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  • Ethnic Images
    Part 2 of 3: A New Image Emerges

    Continued from page 1
    Italian Memories

    by Cookie Curci

    In the 1950s, Hollywood film makers film makers created a new wide screen image of Italy and the romantic leading man. Italian Americans were more than eager to embrace this new improved image. Up until that time the only films we’d seen of the old country were wartime tragedies, films from the 1940s that depicted Italy in ruins, destruction, hunger and poverty.

    It was no wonder when handsome actors Marcello Mastroianni and Rosano Brazzi starred in a succession of romantic, panoramic, Technicolor films, the Italian community readily accepted this new on screen stereotype. The image of the bon vivant romantic leading man was far more desirable than that of warmonger. During the 1950s and '60s, what America wore, what its citizens drove and how they looked was in a large part dictated by Italy's trend setters, which included fashion designers, film directors and auto makers. If it originated in Italy, and the designer's name ended in a vowel, the American public was buying it.

    The film industry was responsible for the public's newfound interest in the Italian way of life. With films such as Federico Fellini's, La Dolce Vita and La Strata, Italian movie makers had stirred a lust in America's heart that hitherto had not been touched. Italy's "leave it till tomorrow" lifestyle and carefree attitude appealed to the American moviegoer, who quickly began to emulate the "dolce" lifestyle.

    Songs such as Dean Martin's "That's Amore," Al Martino's "Al di la" and Mario Lanza's "Arrivederci Roma" were high on America's hit parade. Even Walt Disney got in on the act when he had the Italian tune "Bella Notte" composed especially for his animated hit, "Lady and the Tramp." Films featuring Italy were sure to draw people to the box office. Movies such as, "Three Coins in the Fountain," "Summertime," and "The Rose Tattoo", helped feed the frenzy for all things Italian. Wildly famous Italian fashion designers, Cassini, Pucci, Gucci, Givinchy, and Simonetta were hotly in demand, as were these fast cars made by Italian auto makers: Lamborghini, Maserati, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. Instead of name calling, it was now enviable to be Italian and live "La dolce vita."

    In 1961, when Photoplay magazine asked its readers to vote for their favorite new Hollywood actor, Italian born stars Marcello Mastroianni and Rosano Brazzi finished first and second, respectively, on a list that included Italian Americans Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Suddenly, everything was Italian. It was during this time that actor Marcello Mastroianni, with his tall, dark and handsome good looks just naturally filled the roll of the bon vivant man of the world. Mastroianni stared in a series of films with the equally famous and leading actress, Sophia Loren. Among the most memorable of these films- "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow." Award winning costumes by Christian Dior enhanced these films, which exploited the earthy sex appeal of both stars. The trend continued in 1954 when Rosanno Brazzi ignited the screen in the film, "Three Coins in the Fountain" and later stared with Katherine Hepburn in the romance classic, "Summertime" (1954).

    Though these films and the actors who stared in them didn’t accurately reflect Italy or our heritage, they were a step up in the right direction and had helped to fill a void in the lives of post war Italian Americans.

    Part 1: Post War America
    Part 3: A Darker Stereotype & Hope For The Future

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