Totò (1898-1967) was the stage name of Prince Antonio de Curtis; a life dedicated to show business, from the first steps in variety shows to the consecration with Pasolini’s films, he starred in over 100 much-loved movies that made him one of the nation’s favorite comic actors, along with Alberto Sordi. These classics are still frequently screened on Italian TV and continue to have modern viewers in stitches.
The rubber-faced Neapolitan comedian embodied the nobility of misery; in a depressed social political and economic scenario, he became the celebrity of the poor in which the “ill-treated” and oppressed popular audience could identify. The character of Totò rebelled with every mean at his disposal: with the smirk, with the sneer of the unruly subject, but above all with the word. The repertoire of his verbal invention is immense and its richness and diversity has attracted the attention of important linguists. He ridiculed the pompous, courtly, official Italian language playing with the meaning and sound of existing words and creating new ones at a time when Italians were still divided between the national language, who they wished to master, and the still popular dialects.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the his death Naples’ Federico II University awarded Totò a posthumous honorary degree in “Music and Performing Arts Disciplines. History and Theory”. Naples Mayor Luigi de Magistris commented: “Totò has received a degree. He’ll be having a laugh about it in heaven,” adding that the city was making headway with plans to open a museum dedicated to the actor.
Ilona Catani Scarlett