When I was growing up in the ’40s and early ’50s, in order to escape the memories of war, the bombings, the hunger, the emotional exhaustion, I would take refuge into our movie theater in Pozzuoli. This was the place where I would dream of a better future. And the movies I would see were all from Hollywood. More than specific titles, it was the stars of the ’40s and ’50s that made me believe that the future was brighter than the dark past that we had gone through. I’m thinking of Rita Hayworth in Gilda, Tyrone Power in Blood and Sand, Fred Astaire in Blue Skies, even Greta Garbo in Ninotchka or Betty Grable in How to Marry a Millionaire. I wanted my life to be filled with this kind of romance, beauty, optimism. Everything was big and filled with possibilities! The sets were big, the close-ups were big, the song and dance numbers were big. These movies gave me a road map towards hope, towards what a life could look like if you dared to dream.
The Oscar-winning actor’s new film, The Life Ahead, is now streaming on Netflix.
Rita Hayworth had it all. As a young lady in Pozzuoli, I would marvel at how she moved, how she danced, how beautiful she was, but always in control of her destiny. When I met her one of the first times I came to Hollywood, I told her what an admirer I was and she was very gracious. I loved Gilda because Rita was strong and powerful in it and yet showed a lot of fragility.
When she was young, my mother won a nationwide Greta Garbo look-alike contest in Italy, so we would love to go to the movies and watch Garbo’s films as there was this connection between my mother and Mrs. Garbo. What I love about Ninotchka is how funny Garbo was. She was always so intense and serious and here she made us laugh. If Garbo could laugh, we could laugh too!
I’m not sure if it was the film I loved so much or just looking at Tyrone Power. He was so handsome and I would sit in our little movie theater and dream about him. It is one of the first films I saw in color. Our life was so tough, seeing the world through the bright hues of Technicolor made me hope there was this great big colorful world out there.
I love Irving Berlin’s music, Fred Astaire’s moves, Bing Crosby’s voice. The tenderness and class of Crosby singing the title song to Joan Caulfield as they snuggle together underneath that blanket … Dreams, dreams, dreams. After the war, everything seemed possible and a film like Blue Skies (even the title) made us believe that the sky was the limit.
I loved Betty Grable for her attitude and talent but there was something else about her that connected with me: Her mother had taken her to Hollywood when she was just a teenager to try to get her into films which is what my own mother did with me. I was 15 when she took me to Rome to see if we could make it in the movies. Who knows, maybe my mother was inspired by Betty’s mom. How to Marry a Millionaire was one of Grable’s last films but she shone as bright as ever in it. The light of true stars like Betty Grable never dims.