We celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Vittorio Gassman, the great ‘Showman’

One hundred years since the birth of one of the greatest Italian actors of the twentieth century are celebrated. Gassman was a well-rounded intellectual – actor, director, playwright, TV host, writer, poet – so much so that his legacy is still very present and rooted in today’s society.

“Please refrain from doing this interview, I honestly do not have such a thorough knowledge of Eduardo to be able to tell you something really interesting or original”. A few words, polite and very cordial, addressed on the phone to a young journalist busy writing a book about Eduardo De Filippo they give the human figure of an immense artist who has always maintained the relationship with reality and the ability to be simple as only the great can do.

A private episode that happened about a quarter of a century ago that tells more than many words who Vittorio Gassman was. No arrogance, no presumption, no annoyance in having to answer the phone to a boy who is perhaps a little annoying, rather almost the regret of not being able to be useful. He who was a giant, one of the greatest Italian actors of the twentieth century, one of the greatest interpreters of our cinema, a well-rounded intellectual – actor, director, playwright, TV presenter, writer, poet – whose 100th anniversary is celebrated on September 1st.

A man who has often been identified with some characters he has interpreted, loved and made immortal: from Kean, the English director-actor of the play by Alessandro Dumas, of whom – perhaps rightly – he was considered alter-ego and reincarnation, to Bruno Cortona of Dino Risi’s masterpiece ‘Il sorpasso’, from the ‘Mattatore’ from the homonymous television show he conducted in 1959 (and from the homonymous film by Dino Risi) to Brancaleone da Norcia from the films of Mario Monicelli. Strong characters, over the top, as he appeared in public. But that wasn’t the real Gassman. At least not just that.

© Enrica Scalfari / AGF

Marcello Mastroianni and Vittorio Gassman

In reality, this magniloquent histrion, capable of reciting anything with absolute intensity – he celebrates on TV his ‘interpretations’ of the shopping list or menu for the Rai3 program ‘Avanzi’, on the model and parody of his readings of Dante – was a sensitive man and in the last years of his life also suffering because of the depression that forced him to moments of darkness from which he came out thanks to the theater and literature.

In 1990, 10 years before his death (June 29, 2000), following one of these crises, he wrote a book inspired by Dostoevsky also in the title, ‘Memories from the understairs’. A way like any other to react and to counter the fear of the ineluctable. A great actor who really felt he was Kean’s heir and a worthy interpreter of committed and so-called ‘major’ authors.

At the theatre

After graduating from the National Academy of Dramatic Art in Rome, Gassman, who had changed his surname from the original with two ‘n’, began his career in 1943 with Alda Borelli in Dario Niccodemi’s ‘Enemy’, and then join Tino Carraro and Ernesto Calindri in a trio that remained famous at the Eliseo Theater.

The theater and the stage were his natural environment and Luchino Visconti understood this too, who took Gassman in company where he acted with colleagues of the caliber of Paolo Stoppa, Rina Morelli and Paola Borboni. Later he entered the National Theater with Massimo Girotti and Arnoldo Foà.

In 1952, together with Luigi Squarzina, he founded and directed the Italian Art Theater, producing the first complete version of Hamlet in Italy, as well as rare works such as Seneca’s’ Tieste ‘or Aeschylus” I Persiani ‘. In 1956, the key year of his artistic career, Gassman played Otello with the great actor Salvo Randone, with whom he alternated the roles of Moro and Iago every evening. His performances were serious, intellectual, profound. And even in the cinema the roles he played were busy, especially as a villain.

Among the first films we remember ‘The wandering Jew’ by Goffredo Alessandrini from 1948 and above all ‘Riso amaro’ by Giuseppe De Santis, one of the masterpieces of early neorealism. In 1956 he took part in King Vidor’s Oscar-winning film ‘War and Peace’ where he starred alongside Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda in the prominent role of Anatol ‘Kuragin, establishing himself as an actor of international standing.

Three years later, in a television program called Il Mattatore, he achieved unexpected success, and ‘The Mattatore’ soon became the nickname that would accompany him for the rest of his life. Engaged theater and cinema gave Gassman success and made him famous, but real luck and popular success of him came thanks to comedy cinema.

gassman centenary birth film works souvenir

Mirco Toniolo / Errebi / AGF

Vittorio Gassman receives Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement

At Cinema

On the set until then, in Italy and Hollywood, he had been engaged in athletic roles and seductive rascals. Mario Monicelli was the first to understand that such a good and versatile actor was a fortune for Italy. It all began in 1958 with ‘I soliti ignoti’, and then continued with ‘The great war’ in 1959 and in the diptych ‘L’armata Brancaleone’ (1966) and ‘Brancaleone alle crciate’ (1970), a film with which he bought shortly a wide notoriety.

He also contributed to this Dino Risi who directed him in ‘Il mattatore’ (1960), ‘Il sorpasso’ (1962), ‘The march on Rome’ (1962), ‘The monsters’ (1963), ‘The gaucho’ (1964), ‘The tiger’ (1967) and ‘The prophet’ (1968). With Dino Risi, with whom he had a relationship of great friendship (the two, said the director, during the filming of ‘Il sorpasso’ competed to see who ‘towed’ the most women) he worked again in the seventies: ‘In the name of the people Italian ‘(1971),’ Scent of a woman ‘(1974),’ Anima persa ‘(1977),’ Caro papa ‘(1979) and’ Tolgo the disturbance ‘(1990).

What Risi had been for Gassman in the 60s, was for the actor Ettore Scola in the 70s and 80s: ‘We loved each other so much’ (1974), ‘La Terrazza’ (1980), ‘The family’ (1987 ) the masterpieces they created together. There would be many more films and theatrical performances to mention, because Vittorio Gassman was so many things, so many characters, so many characters.

But, above all, he was one of the protagonists of a magnificent and unfortunately unrepeatable cultural period. A great artist, but also a man who lived his life intensely, who had three wives, three important companions and four children with different women.

When he died, struck down in his Roman home by a heart attack, friends, colleagues, relatives and above all thousands of citizens paraded into the funeral parlor in the Capitol, paying homage to the great actor. Next to his coffin, in addition to the flowers and the many messages from the fans, there was also a volume with the inscription: “This is the book you loved the most”. It was Jack London’s ‘Martin Eden’. This also says who Vittorio Gassman was. (AGI)

We celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Vittorio Gassman, the great ‘Showman’ – Milano Post