RaimondoVianello was  host of Sunday night sports show Pressing
For many years, Raimondo Vianello was
host of Sunday night sports show Pressing
Raimondo Vianello, who enjoyed a career that brought success on the big screen and small screen in equal measure, was born on this day in 1922 in Rome. 

Vianello first rose to fame in the 1950s through a satirical TV show in which he starred with the great commedia all’Italiana actor Ugo Tognazzi, which was eventually banned.

From television he moved into movies, appearing in no fewer than 79 films in the space of just 21 years, between 1947 and 1968, some with Tognazzi, but also alongside other stars such as Totò and Virna Lisi.

His notable successes included his portrayal alongside Raffaella Carrà of a hopeless secret agent in Mariano Laurenti’s 1966 film Il vostro superagente Flit - a parody of Our Man Flint, an American production that was in itself a parody of the James Bond movies - and Michele Lupo’s comedy Sette volte sette (Seven Times Seven) in 1968, in which he portrayed an inmate in a London prison.

Vianello’s ban from television in 1954 followed a sketch on he and Tognazzi’s popular show Un due tre, broadcast by the Italian state network Rai, in which they sent up an incident at La Scala opera house in Milan the night before, when the Italian president Giovanni Gronchi suffered an unfortunate accident, lowering himself to sit in a chair next to the French president Charles de Gaulle without noticing the chair had been moved.

Vianello (left) with Ugo Tognazzi in a sketch from their 1950s satirical TV show Un due tre
Vianello (left) with Ugo Tognazzi in a sketch from their
1950s satirical TV show Un due tre
Gronchi was not amused, however, and ordered the show to be cancelled. All was forgiven in time, though, and by the late 1960s Vianello was back on the small screen, this time in the company of his wife, the actress Sandra Mondaini.

Together, they hosted a series of Saturday shows on Rai which made them an extremely popular couple.

The next time Vianello left Rai, it was of his own volition, lured away to work on the commercial networks, which had become major players with the involvement of entrepreneur and future prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Vianello and Mondaini fronted quiz shows such as Zig Zag and Il gioco del 9 on Canale 5, and for eight years Raimondo was the host of Pressing, a Sunday night sports talk show on Italia 1. He also hosted the 1998 edition of the Sanremo Music Festival alongside Eva Herzigová and Veronica Pivetti.

But it was his best-known and longest-lasting TV programme, Casa Vianello, a sitcom which aired from 1988 to 2008 in Canale 5 and later Rete 4 in which he and Mondaini performed as fictionalised versions of themselves, based on light and never-vulgar humour. It became a show beloved among Italians of all ages.

Vianello and his wife Sandra Mondaini presented many different shows together, including a long-running sitcom
Vianello and his wife Sandra Mondaini presented many
different shows together, including a long-running sitcom
Born in Rome, the son of Guido Vianello, an Admiral in the Italian Navy of Venetian heritage, he was brought up in Pula in what is now Croatia but which then was in Italian-controlled Istria.

As a young man he joined Mussolini’s Italian Social Republic, the Fascist state established in northern Italy after the country’s surrender to the Allies in 1943. He served as a non-commissioned officer in the Bersaglieri corps. In 1945, he was captured by American troops and detained in the Coltano prison camp near Pisa.

After his long career, he died in 2010, a month short of what would have been his 88th birthday. His funeral took place at the in the Chiesa di Dio Padre in Milano Due, the new town within the Milan suburb of Segrate built by Berlusconi. After the funeral the body was transferred to Rome, to be buried in the family tomb at the Verano cemetery.

Pula's first century Colosseum is one of many Roman  relics in the former Italian city in Istria
Pula's first century Colosseum is one of many Roman
 relics in the former Italian city in Istria
Travel tip:

Pula is a seafront city on the tip of Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula, known for its protected harbour, beach-lined coast and some of the most impressive Roman ruins outside Italy, including a first-century Roman amphitheatre, whose imposing outer walls are the best preserved after Rome’s Colosseum, and the Temple of Augustus. The Colosseum hosts the centrepiece of Pula’s annual calendar, the glitzy two-week film festival. The streets of Pula’s historic centre contain a historical jumble of Byzantine chapels, weather-beaten Venetian townhouses and grand Hapsburg palaces.

Waterways are a feature of the environment created at Silvio Berlusconi's Milano Due complex
Waterways are a feature of the environment created at
Silvio Berlusconi's Milano Due complex
Travel tip:

The town of Milano Due was the project that launched Silvio Berlusconi as a media magnate. Built by Berlusconi's construction company Edilnord in the 1970s, it is a residential centre close to the Segrate area of suburban Milan conceived by Berlusconi as a place for families to live in a safe environment, a system of walkways ensuring that its residents could reach any part of the community without encountering any vehicular traffic.  The town features many parks and waterways and every house or apartment was connected to a cable television system run by another Berlusconi company,  TeleMilano, Italy's first private television channel. TeleMilano was the project from which the tycoon would eventually grow his national TV company, Mediaset.

More reading:

How Ugo Tognazzi became a star of commedia all'Italiana

Virna Lisi, the screen siren who turned her back on glamour roles

Pippo Baudo, the TV presenter who became the record-breaking face of Sanremo

Also on this day:

1917: The birth of Sistine Chapel Choir director Domenico Bartolucci

1976: The birth of rugby star Andrea lo Cicero

1983: The birth of Olympic archery champion Marco Galiazzo


21 December 2018

Moira Orfei - circus owner and actress

‘Queen of the Big Top’ became cultural icon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find a hotel in San Donà di Piave with TripAdvisor

More reading:

How Dino Risi helped launch the career of Sophia Loren

Why Mario Monicelli was one of the greats of Italian film

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

Also on this day:

69AD: Vespasian becomes emperor of Rome

1401: The birth of Renaissance artist Masaccio

1872: The birth of priest and composer Lorenzo Perosi


8 November 2016

Virna Lisi - actress

Screen siren turned back on glamour roles to prove talent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel tip: 

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

Hotels in Rome by

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

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

Hotels in Jesi by

More reading:

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

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

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

Also on this day:

1830: Death of the king of Naples and Sicily

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