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Mastroianni dead at 72

Marcello Mastroianni, the suave but humorous Italian actor who starred in landmark Federico Fellini films and dozens of romantic comedies, has died. His Italian agent Giovanna Cau said Mastroianni passed away Thursday morning at his home in Paris and gave no cause of death. Italian media said the 72-year-old actor had been suffering from cancer of the pancreas.

Mastroianni had his first international success in 1960 in director Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita,” whose scene of a young Mastroianni splashing in the Trevi Fountain in Rome with Swedish actress Anita Ekberg is one of cinema’s indelible images.

The city of Rome said it would turn off the water at the fountain, douse the lights and drape the monument in black cloth at 5 p.m. Thursday as a mark of respect.

Despite his reluctance to go Hollywood, Mastroianni was one of the few foreign-born actors to achieve international stardom via his many co-starring roles with Sophia Loren and as Fellini’s screen alter ego.

‘Unheroic hero’

Mastroianni’s onscreen persona was as “the imperfect man, the unheroic hero,” as director Michelangelo Antonioni once summed him up. Mastroianni himself was modest about his appeal, once saying, “”When I was a kid … I had a chest that looked like a basket and two bird’s legs. I’m not handsome and I never have been.”

Many would disagree. Mastroianni was a passive love object, whom women could not resist. Off-screen, his highly publicized romances with the likes of Faye Dunaway and Catherine Deneuve, his longtime companion, only served to enhance his reputation as a sex symbol.

But Mastroianni was also capable of fine dramatic work, earning three actor nominations from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, which only occasionally recognized acting work in non-English-language films. The three nods were for the satire “Divorce, Italian Style,” about a would-be murderous Lothario; “A Special Day,” in which he played a gay man in Mussolini’s Italy; and “Dark Eyes,” in which he appeared as an aged Chekhovian lover.

Creme de la creme

Mastroianni worked with the aristocracy of Italian cinema: Antonioni, Ettore Scola, Luchino Visconti, Pietro Germi and Vittorio de Sica. And in later years he occasionally took English-language roles in Hollywood-financed films such as “Used People” and Robert Altman’s “Ready to Wear.” But it was with Fellini and opposite Loren that he is best remembered.

Marcelo Vincenzo Domenico Mastroianni was born Sept. 28, 1924, in the town of Fontana Liri near Rome. When he was five his family moved to Turin and, eventually, Rome. After completing his schooling as a surveyor, Mastroianni worked in his father’s carpentry shop. During World War II he drew maps for the Italian army and was sent to a forced labor camp in the Alps.

Rather than be deported to Germany, he escaped from the camp and hid out in Venice until the end of the war, scraping up some sort of living drawing pictures.

In 1944, after the Italian armistice, he was employed as a cashier for Eagle Lion Films in Rome while taking courses at the city’s university and joining its amateur theater group. There he met two other aspiring actors, Fellini and his wife, Giulietta Masina. In 1948 he made his debut in the university’s production of “Angelica,” pulling down charitable reviews. That year he married a fellow student, Flora Carabella, with whom he had a daughter, Barbara. They remained married till his death despite Mastroianni’s several extra-curricular liaisons and relationship with Deneuve, which produced a daughter, Chiara. Carabella was among the mourners honoring Mastroianni at the Trevi fountain in Rome.

Through an introduction to theater director Visconti, Mastroianni learned his craft onstage over the next 10 years appearing in productions of “Death of a Salesman,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Uncle Vanya” and “The Miser.” Although he made his screen debut in a bit part in the 1947 Italian version “I Miserabili,” his first true assignment came two years later in “Domenica D’Agosto.” His films over the next few years, such as “Le Ragazze di Piazza di Spagna” and “Febb di Vivere,” brought little acclaim or attention.

“Chronicle of Poor Lovers,” in 1954, his first film opposite Loren, made him a star in Italy. Two years later, he came to the attention of the world audience in Visconti’s “White Nights” with Maria Schell and Jean Marais. And he was lovable and bumbling in Mario Monicelli’s “Big Deal on Madonna Street” (I Soliti Ignoti) in 1958.

