Vittorio Gassman: Legacy, life of Italian cinema’s cherished actor

Vittorio Gassman in mid 90s, Pic. Getty Images
Vittorio Gassman in mid 90s, Pic. Getty Images

One of the greatest Italian actors Vittorio Gassman had roots in theatre, the history of which is broad. Stage acts started in the world in the early 5th century in Greece and became globally popular.

But, commercial movies started screening only in the late 90s of the 19th century. By then, acting, directing, and screenwriting soon became a trend in the entertainment world. Gradually every part of the world began enjoying story-based motion pictures.

Likely, in 1930, Italy produced its first sound recorded film, The Song of Love. After that, with the flow of time, Italians started making movies with established technology, with depth in writing and acting. Till then, the cinema had been widely accepted as a professional occupation.

Gassman’s entry in acting

Gassman entered into the acting field through theatre and classical stage. He studied theatre and art in high school, debuted in 1943, and performed exceptionally fine within a few years in the classical stage. He had already played in more than 40 dramas before his big-screen debut. His first play was Niccodemi’s La Nemica with Alda Borelli; and performed a lot of dramas of Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, and ancient Greek mythology.

Gassman’s start of a vintage career

There was a time in the Italian box office when every screen featured Vittorio Gassman. He is one of the greatest and most successful actors in Italian cinema. Love Prelude (1946) is his first movie through which he received a lot of recognition. He became an international sensation over a year and signed five big-screen scripts and got his career turning breakthrough in 1949 from Bitter Rice, where he portrayed the character of a criminal.

The Italian actor’s international debut

In the early 50s, Gassman launched himself in Hollywood. His good looks, pure accent, and fluency in English helped a lot in his abroad career. He gave numbers of hit cinema and stage work there with the likes of, The Glass Wall (1953) and Rhapsody (1954). He was soon praised and admired by international directors, producers, and screenwriters. 

Controversial private life

Vittorio Gassman was born as the second child of Heinrich Gassman and Luisa Amborn on 1st September 1922 in Genoa. Later on, he moved to Rome and completed a theatre course at the Silvio D’Amico National Academy of Dramatic Arts. He was a fantastic basketball player during his early age and wanted to be a lawyer but was motivated by his mother for the stage works.

Tall, dark, and handsome — Italian actor Gassman always got dragged to dispute for his intentional, and unconventional comments in public. His divorces, scandals, and extramarital affairs caused a lot of problems throughout his life. He was fragile in his relationship and ended up with three “claimed” marriages.

Vittorio Gassman with his wife Shelley Winters, Pic. Getty Images

Details about Gassman’s partners, children

Nora Ricci, Italian actress and the mother of Paola Gassman, was engaged with Vittorio in 1944. They had plenty of healthy life together but their bonding lasted only till 1952. After his divorce in the same year, he married American actress Shelley Winters. He met her on a Europe tour and followed her to America. Because of this abroad marriage, he got introduced to different Hollywood veterans. Although their conjugal life lasted two years, they had a daughter, Vittoria Gassman.

In between a couple of scandals, the Italian actor had been linked with French actress Juliette Mayniel. They never married but Mayniel gave birth to a son with Vittorio, Alessandro Gassman, in 1965. After a lot of ups and downs in his unstable affairs, in 1970, he married a 22 years younger actress Diletta D’Andrea. Their connection was much better than with others. As a result, they enjoyed a healthy matrimonial life ahead. Jacopo Gassman, his youngest son, was from Diletta.

Vittorio Gassman’s filmography

From the company of Luchino Visconti, Gassman embraced successive roles as Italian theatre, opera, and cinema director. He, alongside his co-workers Paolo Stoppa, Rina Morelli, and Paolo Borboni was the best stars in their prime. Gassman earned the title of producer after producing the first complete Italian version of Hamlet.

He also founded a theatre school, Bottega Teatrale di Firenze, then. It still produces talented actors, directors, and screenwriters. Further on, he founded the Teatro Popolare Italiano, a travelling theatre group.

The Mysterious Cavalier (1948), War and Peace (1956), The Last Judgement (1961), Barabbas (1961), Ghosts, Italian Styles (1967), In the name of Italian People (1971), Papal Audience (1972), Scent of a Woman (1974), Quintet (1979), Sharky’s Machine (1981), The Family (1987), Mortacci (1989), etc. are some of the Italian box office record-breakers starring Vittorio Gassman.

Italian comedy superstar with multi talented skills

He introduced himself as a comedy superstar and was very fond of his comic roles, but never really enjoyed playing romantic protagonists in movies.

He said, “An actor has to change his ideas very frequently. Otherwise, what kind of actor is he?” adding, “I have done 150 plays and 130 or 140 films, 50 or 60 of which if I had not done them it would not have mattered, and it might even have been better.”

“They wanted to make me a romantic hero, which I am not and never could be,” claimed Vittorio, regarding his passion and love towards comedy.

He directed a few movies after the mid of 50s. He enjoyed managing the set of Kean (1956), L’Alibi (1969), and Without Family (1972).

His dubbing skills exemplified a masterpiece in narrating Romeo and Juliet (1968), and The Lion King (1994). He has worked as a narrator on a few TV shows also, showing his professionalism. His talent, purity, and versatility proved his worth in a variety of roles. Regardless of being top-rated in cinemas, he never left the theatre which showed his down to earth nature.

Forever IL Mattatore – Italian actor Gassman

Vittorio Gassman cast as Gerardo Latini in IL Mattatore. It is an Italian TV series where he performed superbly purely and received the nickname “IL Mattatore” afterwards.

Vittorio Gassman in the shooting of Il Mattatore. Pic: Pinterest

Othello’s production hired him in 1956 for the series. This year became a major turning point in his career. Till now, Vittorio Gassman is recognized as “IL Mattatore”. His sense of humour and perfect timing in comic delivery made him successful in the comedy genre.


Gassman, well established, appreciated, and loved by the community, has left his mark in the cinematic world. The audience is god for the actors and their recognition means everything. The public recognised Gassman’s worth and was presented with various national and international awards.

He won the David di Donatello Award, organized by Academia del Cinema Italiano in various categories for twelve times. The scent of a Woman (1975) provided him with two awards, Cannes Best Actor and David di Donatello for Best Actor. He was seven times Best Actor winner for The Great War (1960), Il Sorpasso (1963), Hard Time for Princes (1965), The Tiger and the Pussycat (1967), Dear Father (1979), and The Family (1987) in the David di Donatello awards categories.

Likewise, he also received the International Theatrical Olimpo Award (1958), Golden Medal of the Minister of Tourism Award (1982), Special Plate Award (1984), and Special Award (1991) again for David di Donatello. In the year 1996, he received two medals for Career Award and Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement Award. Lastly, in the late 90s, he was honoured by the Honorary Moliere Award, a year before his death.

Vittorio Gassman’s death

Later on, during the late 90s, he was tolerating manic depression (heart attack) that led to Gassman’s death on 29th June 2000 in Rome at the age of 77. The man left his legacy alive in the works he did.

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Pratik Ghimire

Pratik Ghimire is a writer, has experience of the past few years in content writing, is grooming himself in this field. He is engaged in student politics, political literacy for youths, and leadership activities. He is a facilitator at "Nepal Teen Leaders." Moreover, he is interested in sports; satisfies the audience with beautiful, clear, and engaging research writing.