SERGIO LEONE Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


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Name: Sergio Leone                                                                         
Born: 3 January 1929 Rome, Italy                                                           
Died: 30 April 1989                                                                         
Sergio Leone (January 3, 1929 – April 30, 1989) was an Italian film director.             
Leone is well-known for his spaghetti western films and his recognizable style             
of juxtaposing extreme close-up shots with lengthy long shots. His most well-known         
movies include The Man With No Name trilogy (which consists of A Fistful of                 
Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly), Once Upon a           
Time in the West and Once Upon A Time in America.                                           
Born in Rome, Leone was the son of the cinema pioneer, Vincenzo Leone (known as             
director Roberto Roberti), and the actress, Edvige Valcarenghi (Bice Waleran).             
He started working in the film industry at the age of 18.                                   
Leone began writing screenplays in the 1950s, primarily for the so-called "sword           
and sandal" (a.k.a. "peplum") historical epics, which were popular at the time.             
He also worked as an assistant director on several large-scale and high-profile             
runaway productions filmed at Cinecittà Studios in Rome, notably Quo Vadis (1951)         
and Ben-Hur (1959).                                                                         
When director Mario Bonnard fell ill during the production of the 1959 Italian             
epic, Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei (The Last Days of Pompeii), starring Steve               
Reeves, Leone was asked to step in and complete the film. As a result, when the             
time came to make his solo directorial debut with The Colossus of Rhodes (Il               
Colosso di Rodi, 1961), Leone was well-equipped to produce low-budget films,               
which looked and felt like Hollywood spectaculars.                                         
In the early 1960s, demand for historical epics collapsed, and Leone was                   
fortunate enough to be at the forefront of the genre that replaced it in the               
public's affections: the Western. His film A Fistful of Dollars (Per un pugno di           
dollari, 1964) was an early trend-setter in a genre that came to be known as the           
"spaghetti western". Based upon Akira Kurosawa's Edo-era samurai adventure                 
Yojimbo (1961), Leone's film elicited a legal challenge from the Japanese                   
director. A Fistful of Dollars is also notable for its establishment of Clint               
Eastwood as a star, who until that time had been an American television actor               
with few roles to his name.                                                                 
The look of A Fistful of Dollars was established partly by its budget and                   
Spanish locations, which presented a gritty, violent and morally complex vision             
of the American Old West. The film paid tribute to traditional American western             
movies, but significantly departed from them in storyline, plot,                           
characterization and mood. Leone deservedly gets credit for one, great                     
breakthrough in the western genre that is still followed today: in traditional             
western films, heroes and villains alike looked as if they had just stepped out             
of a fashion magazine, and the moral opposites were clearly drawn, even down to             
the hero wearing a white hat and the villain wearing a black hat. Leone's                   
characters were, in contrast, more "realistic" and complex: usually "lone wolves"           
in their behaviour; they rarely shaved, looked dirty and there was a strong                 
suggestion of body odour and a history of criminal behaviour. The characters               
were also morally ambiguous by appearing generously compassionate, or nakedly               
and brutally self-serving, as the situation demanded. This sense of realism                 
continues to affect western movies today, and has also been influential outside             
of the western genre. Many critics have called it ironic that an Italian                   
director who could not speak English, and had never even seen the American Old             
West, almost single-handedly redefined the typical vision of the American cowboy.           
According to Christopher Frayling's book Something to do with Death, Leone knew             
a great deal about the American Old West. It fascinated him as a child, which               
carried into his adulthood and his films.                                                   
Leone's next two films — For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and         
the Ugly (1966) — completed what has come to be known as the The Man With No             
Name trilogy (a.k.a. the Dollars trilogy), with each film being more financially           
successful and more technically proficient than its predecessor. All three films           
featured scores by the prolific composer Ennio Morricone. Leone had a personal             
way of shooting scenes with Morricone's music ongoing. Critics have often said             
that The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was the finest of the trilogy.                         
Based on the success of The Man With No Name trilogy, Leone was invited to the             
United States in 1967 to direct what he hoped would be his masterwork, Once Upon           
a Time in the West (C'era una volta il West) for Paramount Pictures. The film               
was shot mostly in Almería, Spain and Cinecitta in Rome. It was also briefly               
shot in Monument Valley, Utah. The film starred Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda,               
Jason Robards and Claudia Cardinale. Once Upon a Time in the West emerged as a             
long, violent, dreamlike meditation upon the mythology of the American Old West.           
The film was scripted by Leone's longtime friend and collaborator Sergio Donati.           
