Rossano Brazzi Profile
As a schoolboy, Brazzi was in the school operetta. "I was the lead, of course," he recalled, and the show was so successful it ended up touring Italy for almost three months. "I was singing and I was acting and I remember I was taking this very serious." Eventually, Brazzi studied law at the University of San Marco, where he was goalkeeper for the soccer team and for a time was interested in boxing until he accidentally caused his opponent a serious injury. He also continued to act, but once he received his law degree in 1937, Brazzi went to Rome to practice law with a friend of the family. It was in Rome that Brazzi's friends convinced him that with his good looks and smooth voice, he could be an actor. Shortly afterwards, he abandoned the law for the theater.
A deeply spiritual man, Brazzi claimed to have extrasensory perception. Throughout his life he wore a ring with the Three Faces of the Muse carved into it. It had been a gift from his first girlfriend, who had died of leukemia. Brazzi later claimed that he learned of her death in a dream in which she appeared to him and told him he would have a very successful career. Brazzi later revealed that he had a similar dream shortly before his wife, Lidia, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He had met Lidia Bertolini in 1937 when both were students at the University of San Marcos and dated her against the wishes of their parents. "My wife's family, who are titled, first objected to me because I didn't come from nobility. They thought Lidia should have married the stuffy lawyer she was engaged to before I came along." Lidia's father eventually got over his dislike, and reportedly handled Brazzi's fan mail when it became too much for him. Lidia, as many articles proclaimed, was 5'3" and weighed 200 lbs, (she was described by journalist Sheilah Graham as "a 200-pound bundle of charm,"). Despite the columnists' surprise that a famous actor would want an overweight wife, their marriage was a happy one and lasted until her death in 1981. "In 50 films, I have played opposite many beautiful, charming actresses. Not one can hold the little finger of my Lidia. She is just wonderful. That is the only word to describe her. Every wife in the world should take lessons from Lidia. Then there would be no divorce."
Brazzi made his film debut in The Trial and Death of Socrates (1939) and appeared in swashbuckling and Western films. "In 25 pictures I had the same line [...] "Which way did they go?" The 'they' were cattle rustlers, not women. I made 25 Italian Westerns and just like in Hollywood the big business was the fellows who come to steal the cattle the outlaws from the mountains. [...] The horse opera the Italians make too. I make many of them. I can do anything with a horse. With a gun, too." In comparing them to American Westerns, he said, "All the same except the fight in the bar starts when someone throws a glass of Chianti wine in the other fellow's face. Instead of 'Yippee' we shout 'Forza!' and always the shoot-out happens on Main Street the La Strade Principale. Just like in America."
One of his earliest film roles was as the middle-aged Edmund Kean in Kean (1940). At the time Brazzi was only 24 and the critics were impressed. By the beginning of the 1940s, Brazzi's good looks and easy charm made him a top Italian film actor. Even though he was forced to work for the Mussolini-controlled film industry, he was secretly a member of the resistance, helping supply food to escaped Allied POWs. Brazzi's father was a fervent anti-Fascist and during the war his family was harassed by pro-Mussolini forces. According to his niece, "many of their neighbors in Florence, hard-working, innocent, good people, were all of a sudden being taken away to concentration camps. Mussolini was never mentioned at the house, probably as a measure to oppose him in contrast to all the propaganda that went on in the streets. The only exam mother ever failed in school, was when she was asked to write an essay on Mussolini. She was unable to write more than three lines. The house in Florence was bombarded and they had to move to a close friend's house." Brazzi's father was beaten and Brazzi himself was threatened with disfigurement.
After the war, he was making $45,000 a film, but saw his popularity decline, due to the rise of the neo-Realism movement in Italian films, which he later derided, "We used to make 160 films a year. Last year we made 30. The trouble is that 80 percent of the producers have aimed only at the commercial market. Their pictures appeal only at the Italian market; some appeal only to Rome and to the North. On the other side are the artist filmmakers like [Vittorio] DeSica. His pictures are phony. He dwells only on one picture of the country. I had foreigners ask me, 'Do you not have bathrooms in Italy?' Yes, his pictures make money in the art houses of the United States, but I wonder how they play in Texas and Arizona." He decided to take his chance in America and Brazzi was soon signed by American producer David O. Selznick to appear in his Technicolor adaptation of Little Women (1949). The part confused Brazzi, who at 32 played June Allyson's much older husband. "I was given a 50-year-old character part and was so disgusted I came home to Italy. [...]I had to go back and build my career all over again. When I returned to Italy, they all said that I had failed in America. So I went back to the stage. Always when I am in trouble, I return to the stage. I did O'Neill's Strange Interlude and won the prize for acting that year." Back in Italy, Brazzi's popularity did not continue and he attempted to produce films, managing to lose almost everything he had. When Hollywood called again, Brazzi was overjoyed.
