From illegitimate son to Prince, from theatrical show to committed film by Pier Paolo Pasolini, from tragic love of Liliana Castagnola to love affairs with Franca Faldini: the many lives of Antonio De Curtis, aka Totò, Prince of laughter.
Antonio Clemente was born in Naples February 15, 1898, in the district “Salute” on the second floor of the building in Via Santa Maria Antesaecola 109. He was the result of a relationship of the mother Anna Clemente with Giuseppe De Curtis. Only when Antonio was 23 years old Giuseppe De Curtis married Anna Clemente legitimating the son who was called Antonio De Curtis by that time; the mother was to give him the nickname of Totò.
This situation of illegitimate child had to haunt him, because to be illegitimate son behaved so many humiliations in those days, first of all at school, where he was branded as a child of father unknown; so he tried a revenge in his life stating his noble descent. In fact his father, who called himself the Marquis that never was, really he belonged to an ancient family of Marquis.
Antonio was not good to school but he grew to love by all for his artistic nature that led him to do imitations and small very funny skits. He had a little accident at the gymnasium school: he was involuntarily struck in the face by a professor; he had the characteristic shape of the face and nose from that moment. He abandoned the school studies; his mother wanted him to follow the ecclesiastical career, but soon he abandoned to church devoting himself to the recitation. In these years he used to participate in small homemade performances, widespread in Naples, that were called “periodiche”.
Already 15 years he, with the name Clerment, began acting in darkened halls in which he performed with some caricatures including one of the puppet that moved jerkily, which then went on to play for many years. In these theaters he knew the De Filippo brothers and other artists who later became famous.
He reached the age of military service and he found himself enlisted in the infantry. Those were the years of the First World War, Italy was sending contingents to the French front, as part of the alliance between Italy and France. Antonio was intended to get to France, but he was hospitalized becouse a epilectic seizure. He was sent to a regiment stationed in Livorno when a complete healing, where he spent the rest of the army service. His famous phrase “we are men or corporals” was born in this context.
Totò was demobilized from the army and returned to Naples where he resumed the activities of comic-brilliant actor in the company’s Eduardo D’Acierno, in the modest theater of Naples. In 1922 he moved to Rome, having little success and few gains to Naples, with his mother and father that they were finally gotten married.
In Rome, he decided to specialize in the repertoire of Gustavo De Marco after an experience in the smaller theaters in Umberto Capece company, from whom he was expelled for daring to ask for a small increase of the compensation, he decided to specialize in the repertoire of Gustavo De Marco. After trying countless times alone in his house, he went to the Ambra Jovinelli theater to support an audition. He was hired in the company by the owner of theater Giuseppe Jovinelli; he debuted with the sketches of De Marco “The beautiful Ciccillo,” “Viper” and “Paraguay”, enjoying considerable success.
Through his barber he got to know Salvatore Cataldi, who cast him in the company of varieties which he held with Wolfango Cavaniglia after an audition. The comic debuted at the theater Sala Umberto I; he was a great success. He began his career through the major Italian theaters from this success. He also began his career as a womanizer for his good looks and his sympathy. Every night he devoted the show to the most beautiful women in the hall; he was often achieved by them in the dressing room where friendships and adventures were born with dancers and singers of vaudeville.
Between 1927 and 1929 he performed in the companies of Isa Bluette and Angela Ippaviz, where he met Mario Castellani who was later his stooge for many years. He was also noticed by the owner of the Teatro Nuovo in Naples, who hired him for a series of shows where he performed along with Titina De Filippo in “Miseria e Nobiltà” by Eduardo Scarpetta and “Messalina” by Mario Mangini aka Kokasse. In 1929 Liliana Castagnola, a famous dancer and singer of varieties, was hired during his performances at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples by the theater manager.
Liliana had been the mistress of noblemen, industrialists and soldiers, she had been expelled from France for causing a deadly duel between two sailors. Her lover, the son of an industrialist, was forced by her family to let her, because he was going to ruin because of the wasteful spending that the young man did for Liliana. The lover fired two shots at the chanteuse and then committed suicide. Liliana was wounded in the face by a bullet fragment, which remained stuck to the crown, the bullet cannot be removed. This injury caused her of the unbearable headaches that cured with “veronal”.
Totò fell in love with Liliana who became his mistress. Liliana sincerely loved him and wanted him to remain beside making hiring by the company where she worked. Instead Totò, who had not understood the sincerity of love of Liliana and for which also harbored violent attacks of jealousy, he found a scripture with another company that was performing in Padua. Liliana, desperate for leaving, killed herself ingesting a massive dose of veronal on March 3, 1930. Totò, shocked by this tragedy, had Liliana buried in his family tomb in the cemetery of Naples; He retained until the end a handkerchief of the poor singer steeped of mascara and tears.
A year later, in 1931, Antonio De Curtis met during a show in Florence Diana Bandini Lucchesini Rogliani. Diana was born in Benghazi October 27, 1915, the illegitimate daughter of Selica Bandini and Ferdinando Lucchesini. At 16, Diana ran away from home to get Totò. The two had a daughter in 1933 to which Totò named Liliana in memory of Liliana Castagnola. In 1935 the two were married.
In 1933, Totò searched a social promotion through a title of nobility that his father, the self-styled Marquis, could not give him. The actor became adopted by the Marquis Francesco Maria Gagliardi Focas, who had many noble titles. The Marquis appointed Antonio De Curtis heir to all his titles of nobility in exchange for an annuity.
