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Marcello Mastroianni, known as 'Latin Lover,' dies

marcello December 19, 1996
Web posted at: 9:00 p.m. EST

PARIS (CNN) -- Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni, who escaped from a Nazi labor camp during World War II and later became known for his roles as a harried "Latin lover," died Thursday at his Paris home. He was 72.

Italian state television reported that French actress Catherine Deneuve was at his bedside when he died, along with their 24-year-old daughter, Chiara. Mastroianni had been suffering from pancreatic cancer.

Since his screen debut in 1947, Mastroianni starred in more than 120 films, won two best actor awards at Cannes and was nominated for three Oscars. During his much-heralded career, Mastroianni starred in feature films alongside Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Yves Montand and Jack Lemmon.

It was Mastroianni's role as a womanizing tabloid reporter in the 1960 film "La Dolce Vita" that won him worldwide acclaim.

The humble Mastroianni once told an American television audience, "I am not a sex addict." He told interviewers that director Federico Fellini hired him for "La Dolce Vita" because he had a "terribly ordinary face."

But despite his pleas, film audiences thought of him as the "Latin Lover" -- a reputation that was fueled in part by his real-life affair with Deneuve. Despite that relationship, Mastroianni remained married to Flora Carabella for some 45 years.

From small-time to big-time

Born the son of a carpenter on September 18, 1924, Mastroianni spent his early years near Rome. As a child, he had a sampling of stage roles at his parish church. But by the time he was 14, his father forced him to abandon his formal schooling and go to work.

In the late 1930s, Mastroianni held odd jobs in Rome, occasionally getting small parts in movies. During World War II, while he was working as a draftsman, German soldiers forced him to work at a labor camp in northern Italy.

But he escaped, and lived in wartime poverty in Venice until 1945. In the years following the war, he returned to Rome and worked as a clerk with a British film distribution company during the day and practiced acting in the evening with a group of university students.

"I made theater very important in the beginning of my career," he once said. "Theater actors like to change character roles. They don't like to always do the same thing."

Mastroianni's first lead film role was in an Italian production of Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" in 1947. With "Three Girls From Rome" (1952), he began to be known abroad.

"La Dolce Vita" was the beginning of a partnership with Fellini that brought him lead roles in "8 1/2" (1963), in which he co-starred with Anouk Aimee as a movie director dreaming of his ideal woman; "City of Women" (1979), and "Ginger and Fred" (1985), which cast him as an elderly tap dancer remembering his youth.

After his success in "Divorce Italian Style," Mastroianni toured the United States. He told interviewers that all over the country, fans had greeted him with the same sardonic facial twitch he had displayed in the film.

Mastroianni formed a winning screen couple with Sophia Loren, co-starring with her in 10 films in which they came to symbolize the common Italian man and woman -- married or in love. Their first success together was in "Marriage Italian Style" (1964), followed by "Sunflowers" (1969), "The Priest's Wife" (1970), and "A Special Day" (1977).

Loren once described their symbiosis: "These kind of things are really magic in movies. I think it doesn't happen very often, but me and Marcello (had it) since the beginning."

Correspondent Ron Tank contributed to this report.  

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