Don Grant luxuriates in the black and white world of celebrity culture in the 1950s and 1960s.
The Years of La Dolce Vita
39a Canonbury Square, N1 2AN
Until 29 June 2014
Over at the V&A they have a somewhat unglamorous show called The Glamour of Italian Fashion, but if it’s real fascino you are after, then the Estorick has it in spades, and you can luxuriate in the black and white world of celebrity culture in the 1950s and 1960s.
Paparazzo was originally the name of a character in Fellini’s 1960 seminal film La Dolce Vita, played by Walter Santesso, who focused on the hedonists, partygoers and sybarites in Rome at that time. The man who inspired the character was actually an amalgam of photo-journalists, including Marcello Geppetti.
In real life, as opposed to reel life, the film stars, attracted by the relative inexpensiveness of Cinecittà were seen to be out and about the Eternal City, frequenting the restaurants, bars and night clubs of the exclusive Via Veneto and Tre Scalini in the Piazza Navona. Rino Barillari and Felice Qinto were fellow snappers, and there exists an uncredited photo of Rino being thumped by an American actor Mickey Hargitay, Jayne Mansfield’s husband, while top-model Vatussa Vitta smacks him with her purse. So the paparazzi being ‘papped.’
Geppeti had better luck when he shot Franco Nero smacking poor, old Rino again at the Trevi Fountain, scene of the most famous scene in La Dolce Vita, in which Anita Ekberg cavorts in a black velvet dress with no visible means of support. The Swedish bombshell made her home in Rome after the success of the Fellini film, and became fodder for the Italian press, and there is a photo of her driving her Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster in Rome in 1962 taken by Geppeti. She also attacked a couple of paparazzi, including Geppeti, firstly with a bow and arrow and then unladylike fists.
During this period, European actors like Brigitte Bardot, Alain Delon and Sophia Lauren mixed with big Hollywood stars, like John Wayne, Charlton Heston, Audrey Hepburn, Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Cary Grant, Kirk Douglas and Liz Taylor and were all in Rome, in full public view, to be snapped at will in what became known as ‘an open-air film-set’. Taylor and Richard Burton were famously snapped by Gepetti having a snog on a boat in Ischia off the Amalfi Coast, where the scenes on Cleopatra’s barge were shot.
There were other candid photos of Elizabeth Taylor sunbathing and swimming, taken by a ‘proper’ celebrity portrait photographer, Bert Stern. Arturo Zavattini worked as a cameraman for many great Italian directors including Vittorio De Sica, and produced some fascinating behind-the-scenes photographs on the set of La Dolce Vita, with Fellini’s full co-operation and consent.
There is, of course, an unsavoury side to this fascination with fame, which, ironically, is central to the theme of La Dolce Vita, and spawned a whole industry of stalking, intrusion and invasion of celebs’ privacy. Not a lot has changed in the last 50 years, and some would argue that it has got a lot worse, culminating in the death of Princess Diana, after being hounded by the paps.
Some people court the attention, including Lady Di herself in her early years, and then cannot control the monster they have created, and there are rakes of magazines devoted to this unhealthy obsession. For all our ‘guilty pleasure’ we take in them, there is, however, a certain schadenfreude coursing through our veins when the biter gets bit. The name of Max Clifford springs to mind, perhaps accompanied by the headline 'Gotcha! '
Originally published in Kensington and Chelsea Today.