Franco Zeffirelli

Gian Franco Corsi Zeffirelli, KBE Grande Ufficiale OMRI (Italian: [ˈfraŋko dzeffiˈrɛlli]; born 12 February 1923), best known as Franco Zeffirelli, is an Italian director and producer of operas, films and television. He is also a former senator (1994–2001) for the Italian centre-right Forza Italia party.

Some of his operatic designs and productions have become worldwide classics.[1][2][3][4]

He is also known for several of the movies he has directed, especially the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet, for which he received an Academy Award nomination. 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 miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977) won acclaim and is still shown on Christmas and Easter in many countries.

A Grande Ufficiale OMRI of the Italian Republic since 1977, Zeffirelli also received an honorary knighthood from the British government in 2004 when he was created a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.[5] He was awarded the Premio Colosseo in 2009 by the city of Rome.

Franco Zeffirelli
Zeffirelli (cropped)
Zefiirelli in 2008
Member of the Senate
In office
21 April 1994 – 29 May 2001
Personal details
Gian Franco Corsi Zeffirelli

12 February 1923 (age 96)
Florence, Tuscany, Italy
Political partyForza Italia
Alma materUniversity of Florence
ProfessionFilm director
Opera director
Military service
Branch/serviceBritish Army
Years of service1942–1945
Unit24th Guards Brigade
Battles/warsWorld War II

Early life

Zeffirelli was born Gian Franco Corsi Zeffirelli in the outskirts of Florence, Italy. He was the result of an affair between Alaide Garosi, a fashion designer and Ottorino Corsi, a wool and silk dealer. Since both were married, Alaide was unable to use her surname or Corsi's for her child. She came up with "Zeffiretti" which are the "little breezes" mentioned in Mozart's opera Idomeneo, of which she was quite fond. However, it was misspelled in the register and became Zeffirelli.[6] 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 film Tea with Mussolini (1999).

Italian researchers have found that Zeffirelli is one of a handful of living people traceably consanguineous with Leonardo da Vinci. Zeffirelli is a descendent of one of da Vinci's siblings.[7]

Zeffirelli 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.[8] 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 Laurence Olivier's 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 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.[9] 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 with Olivia Hussey while filming Romeo and Juliet in 1967

Zeffirelli's first film as director was a version of The Taming of the Shrew (1967), 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.

While editing The Taming of the Shrew, Zeffirelli's native Florence was devastated by floods. A month later, Zeffirelli released a short documentary, Florence: Days of Destruction, to raise funds for the disaster appeal.[10]

Zeffirelli's major breakthrough came the year after when he presented two teenagers as Romeo and Juliet (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.

The film earned $14.5 million in domestic rentals at the North American box office during 1969.[11] It was re-released in 1973 and earned $1.7 million in rentals.[12]

Film critic Roger Ebert (1942–2013), for the Chicago Sun-Times has written: "I believe Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet is the most exciting film of Shakespeare ever made".[13]

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 (1972), then his extended mini-series Jesus of Nazareth (1977) with an all-star cast. The latter was a major success in the ratings and has been frequently shown on television 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 (1981). In the 1980s, he made a series of successful films adapting opera to the screen, with such stars as Plácido Domingo, Teresa Stratas, Juan Pons and Katia Ricciarelli. He returned to Shakespeare with Hamlet (1990), casting the then–action hero Mel Gibson in the lead role. His 1996 adaptation of the Charlotte Brontë novel Jane Eyre was a critical success.

Zeffirelli frequently cast unknown actors in major roles; however, his male 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. The female leads in those films (Olivia Hussey and Brooke Shields) have attained far greater success in the industry.


Zeffirelli has been a major director of opera productions since the 1950s in Italy and elsewhere in Europe as well as the United States. 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, Texas, 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. He has over the years created several productions for the Metropolitan Opera in New York, including La bohème, Tosca, Turandot and Don Giovanni.


In November 2004, he was awarded an honorary knighthood by the United Kingdom.[14]

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.


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.[15]

Personal life

In 1996, Zeffirelli came out as gay, but has since preferred to be discreet about his personal life.[16] Zeffirelli said that he considers himself "homosexual" rather than gay, as he feels the term "gay" is less elegant.[17] Zeffirelli has adopted two adult sons, men he has worked with for years and who now live with him and manage his affairs.[17]

Allegations of sexual advances

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.[18]

In 2018, actor Johnathon Schaech alleged that Zeffirelli sexually assaulted him during the filming of Sparrow.[19] Zeffirelli's son Pippo issued a statement denying the allegation.[20]

