Mike Bongiorno, 100 years of quiz shows and television

May 27, 2024 302

TV and radio host, journalist, actor and partisan. Italian American. It is not easy to describe Mike Bongiorno, a historical and among the most famous faces of Italian television. A man born exactly 100 years ago, on May 26, 1924, and who died on September 8, 2009.

His life was troubled and full of surprises: from imprisonment in San Vittore during World War II to hosting some of Italy's most historic programs such as the Sanremo Festival. It was a long and successful career that saw Mike, born Michael Nicholas Salvatore Bongiorno, practically invent Italian television.

Born in New York to a mother from Turin, Enrica Carello, and an Italian-American father, Philip Bongiorno, Mike moved to Italy as a child. He grew up in Turin and became passionate about journalism from a young age. A passion that, combined with that for sports, soon led him to work for the sports pages of the Turin-based quotisiano “La Stampa.” An activity that he had to abandon, along with his studies, because of World War II, a period during which he took refuge in the Alps. Then the decision to join the Resistance: thanks to his knowledge of English, he became a carrier of messages between Italian partisans and the Allies in Switzerland. It was during one of these operations, in 1944, that he was captured by the Gestapo and risked being shot, eventually ending up in San Vittore prison.

But life had other plans for him. After various vicissitudes, Mike was freed in February 1945, thanks to a prisoner-of-war exchange between the United States and Germany. So the return to America after the end of the conflict and the resumption of his career as a journalist. From his debut in radio, to his first experiences in broadcasting, to reporting for Eiar, which later became RAI. Technician, speaker, radio programmer, U.S. correspondent, these were Mike's experiences before reaching success. His return to Italy dates back to 1952 when he was offered to collaborate with Radiogiornale. Among the records that can be attributed to the showman is that of becoming the first in Italy to interview U.S. President Dwight David Eisenhower, in office from 1953 to 1961.

The king of quizzes: this is the nickname by which SuperMike is known to all. And it was he who launched in 1955 the first quiz show on Italian TV, “Lascia o raddoppia?” Thus helping to bring television into popular culture. And it was the success of the program that served as a springboard for the anchorman's career. An adventure, that of quiz shows, which was followed by numerous others.

Mike Bongiorno remains in Italian history. At a time when few Italians still had a TV at home, on Saturdays people would gather in bars in front of the TV on and watch his quiz show, so much so that the program began to be shown in cinemas as well, until the Association of Italian Cinemas protested because Saturday was the day when, before Mike, people went to the cinema to see movies, and obtained to move Mike Bongiorno's TV broadcast to Thursdays.

His famous phrase with which he greeted at the beginning and end of his broadcasts was the first successful claim of postwar Italy, with which everyone recognized and today remembers the great Mike Bongiorno: “Allegria!”

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