‘Dolce’ success

The movie that sent his career soaring was 1960’s “La Dolce Vita,” a bitter ode to contemporary decadence. “Vita” drew Fellini away from neo-realism toward a more expressionistic style of film. “In ‘La Dolce Vita’ I found my first real role where it was all me,” Mastroianni later told Newsweek. It was followed by “8-1/2,” Fellini’s autobiographical film about the director’s creative block and romantic follies, with Mastroanni again feeling his oats.

Further decadence followed in Antonioni’s “La Notte” in 1962. Mastroianni as the foolish lover began with “Bell’Antonio” in 1960 and continued with “Divorce Italian Style” in 1962 and his first Oscar nomination.

Over the next decade Mastroianni continued to expand his breadth and range. He furthered his association with Loren in such comedic successes as “Marriage Italian Style,” “The Priest’s Wife,” and the classic De Sica comedy “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” He appeared in Elio Petri’s 1965 futuristic thriller “The Tenth Victim,” as a labor organizer in Germi’s “The Organizer,” Visconti’s 1967 “The Stranger,” based on Camus’ existential novel, and Scola’s “Dramma della Gelosia.” Outside of Italy he appeared in John Boorman’s “Leo the Last” in 1970, Yves Robert’s “Salut L’Artiste,” Jacques Demy’s “A Slightly Pregnant Man” and Roman Polanski’s “What?” in 1972.

But it was in Italian films that he continued to make his most impressive showings. For the Taviani brothers he appeared in 1974’s “Allonsanfan,” for the new generation’s Marco Ferreri he starred in “La Grande Bouffe” (1973) and “Bye Bye Monkey” (1978), for Lina Wertmuller, 1979’s “Revenge,” for Lilia Cavani, “La Pelle” (1980) and, best of all, for Marco Bellochio 1983’s “Henry IV,” based on the Pirandello play.

Aging gracefully

As his slick, matinee idol looks faded, Mastroanni was freed to use the ravages of time to further shade and add dimension to his acting. In 1977, opposite Loren, he starred memorably in Scola’s “A Perfect Day,” as an aging gay man hiding out from Mussolini’s police. It brought him a second Oscar nomination. He played an aging Casanova in Scola’s 1981 historical film “La Nuit de Varennes.” He returned to the Fellini fold in “City of Women” in 1979, “Ginger and Fred” in 1985 and “Intervista” in 1987.

For yet another generation of Italian directors he starred in Francesca Archibugi’s “Verso Sera” in 1990 and Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Stanno Tutti Bene” the same year.

He starred opposite Jack Lemmon in a tepid Scola comedy called “Macaroni” in 1985 and in Greek helmer Teo Angelopoulos’ “The Beekeeper” in 1986.

Approaching 70, Mastroianni still didn’t slow down. He made his official Hollywood debut in Beeban Kidron’s “Used People” in 1992 opposite Shirley MacLaine. He starred in Maria Luisa Bemberg’s “Do Eso No Se Habla” in 1993 and, in a spoof of his Italian lover role, with Loren again in Robert Altman’s 1994 fashion lark “Ready to Wear.”

With more than 120 films to his credit over a period of 50 years, it was Mastroianni himself who perhaps delivered his own epitaph: “In front of a camera, I feel solid, satisfied. Away from it I am empty, confused.”

Italian radio, reporting from Paris, said Mastroianni had died at dawn and that friends, including many from the film world, went to his house in the French capital to pay respects.

The Italian news agency ANSA said his funeral would be held in Rome, with a small private ceremony in Paris. It gave no dates for either event.

French radio stations said Mastroianni’s companion Deneuve, their daughter Chiara and actor Michel Piccoli were at his side when he died. His daughter Barbara also was present, his agent Cau said.

(Reuters contributed to this report.)

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