Edgy, more like Brando, Newman or McQueen.
Genoa-born Vittorio Gassman was a BIG star in Italy both onstage and in the movies. His voice was distinctive, and critics said he could make a recitation of the local phone book sound interesting.
He was good at playing slightly haughty characters both kind and sadistic simultaneously. He never conquered Hollywood but managed key supporting parts in some big pictures. His late career turn towards devil-make-care comedy pleased audiences.
Perhaps he is best remembered in Hollywood circles as Shelley Winters’ second husband. We know this because Winters told us in her autobiography, Shelley Also Known As Shirley, published in 1980 and taking us from her St. Louis beginnings as Shirley Schrift through her disastrous union to Gassman. (Winters’ subsequent third-marriage to actor Anthony Franciosa is not mentioned in this volume.)
Winters said without a lot of hyperbole that she and the Italian actor had for the first half of their marriage to surmount a difficult language barrier. Things went south in a hurry since the union was brief, two years from 1952 to 1954. Winters pops up in one of Gassman’s efforts, 1954’s Mambo directed by Robert Rossen.
Among Gassman’s most memorable films was 1974’s Profumo di Donna (Scent of a Woman) in which he plays a blind Italian accompanied by a military-mandated aide. The role won international plaudits and a best actor award for Gassman at the Cannes Film Festival. (The 1992 American remake starred Al Pacino in the Gassman role.)
Gassman also turned up in an occasional Hollywood spectacle such as King Vidor’s 1956 version of War and Peace with Audrey Hepburn.
And he pops up in director Richard Fleischer’s 1961 spectacle Barabbas with Anthony Quinn.
Gassman’s career was lengthy, lasting more than 50 years. His combined stage and film output merited him an informal designation as Italy’s Laurence Olivier. He died in Rome in 2000 at the age of 77.