The story was written by Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento, both of whom               
went on to have significant careers as directors. Before its release, however,             
Once Upon a Time in the West was ruthlessly edited by Paramount, which perhaps             
contributed to its poor box-office results in the United States. Nevertheless,             
it was a huge hit in Europe and highly praised amongst North American film                 
students. It has come to be regarded by many as Leone's best film.                         
After Once Upon a Time in the West, Leone directed A Fistful of Dynamite, a.k.a.           
Duck, You Sucker (Giù la testa, 1971). Leone was originally just going to                 
produce the film, but due to artistic differences from then-director Peter                 
Bogdanovich, Leone was asked to direct the film instead. A Fistful of Dynamite             
is a Mexican Revolution action drama, starring James Coburn, as an Irish                   
revolutionary, and Rod Steiger, as a Mexican bandit who is conned into becoming             
a revolutionary.                                                                           
Leone continued to produce, and on occasion, step in to reshoot scenes in other             
films. One of these films was My Name Is Nobody (1973) by Tonino Valerii (though           
true participation of Leone in shooting is disputed ), a comedy                             
western film that poked fun at the spaghetti western genre. It starred Henry               
Fonda as an old gunslinger who watched "his" old West fade away before his very             
eyes. Terence Hill also starred in the film as the young stranger who helps                 
Fonda leave the dying West with style.                                                     
Leone's other productions included A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe (1975,                 
another western comedy starring Terence Hill); The Cat (Il gatto; 1977, starring           
Alberto Sordi and The Toy (Il giocattolo; 1979, starring Nino Manfredi). Leone             
also produced three comedies by actor/director Carlo Verdone, which were Fun Is             
Beautiful (Un Sacco Bello, 1980), Bianco, Rosso e Verdone (White, Red and                   
Verdone - Verdone means "strong green", a pun referring to the three colours of             
the Italian flag, the star and to director Verdone, 1981) and Troppo Forte (Great!,         
1986). During this period, Leone also directed various award-winning TV                     
commercials for European television.                                                       
Leone turned down the opportunity to direct The Godfather, in favor of working             
on another gangster story he had conceived before the offer of The Godfather.               
Leone devoted ten years on this project, based on the novel The Hoods by Harry             
Grey, which focused on a quartet of New York City Jewish gangsters of the 1920s             
and 1930s who had been friends since childhood. The finished film, Once Upon a             
Time in America (1984), starred Robert De Niro and James Woods. It was a                   
meditation on another aspect of popular American mythology, the role of greed               
and violence and their uneasy coexistence with the meaning of ethnicity and                 
friendship. The studio cut (only for the American market) its four-hour running             
time drastically, losing much of the sense of the complex narrative. The recut             
version flopped and received much criticism.                                               
The original version, projected in the rest of the world, received great                   
appreciation by the public and by critics.                                                 
When the integral version of the film was released on DVD in the USA, it gained             
major critical acclaim, with many critics hailing the film as a masterpiece.               
Leone died on April 30, 1989 of a heart attack. He was 60 years old. Leone was             
infamous for his compulsive eating, which led him to become obese.                         
Before his death in 1989, Leone was part way through planning yet another epic -           
this time on the siege of Leningrad during World War II.                                   
In his later years, Leone had a falling out of sorts with Clint Eastwood, his               
most famous actor. When Leone directed Once Upon a Time in America, he commented           
that Robert De Niro was a real actor, unlike Eastwood. However, the two made               
amends before Leone's death. In 1992, Eastwood directed Unforgiven, a                       
revisionist western for which he won an Oscar for best director. Leone was one             
of the two directors whom Eastwood dedicated it to, the other one was Don Siegel.           
In 2004, Leone's son, Andrea, published a long treatment for a film entitled A             
Place Only Mary Knows, written by Sergio Leone, Luca Morsella and Fabio Toncelli.           
It is a story about two soldiers during the U.S. Civil War.                                 
Critical opinion of Leone's film contributions was initially mixed, partly                 
because the spaghetti western was initially considered a low-prestige genre.               
However, today Leone is widely acclaimed as a master filmmaker, receiving a 94%             
average filmography rating on Rotten Tomatoes.                                             
Leone's largest fanbase, however, has always been fellow directors. Among the               
many filmmakers who have claimed reference or inspiration by Leone's films                 
include: Sam Peckinpah, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, John Milius, George             
Lucas, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Gore Verbinski and Stanley Kubrick (for         
his film Barry Lyndon). The cultural impact of Leone's films, particularly his             
early westerns, is also immense. The showdown sequences, the amoral lead                   
characters and Morricone's musical scores have become icons of cinema and pop