We The Italians | IT and US: From the province of Ascoli Piceno to Hollywood

IT and US: From the province of Ascoli Piceno to Hollywood

IT and US: From the province of Ascoli Piceno to Hollywood

  • WTI Magazine #169 Nov 17, 2023
  • 911

Marche is the only Italian region whose name is pronounced in the plural, where the Apennines and the Adriatic Sea seem to look at each other in the eyes: a region of a hundred theaters, with an infinity of natural, cultural and historical beauty.

In addition, Marche has been the birthplace, in history, of as many as ten popes as well as some of the world's greatest artists such as the painter Raffaello Sanzio (Urbino), the poet Giacomo Leopardi (Recanati), and the tenor Beniamino Gigli (Recanati). Marche also gave roots to the current world's greatest soccer player, Lionel Messi. Messi's paternal family has origins from Recanati while his maternal family has origins from San Severino Marche. I personally found his origins in San Severino Marche so much so that on my initiative he was granted honorary citizenship.

As a sociologist of Marche emigration and a publicist journalist, I have cultivated a genuine passion that has led me to discover and tell stories of children of Marche people who have become authentic international excellences and whose ancestors left from our lands. Stories mostly of poverty, pain and abandonment that brought some seven hundred thousand Marche people, after very long and very hard journeys, to the American continent to find a better life.

Recently, I wanted to retrace the origins of two great actors and a director whose parents came from Montemonaco, Comunanza and Appignano del Tronto, all in the Ascoli Piceno province, who left for America from these pearls of the Sibillini Mountains in the early twentieth century. Thanks to the decisive collaboration of Dr. Giuseppe Dell'Anno of the state archives in Ascoli Piceno, I found the matches I was looking for.

Giovanni Travanti of Comunanza emigrated to the United States in 1920, and in 1940 his son Daniel Travanti was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin. As a young boy, he distinguished himself as a good American football player, so much so that he received scholarship offers from prestigious universities; instead, he decided to attend the University of Wisconsin on a General Motors scholarship and then devote himself to studying acting. For him many films and television that led him to win a Golden Globe and two Emmy Awards; best known in Italy for a film with Sophia Loren, Aurora (1984). Travanti has visited his relatives in the Marche several times and is still in touch with them.

Felice Amici of Montemonaco emigrated to the United States in 1900, and in 1908 Dominic Amici was born, also in Kenosha. The surname would later be changed to Ameche as per the pronunciation of Amici in English. A career that enumerates numerous films, television and stage productions. Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Ron Howard's film Cocoon in 1985, and Coppa Volpi at the 1988 Venice Film Festival. Don Ameche (deceased 1993) is still best known for John Landis's film Trading Places, which has aired on TV every Christmas Eve in Italy for thirty years. Also with Landis, he had a cameo in the comedy film Coming to America, which features Don as a homeless man after going broke at the end of Trading Places. Also in the family, actor was his brother Jim, radio speaker his brother Bert, and football star cousin Alan. Don never came to Montemonaco (only to Ascoli and Rome) but when he was in London, he often went to dinner at the very famous Scott's restaurant (frequented by such stars as Sophia Loren, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, Marlon Brando, Marcello Mastroianni, Sammy Davis, Dean Martin and many others). It was in that restaurant that he met a waiter who had also emigrated from a neighboring village to his father's; together they talked about their common origins and the beautiful Sibillini mountains of which Don had heard so much from his father. The mayor of Montemonaco, Francesca Grilli, has already decided to name a street in the village after him.

There is also another incredible curiosity in this story. In Kenosha, a town of only one hundred thousand inhabitants, five world-class actors were born, four of whom were of Italian origin: Daniel Travanti, Don Ameche, Mark Ruffalo, Al Molinaro (Al from Happy Days) and Orson Wells, winner of 2 Oscars.

Also in the State Archives of Ascoli Piceno and thanks to the help of Dr. Andrea Biondi, I set out to find another Hollywood personality of Ascoli Piceno origin: Robert Zemekis.

I had actually heard of him before but official confirmation had never been found. In some interviews, Zemekis himself talked about his mother, Rosa Nespeca, and his surname of Ascoli origin; he said that he had been in the Marche region in 2013, that he loved Italy very much, that he had married in Venice and had a house in Tuscany. During my research, I found that Rosa Nespeca was the daughter of Pietro Nespeca and Domenica Celani. After contacting Dr. Giuseppe Dell'Anno he found a Pietro Nespeca di Camillo born in Appignano del Tronto on September 2, 1895. Learning of Pietro Nespeca's Appignano origins, I asked Dr. Giuseppe Merlini of the San Benedetto Municipal Archives (the foremost genealogy expert in the Marche region) for confirmation. Nespeca is a very common surname in the Ascoli area, and in particular in Appignano del Tronto, a jewel of a village with blue-gray badlands, full of beautiful stories and legends, with a young and enthusiastic mayoress like Sara Moreschini. The mayor herself made contact with Robert Zemekis' wife announcing her intention to confer honorary citizenship on him.

Zemekis, born in Chicago in 1952 to a father of Lithuanian descent, belongs to the pantheon of American filmmakers. He came to public attention as director of the film Romancing the Stone (1984), and the science fiction comedy Back to the Future (1986 David di Donatello for Best Screenplay) and the live-action animated comedy Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). In 1994 he was Oscar winner for Best Director and Best Picture with Forrest Gump (also awarded at the Golden Globes). Many more films of great renown would follow, and Zemekis established himself as a director who innovated the animated film by collaborating with Spielberg and Disney.