Prince Antonio Griffo Focas Flavio Angelo Ducas Comneno Porfirogenito Gagliardi De Curtis di Bisanzio, best known by his stage name Totò (15 February 1898 – 15 April 1967) or as Antonio De Curtis, and nicknamed il Principe della risata (“the Prince of laughter”), was an Italian comedian, film and theatre actor, writer, singer and songwriter. He is widely considered one of the greatest Italian artists of the 20th century. While he first gained his popularity as a comic actor, his dramatic roles, his poetry, and his songs are all deemed to be outstanding; his style and a number of his recurring jokes and gestures have become universally known memes in Italy. As a comic actor, Totò is classified as an heir of the Commedia dell’Arte tradition, and has been compared to such figures as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.
He starred in about one hundred movies; while many of them were low profile, box-office driven productions, they tend to be all appreciated by the critics, at the very least, for Totò’s performances many classify as masterpieces of Italian cinema. Prominent Italian directors and actors that have worked with Totò include Mario Monicelli, Alberto Lattuada, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Eduardo De Filippo, Peppino de Filippo, Aldo Fabrizi, Vittorio De Sica, Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale, Marcello Mastroianni, Nino Manfredi, Vittorio Gassman and Alberto Sordi. In 1922, he moved to Rome to perform in bigger theatres. He performed in the genre of avanspettacolo, a vaudevillian mixture of music, ballet and comedy preceding the main act. He became adept at these shows, and in the 1930s he had his own company, with which he travelled across Italy.
In 1937, he appeared in his first movie Fermo con le mani, and later starred in other 96 films, many of which are still frequently broadcast on Italian television. As the vast majority of his movies where essentially meant to showcase his performances, many have his name “Totò” in the title. Some of his best-known films are Fifa e Arena, Totò al Giro d’Italia, Totò Sceicco, Guardie e ladri, Totò e le donne, Totò Tarzan, Totò terzo uomo, Totò a colori, the first Italian color movie (1952) in Ferraniacolor, I soliti ignoti, Totò, Peppino e la malafemmina, La legge è legge. In Pierpaolo Pasolini’s The Hawks and the Sparrows and the episode Che cosa sono le nuvole from Capriccio all’italiana , he displayed his dramatic skills. These roles gave him the artistic acknowledgment that had eluded him so far by more stringent critics, who only began to recognize his talent after his death.
In his vast cinematographic career, Totò had the opportunity to act side by side with virtually all major Italian actors of the time. With some of them he paired in several films, the most renowned and successful teams being established with Aldo Fabrizi and Peppino De Filippo. Totò’s unmistakable figure, with his peculiarly irregular face, and his unique trademark ability to disarticulate his body like a marionette, soon became very popular and his comic gags became part of the Italian culture. His typical character is uneducated, poor, vain, snobbish, selfish, naive, opportunist, hedonistic, lascivious and generally immoral, although fundamentally good-hearted.
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