Grande dame of Italian pics penned 'The Bicycle Thief'

ROME – Screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico, who became the grande dame of postwar Italian cinema through her versatile visual storytelling talent, instrumental to such classics as “The Bicycle Thief,” “Big Deal on Madonna Street,” “Rocco and His Brothers” and “The Leopard,” died July 30 in Rome. She was 96.

No cause of death was given for Cecchi d’Amico, who had been wheelchair-bound for some time.

Born Susanna Giovanna Cecchi into an intellectual family — her father, Emilio Cecchi, was a prominent literary critic — Cecchi d’Amico, who took on a double surname after marrying music and theater critic Fedele d’Amico in 1938, began penning screenplays in the early 1940s. She got her start thanks to neorealist director Renato Castellani, who recruited her on a romancer, curiously titled “Avatar,” which never got made, and then on the 1946 drama “Mio figlio professore,” starring Aldo Fabrizi as a widowed single dad.

Just a few years later Cecchi d’Amico collaborated with Vittorio De Sica and the writing team behind the 1948 “Bicycle Thief.” After that she broke into the largely male-dominated Cinema Italiano world and went on to forge a close creative rapport with many of the country’s best directors, including Luchino Visconti, Mario Monicelli, Francesco Rosi, Michelangelo Antonioni and Franco Zeffirelli, in the course of a prolific career spanning six decades and more than 110 titles.

Cecchi d’Amico’s longest collaboration was with Visconti, for whom she became a regular screenwriter, starting with Anna Magnani starrer “Bellissima” (1951) and continuing with, among others, “Senso” (1954), “Rocco and His Brothers” (1960) and “The Leopard” (1963), the grand Sicilian epic starring Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale (a restored version of which unspooled this year in Cannes, where it also took the Palme d’Or in 1963).

But it was Cecchi d’Amico’s equally brilliant knack for well-observed comedies that made her an ideal match for Mario Monicelli. Their collaborations include “Big Deal on Madonna Street”; “Casanova ’70,” a contempo adaptation of Casanova’s amorous adventures, which earned her an Oscar nomination, along with other co-writers; and, more recently, the bittersweet gem “Speriamo che sia femmina” (Let’s Hope It’s a Girl) in 1986.

“More than having worked with her, I can say that I lived with her,” said longtime friend Monicelli, who is 95. “We would meet in the morning and talk about everything, from our personal lives to politics. That’s how our ideas would spring forth. Then we would spend the second half of the day crafting stories.”

Zeffirelli, with whom she worked on “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” and the TV skein “Jesus of Nazareth,” called her “an extraordinary screenwriter” but also a good-hearted woman who was “a mom and a sister to all of us.”

This is how Cecchi d’Amico described her craft: “A screenwriter is not a writer: He is a filmmaker, and as such he must not chase words, but images. He has to write with his eyes.”

Cecchi d’Amico won scores of Italian awards, including numerous David di Donatello prizes, along with the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion for lifetime achievement in 1994. The Writers Guild of America gave her the Jean Renoir Award for Screenwriting Achievement in 2009.

She is survived by three children, Caterina, a former RAI Cinema chief; Masolino, a theater critic; and Silvia, a producer.

A funeral is scheduled for Aug. 2 in Rome’s Santa Maria del Popolo.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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