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Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Life and Art of Marcello Mastroianni

He is a legendary actor whose reach went far beyond the borders of Italy to influence cinema across the globe.

Born Marcello Vincenzo Domenico Mastroianni in 1924 in the mountainous area of Frosinone, located in the region of Lazio, Mastroianni spent his childhood near the Eternal City experimenting with acting in stage roles at his local church. During his teenage years, he took odd jobs in Rome, including bit parts in movies. Then during World War II, he was forced by German soldiers to work at a labor camp in northern Italy. He managed to escape, taking refuge in Venice until 1945. During the post-war period when war-torn Italy was recovering from the devastation it had just endured, Mastroianni returned to Rome and landed a job as a clerk with a British film company. During off-hours, he would get together with local actors to hone his craft. Then in 1947, he landed his first significant acting role in Riccardo Freda’s adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Miserables.

Within a decade of that first role, he became an international celebrity, with lead roles in some of the greatest films ever made, such as Big Deal on Madonna Street and in Federico Fellini’s blockbusters, La Dolce Vita and 8 ½. Mastroianni starred in more than 100 films, many times alongside fellow cinema icons like Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren and Jack Lemmon.

La Dolce Vita set the stage for the destined partnership with Fellini that produced iconic roles in 8 ½ (1963), City of Women (1979), and Ginger and Fred (1985). Each role called on his exceptional ability to transform himself into virtually anyone as the characters ranged in diversity from a tabloid columnist to a film director with writer’s block to a retired tap dancer. He credited this skill to his roots in theater, explaining, "I made theater very important in the beginning of my career. Theater actors like to change character roles. They don't like to always do the same thing."

Although he romanced dozens of leading ladies on the big screen, Mastroianni found his cinema soul mate in Sophia Loren, co-starring with her in a dozen beautiful, classic films. The majestic duo is such a pleasure to watch. The two actors share an unspoken chemistry and ease. Soon after teaming up, they became the epitome of the perfect Italian man and woman in love. A few of their masterpieces include Vittorio De Sica's Marriage Italian Style and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow as well as Dino Risi's The Priest's Wife. Loren recently spoke of Mastroianni at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, while being honored for her extraordinary career, saying, “He was an amazing man with a great sense of humor and when we got tired, he would begin to tell jokes. It was 20 years of work and fun.”

Another of Mastroianni’s leading ladies was his daughter, Chiara Mastroianni, whose mother is the French actress Catherine Deneuve. The two starred in Raúl Ruiz's Three Lives and Only One Death in 1996. His performance earned him the Silver Wave Award at the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival. Then, the curtains were drawn with his final film, Voyage to the Beginning of the World, which was released posthumously in 1997.

Life imitated art in terms of romance throughout Mastroianni’s life. He married fellow actress Flora Carabella in 1950, and stayed married to her until the day he day he died. However, that didn’t stop him from having a lifetime of affairs, with his onscreen leading ladies,  including actresses Anouk Aimee, Claudia Cardinale, Lauren Hutton and Ursula Andress. He was involved in a serious relationship with Faye Dunaway, whom he met while shooting A Place for Lovers in 1968. The actress wanted to marry and build a life with him, but his catholic faith kept him from divorcing his wife. The relationship lasted for three years, until Dunaway finally gave up and left him. Mastroianni didn’t stay singe for long. Shortly after his break up with Dunaway, he began seeing French actress, Catherine Deneuve. The two stayed together for about four years and during that time worked together on four films. In the late 70’s, he became involved with Italian author and filmmaker, Anna Maria Tatò. They remained together until his death in 1996.
 
Mastroianni died at his home in Paris at the age of 72 from pancreatic cancer. The Eternal City paid tribute to the actor by turning off the Fountain of Trevi and draping it in black. The fountain was a key backdrop in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita.

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