In 1936 the first disagreements began between the spouses De Curtis because of the attention that the actor reserved to dancers and singers. The two made to annul in Hungary their marriage, the nullity was recorded in Italy in 1939. But despite the nullity the couple remained together for a pact that would unite themselves until the age of his daughter Liliana.
During this time the great comic actor was cast in several films that were not very successful: “Fermo con le mani” produced by Gustavo Lombardo and “Animali pazzi” directed by Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia. A long tour followed in Ethiopia and Eritrea with Eduardo Passarelli (half-brother of De Filippo), Clely Fiamma and his wife Diana Rogliani with the show “50 milioni … c’è da uscire pazzi” written with Guglielmo Inglese. Returning to his homeland he played the film “San Giovanni decollato” by Cesare Zavattini who had an excellent reception from critics, but less reception from the audience, followed by “L’allegro fantasma” in which the actor played three roles different.
In that years, finished the time of variety, was firmed the music hall. In 1944 Toto staged at the Quattro Fontane theater in Rome the music hall “Quando meno te l’aspetti” by Michele Galdieri with Carlo Castellani and Anna Magnani, followed from “Che ti sei messo in testa”, referring to the Germans who had occupied Italy, with a parody of Hitler. He was forced for this to hide from the Germans together with De Filippo brothers. Throughout the military occupation of Rome he remained hidden in the Roman house of the parents without ever leaving outside of house. In this period it is said that Totò did not miss his economic support to the partisans fighting against the German occupiers.
In 1945, Antonio De Curtis (Totò) made a long-standing civil lawsuit for the recognition of noble titles inherited by the Marquis Focas and he were recognized for all the titles of the late Marquis as a result of a heraldry expert report submitted in court: Antonio Griffo Focas Flavio Angelo Ducas Comnenus Porfirigenito Gagliardi de Curtis of Byzantium, Imperial Highness, Palatine Count, Knight of the Holy Roman Empire and to follow ten other titles.
Diana finally left Totò in 1950 to marry with her new lover; In 1951 Totò dedicated the song “Malafemmena” to her because she had not kept his word to stay together until the age of her daughter. In the same year his daughter married the film producer Gianni Buffardi, stepson of Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia, Antonello and Diana borned from this marriage; Diana died in 2011 after a long illness. She was buried next to Granddad in the family chapel in the cemetery of Naples. After the divorce with Gianni Buffardi, Liliana remarried Sergio Anticoli and in 1969 his daughter Elena borned.
In 1952 the actor met a young girl of 21 years, Franca Faldini. Franca had just returned from America where she had won the contest of Miss Cheesecake and was cast in a bit part in the film “Sailors beware” where she kissed the star Jerry Lewis. Back in Italy, a cover of the weekly Oggi was dedicated to her. The photo was spotted by Totò, who sent her a bouquet of flowers accompanied by a romantic sentence. They started dating and a great love bloomed between the mature actor and young actress. They pretended a wedding in Lugano to placate the gossips. In the same year 1954, Franca had a child who was nomed Massenzio. The newborn died a few hours after birth, due to a particularly difficult birth for which the same Franca was about to lose his life; the little Massenzio was buried in the family chapel.
After the war Totò abandoned almost entirely the theater to devote himself to the movies. He played nearly one hundred films. His films were always greeted by a great success, but the critics were particularly severe against him classifing the film of comic actor Totò as b-movies. The film directors turned more movies with Toto were Mario Mattioli, Camillo Mastrocinque and Steno. To the list of movie titles is pointless as each of us knows a lot of movies of Totò: they are continuously replicated by the various television networks and ever, although they are seen and reviewed, tear smiles and laughter.
In 1957 his eye disease worsened that plagued him for years; while the great comic actor was performing in theater in Palermo suddenly he lost almost all of his sight, he approached Franca Faldini who was playing with him and whispered that he could not see. He was able to finish the show without the audience noticing anything with the help of Franca. Only after months of rest and care he was able to partially recover the view.
He went back to work; at that time he was engaged to participate in RAI “Studio Uno” as a guest of honor, participation in which a famous duet is remembered between the comic and Mina. Alberto Lattuada wanted him in his film “The Mangragola” of 1965; one of the last works of Totò was to participate as a protagonist in the movie “Uccellacci e Uccellini” by Pier Paolo Pasolini, with whom he won the “Nastro d’Argento” with the unanimous favor of critics. He ended his career with “Il Tesoro di San Gennaro” with Nino Manfredi, “Le streghe” by Pasolini and “Capriccio all’Italiana” by Steno. He turned even some sketches for television that were broadcast after his death.
He died after a long illness, April 15, 1969 at his home in Parioli, surrounded by the affection of Franca Faldini and his friends. The funeral was held in Rome in the church of Sant’Eugenio with moving participation of the world of cinema. On April 17, the body was brought to Naples where he was greeted by a large crowd, who accompanied him to the church of S. Eligio where was celebrated a second funeral, attended by all the Neapolitan artists. Totò was buried in the family chapel in the cemetery of Santa Maria del Pianto, between the graves of her son Maxentius and Liliana Castagnola.
Liliana De Curtis e Matilde Amorosi. Totò, mio padre. Mondadori, 1990.
Franca Faldini, Goffredo Fofi, L’Avventurosa storia del cinema italiano raccontata dai suoi protagonisti, 1935-1959, Feltrinelli, 1979
Edmondo Capecelatro, Daniele Gallo, Totò: vita e arte di un genio, Gruppo Ed. Viator, 2008
Orio Caldiron, Totò, Gremese, 2001
Liliana De Curtis, Matilde Amorosi, Totò, femmene e malafemmene, Milano, Rizzoli, 2003