Great Italians of the Past: Totò
- WTI Magazine #130 Aug 22, 2020
“My funeral will be really beautiful because there will be words, more words, praise, people will recognize me as a great actor, because Italy’s a very beautiful country, but here you get to be appreciated only when you’re dead.”
This was the great Antonio Griffo Focas Flavio Angelo Ducas Comneno Porfirigenito Gagliardi De Curtis of Bisanzio, better known as “Totò”. Italian actor, that simpathetic but unsimiling character which was able to emerge on the world cinema scene of the (at that time) young Cinecittà. A crossroads of cultural exchanges during the gold time of Italian Movies exported around the world.
Totò was born in Naples, on Nov. 7, 1898, ready for the Golden Age of Italy.
Son of Anna Clemente and Marquis Giuseppe De Curtis. Born out of wedlock, Marquis De Curtis refused to recognize him. Antonio grew up with his mother in the working class Naples’ neighbohood of Rione Sanità, Naples.
Growing up in a “impoverished italian family” drove him to a main theme, also in his career: Italy’s social inequalities.
Totò served in the military World War I before discovering his passion and talent for acting and theatre, managing to make a bit of a name for himself smaller artistic circles.
He moved to Rome in 1922 where you can actually still find him almost everywhere, the soul and the evocation of the big times.
In the 1930’s, Totò entered the world of movies: it was the beginning of a career which was to span over 30 years and more than 100 movies. He became a legend, “The Prince of Laughter” of the 50’s-60’s comedy movies, the witness of white and blak narratives. He has been part of a dramatic post war as well of the economic boom. Comedies and drama, as his entire life. He was the quintessentially italian type, able to mix slapsticks, misunderstanding and comedy.
He also was a sing-songwriting and played in theater dramatic roles. He was exactly like Italy is, an incredible talent that could do whatever she wants.
Totò’s private life has been, in many ways, deign of his profession: filled with extreme emotions and joys, as well as tragedy. Nothing was bland in his movie-life!
We can remember at least three important women in his life:
Liliana Castagnola, who committed suicide after a rough and extremely intense love story.
Diana Rogliani, a beautiful 16 year old girl he met in Florence, when still dating Castagnola. The relationship was rocky and only briefly found serenity in the birth of a daughter, called Liliana to honor Castagnola, in 1933. Their marriage was annulled in 1939, however the couple decided to keep living together without finding another partner until their child was an adult. It wasn’t to be: Rogliani got married again in 1950 and Totò, deceived, wrote for her Malafemmena. The two remained close in spite of this, until the death of De Curtis, 17 years later.
Franca Faldini, who was only two years older than Liliana, Totò’s own daughter. She appeared in many of Totò’s 1950’s movies, such as Totò all’Inferno, and Siamo Uomini e Caporali. Faldini remained side by side with the Principe della Risata until his death, in 1967.
Maybe we remember Toto’ just as “the italian actor”, for his “Puppet-moves” or his “you’r born a lord,” meaning that nobility is not linked to a title, but to the goodness of one’s heart. But there was much more behind this. He was a man who contributed to the incredibly successful birth of the Italian Movies Era.