- Category : Film - Director
- Type : GE
- Profile : 4/6 - Opportunistic / Role Model
- Definition : Triple Split
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Explanation 1
Franco Zeffirelli, KBE (Italian pronunciation: born 12 February 1923 is an Italian director and producer of films and television.
He is also a director and designer of operas and a former senator (1994–2001) for the Italian centre-right Forza Italia party.
He is principally known for his 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award, although his 1967 version of The Taming of the Shrew (with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton) remains the best-known film adaptation of that play as well. His mini-series Jesus of Nazareth won acclaim and is still shown on Easter weekend in many countries.
He was the first Italian national to receive an honorary knighthood from the British government when he was created a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
He was awarded the Premio Colosseo in 2009 by the city of Rome.
Zeffirelli was born in Florence as Gianfranco Corsi, the illegitimate son of a mercer, Ottorino Corsi, and his mistress, Adelaide Garosi, a dressmaker. When he was six years old, his mother died and he subsequently grew up under the auspices of the English expatriate community and was particularly involved with the so-called Scorpioni, who inspired his semi-autobiographical 1999 film Tea With Mussolini.
He graduated from the Accademia di Belle Arti Firenze in 1941 and, following his father's advice, entered the University of Florence to study art and architecture. After World War II broke out, he fought as a partisan, before he met up with British soldiers of the 1st Scots Guards and became their interpreter. After the war, he re-entered the University of Florence to continue his studies, but when he saw Henry V in 1945, he directed his attention toward theatre instead.
While working for a scenic painter in Florence, he was introduced to and hired by Luchino Visconti, who made him the assistant director for the film La Terra trema, which was released in 1948. Visconti's methods, had a deep impact upon Zeffirelli's later work. He also worked with directors such as Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini. In the 1960s he made his name designing and directing his own plays in London and New York, and soon transferred his ideas to cinema.
Zeffirelli's first film as director was a version of The Taming of the Shrew, originally intended for Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni but finally including the Hollywood stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton instead. Taylor and Burton helped fund production and took a percentage of the profits rather than their normal salaries.
Zeffirelli's major breakthrough came the year after when he presented two teenagers as Romeo and Juliet, the perfect subject for 1968. The movie is still immensely popular and was for many years the standard adaptation of the play shown to students. This movie also made Zeffirelli a household name - no other subsequent work by him had the immediate impact of Romeo and Juliet.
After two successful film adaptations of Shakespeare, Zeffirelli went on to religious themes, first with a film about the life of St. Francis of Assisi titled Brother Sun, Sister Moon, then his extended mini-series Jesus of Nazareth with an all-star cast. The latter was a major success in the ratings and has been frequently shown on TV in the years since.
He moved on to contemporary themes with a remake of the boxing picture The Champ (1979) and the critically panned Endless Love. In the 1980s he made a series of successful films adapting opera to the screen, with such stars as Placido Domingo, Teresa Stratas, Juan Pons, and Katia Ricciarelli. He returned to Shakespeare with Hamlet, casting the then–action hero Mel Gibson in the lead role. His 1996 adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre was a critical success.
Zeffirelli frequently cast unknown actors in major roles; however his leads have rarely gone on to stardom or even a sustained acting career. Leonard Whiting (Romeo in Romeo and Juliet), Graham Faulkner (St. Francis in Brother Sun, Sister Moon), and Martin Hewitt (in Endless Love) all left the film business after failing to secure similar high-profile roles. The female leads in those films (Olivia Hussey and Brooke Shields) have attained far greater success in the industry.
Zeffirelli has also been a major director of opera productions since the 1950s in Italy, Europe, and the U.S. He began his career in the theatre as assistant to Luchino Visconti. Then he tried his hand at scenography. His first work as a director was buffo operas by Rossini. He became a friend of Maria Callas, and they worked together on a La Traviata in Dallas in 1958. Of particular note is his 1964 Royal Opera House production of Tosca with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi. In the same year, he created Callas' last Norma at the Paris Opera. Zeffirelli also collaborated often with Dame Joan Sutherland, designing and directing her performances of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor in 1959 amongst others. He has over the years created several productions for the Metropolitan Opera in New York, including La bohème, Tosca, and Turandot.
In November 2004, he was awarded an honorary knighthood by the United Kingdom.
In 1996, for services to the arts, he was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Kent at a graduation ceremony held in Canterbury Cathedral. In 1999 he received the Crystal Globe award for outstanding artistic contribution to world cinema at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
Zeffirelli is openly gay. He has received criticism from religious groups for what they call the blasphemous representation of biblical figures in his films and also criticism from members of the gay community for publicly backing the Roman Catholic Church with regard to homosexual issues. Director Bruce Robinson claimed to have been the target of unwanted sexual advances by Zeffirelli during the filming of Romeo and Juliet, in which Robinson played Benvolio. Robinson says that he based the lecherous character of Uncle Monty in the film Withnail and I on Zeffirelli.
In 2007, disappointed with the manner in which Pope Benedict XVI had been presenting himself to the media, Zeffirelli openly offered his services to the Pontiff as an image consultant. In connection with this matter, he was quoted as saying "I am a Christian down to the depths of my spirit."