Hollywood On The Tiber



Cinecittà, "The City of Cinema" inaugurated by Italy's fascist leader Benito Mussolini in 1937, has had an extraordinary history. Some of the most iconic films of the 1950s and 60s - such as Roman Holiday, Ben Hur, War and Peace and La Dolce Vita - were shot in these famous studios, the largest in Europe. In that period huge numbers of American directors, producers and actors colonised Rome, attracted by the lower costs and skilled local craftsmen - and the city's undoubted other charms. Stars like Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra could be spotted in the city's bars and nightclubs, the scandalous affair of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton blossomed on the set of Cleopatra and filled the international gossip columns. It was the also the birth of the paparazzi (named after the celebrity photographer Paparazzo in Fellini's 1960 film La Dolce Vita).

But only a few years earlier, Cinecittà had been ransacked by the German Army and, when the Allied forces liberated Rome in 1944, the studios were turned into a refugee camp where hundreds of orphaned children played and slept among the broken Corinthian columns from old film sets. The post-war American revival of Cinecittà took place even as the last refugees were still living there.

Mukti Jain Campion meets producer Sandy Lieberson, film scholar Noa Steimatsky and award-winning costume maker Giampaolo Grassi, who recall Rome in its exciting film-making heyday, when Time magazine dubbed it "Hollywood on the Tiber".

Producer Mukti Jain Campion

A Culture Wise production for BBC Radio 4.