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01 December 2016

Renzo Ricci

Renzo Ricci (1899-1978) was an Italian stage and screen actor and also stage director. The modern theatre, focused so strongly at the introspection of the characters, found in Ricci one of its most careful forerunners. At the end of his career he worked with the great film directors Michelangelo Antonioni, Roberto Rosselini and Luchino Visconti.

Renzo Ricci
Italian postcard by SIF, no. 49. Photo: Vettori Bologna.

Renzo Ricci
Italian postcard, no. 3067. Photo: Vettori, Bologna.

Always looking for new experiences


Renzo Ricci was born in Firenze (Florence), Italy in 1899. He was trained at the Accademia dei Fidenti. Ricci started working as a professional in 1915 at the famous Gramatica-Carini-Piperno company with actress Emma Gramatica.

He married the stage actress Margherita Bagni, daughter of Ambrogio Bagni and Ines Cristina. Their daughter, Nora Ricci, would also become an important prose actress and first wife of Vittorio Gassman. Ricci later remarried with actress Eva Magni, with whom he formed a stage company after World War II.

He worked with some of the great innovating directors of the Italian theatre. Guido Salvini directed him in La Nave by Gabriele d'Annunzio, which in 1928 opened the season of the Italian director's renewal. Renato Simoni directed him in Adelchi by Alessandro Manzoni in 1940. He also worked with Luchino Visconti on his famous production of Troilus and Cressida staged in the Boboli Gardens in Florence in 1949.

In 1946 Ricci proposed to the young Giorgio Strehler to re-stage Caligula by Albert Camus for which he had presented the world premiere in Geneva, at the Théâtre de la Comédie. For Strehler, Ricci would also play Richard III, at the Piccolo Teatro in 1950, Firs in The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov (1972) and the Plenipotentiary in Jean Genet's Balcony (1976), which would also be his last performance.

Always looking for new and current experiences, Ricci created a vast and committed repertory, which included the major classic and modern authors from Italy and from abroad. He starred in the Italian premiere of Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill, for which he also did the direction, in collaboration with Virginio Puecher in 1957. For his performance, he won the San Genesio Prize, an Italian stage award which existed between 1954 and 1968.

From the mid-1930s till the 1960s, Ricci also was active as a voice actor. He also did performances of stage plays on RAI radio in the 1950s, including The Fourposter by Jan de Hartog, directed by Ricci himself.

Renzo Ricci
Italian postcard by SIF, no. 979. Photo: Vettori, Bologna.

Renzo Ricci in Otello.
Italian postcard by Fotostampa Angeli, Terni. Photo: A. Terzoli, Roma. Ricci played a mature Otello (Othello) under direction of Maner Lualdi in 1964, at the Teatro San'Erasmo in Milan.

Marcella Albani in Corte d'Assise (1930)
Italian postcard. Photo: Produzione Cines-Pittaluga. From left to right: Lya Franca, Renzo Ricci, Marcella Albani, Mercedes Brignone, and far right Elio Steiner, in the court case melodrama Corte d'Assise (Guido Brignone, 1931).

The great modern actor


When sound cinema set in in Italy, Renzo Ricci started his career as film actor. His first part was in the court case drama Corte d’Assise/Before the Jury (Guido Brignone, 1930), starring Elio Steiner, Lya FrancaMarcella Albani and Carlo Ninchi. It was the second Italian sound feature after La canzone dell’amore/The Song of Love (1930) directed by Gennaro Righelli. The film is now seen as a precursor to the later genre of Giallo films.

Ricci reunited with Ninchi in the mountain drama La Wally (Guido Brignone, 1932), starring Germana Paolieri, and with Ricci as her jealous suitor. After two more films in the early 1930s, the comedy Ninì Falpalà (Amleto Palermi, 1933) with Dina Galli and Ricci in the lead, and Aurora sul mare (Giorgio SImonelli, 1934), Ricci stopped acting in film.

In 1940, he returned to play ‘the great modern actor’ next to Ermete Zacconi, Irma Grammatica, Memo Benassi and other ‘monstres sacrés’ of the Italian stage in L’Orizzonte dipinto/The Painted Horizon (Guido Salvini, 1940). Valentina Cortese had her debut in this film. After another film, Turbamento/Perturbation (Guido Brignone, 1941), Ricci stayed off the film set for more than a decade.

In 1953, he returned to the screen as Petronius in the historical epic Nerone e Messalina/Nero and the Burning of Rome (Primo Zeglio, 1953), with Gino Cervi and Yvonne Sanson in the title roles. In the Italian-French biopic Casta Diva (Carmine Gallone, 1954) on the life of composer Vincenzo Bellini (played by Maurice Ronet), Ricci was the judge Fumaroli, with whose daughter Maddalena (Antonella Lualdi) Bellini falls in love.

Perhaps most famous Ricci is for his supporting parts in a series of films of the early 1960s made by famous directors. In L’Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960) he was the father of Anna (Lea Massari), the girl who mysteriously disappears at the start of the film. In Viva l’Italia/Garibaldi (Roberto Rossellini, 1961), Ricci played the legendary Giuseppe Garibaldi, leading his military campaign of volunteers, the Thousand (I Mille), who embarked for Sicily to free Southern Italy from the Bourbon rule. This was the film director Rossellini stated he was proudest of.

After the peplum Io, Semiramide/I am Semiramis (Primo Zeglio, 1962), starring Yvonne Furneaux, Ricci played in Luchino Visconti’s Vaghe stelle dell’Orsa/Sandra (1965) the family lawyer Gilardini, stepfather of the protagonists Sandra (Claudia Cardinale) and Gianni (Jean Sorel). Particularly Sandra hates Gilardini, as she suspects that her mother (Marie Bell) and he are responsible for the death of her father, the Jewish scientist Wald-Luzzati, killed in a concentration camp. Instead Gilardini accuses Sandra and Gianni of incest. The film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

After this, Ricci quitted the film set again, but he returned for one last performance, a small part in Patrice Chéreau’s excellent thriller La chair de l’orchidée/The Flesh of the Orchid (1975), starring Charlotte Rampling. Renzo Ricci died in Milan, Italy in 1978. He was 79.

Germana Paolieri and Renzo Ricci in La Wally (1932)
Italian postcard, no. 70. Photo: Cines-Pittalugafor. Publicity still for La Wally (Guido Brignone 1932), starring Germana Paolieri as Wally and with Renzo Ricci as her jealous lover.

Renzo Ricci and Laura Adani
Italian postcard. Publicity card for Fiat, La nuova Balilla. The actors Renzo Ricci and Laura Adani in a Fiat car.

Renzo Ricci
Italian postcard by A. Terzeli, Roma, no. 59. Photo: Foto Luxardo.

Sources: Wikipedia (Italian and English) and IMDb.

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