Brazzi returned to America to co-star with Jean Peters in Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), for which he was paid $25,000. "I thought it would be just a small part. Instead, as it turned out, it was the crossroads of my life." This was quickly followed up with his role as the impotent Count in The Barefoot Contessa (1954) with Ava Gardner and Humphrey Bogart, which brought him to prominence. Brazzi returned to Italy soon after to film David Lean's Summertime (1955). As the married Italian who wooed spinster Katharine Hepburn, Brazzi's charm shone through and solidified him as a romantic star. The NY Daily News wrote of Brazzi's performance in the film, "Rossano Brazzi is electrifying, compelling. In my opinion he will merge from Summertime a sensation and from here on, can write his own ticket. If there is a woman in the audience who wouldn't gladly change places with Hepburn, she ought to have her heart examined!" After Summertime, Universal signed him to a three year contract and set the wheels in motion for his most famous film South Pacific, (1958).
Brazzi was excited about the South Pacific script. "I have done 88 pictures and only four or five of them were really good. Imagine that! The nice thing about having success is that you don't have to do the bad pictures if you don't want to. I think I will do less and less pictures. I am in good financial shape. I think maybe in three or four years I will quit it all and retire." While Brazzi took over Enzio Pinza's stage role, his singing voice in South Pacific was dubbed by Giorgio Tozzi. Gaynor sang her own part, while Muriel Smith dubbed Juanita Hall.
Brazzi's film career truly peaked with South Pacific and he was receiving 30,000 fan letters a week, mostly from young girls. All leading men have a shelf life and the vogue of the Latin Lover would not survive long. As actor and director Carlo Verdone said, "Brazzi belonged to that group of Italian actors who in the 1950s had characterized the cinema of the 'handsome but capable'. They conquered the public above all for their male charm."
In the 1960s, Brazzi would appear in television (including a reunion with his Little Women co-star June Allyson on her self-titled show), and as a regular on the TV series The Survivors playing an Aristotle Onassis-like character called Antaeus Riakos. There were also films for both Italian and American studios most notably as romantic older Italians in Light in the Piazza (1962) and Rome Adventure (1962). In the mid 1960s he directed three films, sometimes using the pseudonym of Edward Ross. His most famous film was the family movie The Christmas That Almost Wasn't (1966).
By the 1970s, Brazzi was appearing in cheap horror films (Psychout for Murder , Dr. Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks ) and television programs such as Hollywood Squares, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. His life took an odd twist in 1984, when he and 36 others were indicted in an investigation into an international arms and drug smuggling ring that "allegedly operated in Italy, West Germany, Spain, Bulgaria, Turkey and other parts of the Mediterranean". The case against him was eventually dropped. Oddly enough, one of his co-suspects was a suspect in the 1981 plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II. Brazzi's home was searched on April 29, 1983 on a warrant issued by the judge while Brazzi was in the United States shooting Fear City (1984). "They've been calling me from Italy. I know one person who has been arrested, but there are no charges for me."
Rossano Brazzi continued to work up until the time of his death on Christmas Eve, 1994 at the age of 78 from a virus that affected his nervous system. He was survived by his second wife, Ilse Fischer. As a young woman, Fischer had seen Brazzi on the screen and declared to her mother that she would marry him. Nearly thirty years later, she did.
by Lorraine LoBianco
Erickson, Hal The All-Movie Guide
Graham, Sheilah "She's Too Fat Not for Him" The Pittsburgh Press 18 Dec 66
Hamilton, George and Stadiem, William Don't Mind if I Do
"Rossano Brazzi: Italian Gunslinger" Johnson, Erskine The Rock Hill Herald 22 Mar 61
"Rossano Brazzi Excited Public" Swinton, Stan Kentucky New Era 23 Aug 55
"Summertime: Brazzi as a Heavy Lover" Life Jul 25, 1955
McCants, Clyde T. American Opera Singers and Their recordings: Critical Commentaries and Discographies
"'South Pacific' Star, Brazzi, Dies" Milwaukee Sentinel , 27 Dec 94
"Rossano Brazzi, Actor, 78; Romantic Leading Man of Films" The New York Times 27 Dec 94
O'Hara, Maureen, Nicoletti, John 'Tis Herself: An Autobiography
Roberts, Randy and Olson, James Stuart John Wayne: American
"How to Stay Married to a Screen Lover" Shearer, Lloyd St. Petersburg Times 20 Jan 57
"Once a Hollywood Failure, Brazzi Returns in Triumph" Thomas, Bob Toledo Blade 13 Aug 57
"Rossano Brazzi Becomes LA Smog Lover" Thomas, Bob Toledo Blade 17 Oct 61
Willis, John and Monush, Barry Screen World, 1995: With Full-Color Highlights of the Flm year
Wise, James E. and Baron, Scott International Stars at War