Selected filmography


See also


  1. ^ "Search". Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  2. ^ Tommasini, Anthony (16 January 2014). "Virtuoso Poignancy Unfettered by Concepts". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  3. ^ "Teatro alla Scala". Teatro alla Scala. Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  4. ^ Staatsoper, Wiener. "Search". Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  5. ^ BBC News. "UK honour for director Zeffirelli."
  6. ^ "Franco Zeffirelli Facts". Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  7. ^ "Leonardo da Vinci's 'living relatives' identified - BBC News". BBC News. 15 April 2016. Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  8. ^ Donadio, Rachel (18 August 2009). "Maestro Still Runs the Show, Grandly". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  9. ^ "Franco Zeffirelli Biography". Yahoo! Movies. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  10. ^ "Burton Hosts Flood Special on Channel 33". Gettysburg Times. 31 December 1966. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
  11. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970 p 15
  12. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 60
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (15 October 1968). "Romeo and Juliet". Roger Ebert. Retrieved 17 January 2014.
  14. ^ "UK honour for director Zeffirelli", BBC News. Accessed 27 May 2008
  15. ^ Smith, Patricia Julian (9 January 2005). "Zeffirelli, Franco". glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Culture. Archived from the original on 14 August 2007. Retrieved 7 August 2007.
  16. ^ Barbara McMahon (21 November 2006). "Zeffirelli tells all about priest's sexual assault". The Guardian.
  17. ^ a b "Franco Zeffirelli". New York Times. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
  18. ^ Murphy, Peter. "Interview with Bruce Robinson". Archived from the original on 7 July 2007. Retrieved 7 August 2007.
  19. ^ Schaech, Johnathon (11 January 2018). "Actor Johnathon Schaech: I Was Molested by Director Franco Zeffirelli". People.
  20. ^ "Director Franco Zeffirelli, 94, accused of molesting actor in 1992; son denies it".
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w "Franco Zeffirelli Filmography". Allmovie. Retrieved 18 August 2009.

External links

Brother Sun, Sister Moon

Brother Sun, Sister Moon (Italian: Fratello Sole, Sorella Luna) is a 1972 film directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring Graham Faulkner and Judi Bowker. The film is an examination of the life of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Burn of Muchalls

The Burn of Muchalls is an easterly flowing stream in Aberdeenshire, Scotland that discharges to the North Sea. Its point of discharge is on a rocky beach set with scenic sea stacks. Flowing principally over agricultural lands, the Burn of Muchalls traverses through the hamlet of the Bridge of Muchalls, flows beneath the A90 road and thence to the rugged shoreline of the North Sea slightly to the south of Doonie Point. Just above the discharge to the North Sea is a scenic pool, used in the drowning scene of Ophelia in the Franco Zeffirelli film Hamlet. A northern fork of the Burn of Muchalls flows over lands of Muchalls Castle prior to the confluence with the mainstem Burn of Muchalls within the Bridge of Muchalls.

Callas Forever

Callas Forever is a 2002 biographical film directed by Franco Zeffirelli, who co-wrote the screenplay with Martin Sherman. It is an homage to Zeffirelli's friend, internationally acclaimed opera diva Maria Callas, whom he directed on stage in Norma, La Traviata, and Tosca.

Cavalleria rusticana (1982 film)

Cavalleria rusticana is a 1982 Italian film directed by Franco Zeffirelli based on Pietro Mascagni's 1890 opera of the same name. It stars tenor Plácido Domingo, mezzo-soprano Elena Obraztsova, and baritone Renato Bruson, all singing their own roles. Georges Prêtre conducted the Teatro alla Scala Orchestra for the movie's soundtrack. The film was made for broadcast on television. In 2003, it was released on DVD by Deutsche Grammophon, paired with Pagliacci, also starring Plácido Domingo and directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

Endless Love (1981 film)

Endless Love is a 1981 American romantic drama film based on Scott Spencer's 1979 novel of the same name. The film is directed by Franco Zeffirelli, and stars Brooke Shields and Martin Hewitt. The screenplay was written by Judith Rascoe. The original music score was composed by Jonathan Tunick.

The film was released in July 1981 and received negative reviews, with critics comparing it unfavorably to the novel. Spencer disliked it, believing the filmmakers to have missed the point of the book which showcased the dangers of obsessive love. The film was a moderate box-office success, and its theme song, performed by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie and also called "Endless Love", became a #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. It spent nine weeks at #1 and received Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations for "Best Original Song", along with five Grammy Award nominations.

The film is also notable for being the film debut of Tom Cruise in a minor role.

Ennio Guarnieri

Ennio Guarnieri (Rome, 12 October 1930) is an Italian cinematographer.

He has been regular contributor to the films of Mauro Bolognini and Franco Zeffirelli, and has worked on many occasions with Vittorio De Sica, Marco Ferreri and Lina Wertmüller.Born in Rome, Guarnieri abandoned his studies and worked as an assistant cinematographer of Anchise Brizzi from 1949 to 1956. He debuted as director of photography in 1962 with I giorni contati by Elio Petri. In the late sixties, for his ability to portray actresses, Guarnieri became a trusted cinematographer for stars such as Virna Lisi, Sylva Koscina and Tina Aumont, for which he made extensive use of soft focus, backlight and scrims. His work in Mauro Bolognini's L'assoluto naturale (1969), starring Sylva Koscina, was referred as "one of the cornerstones of Italian photography in the sixties".For his work in Vittorio De Sica's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970) he was nominated to BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography.

The first collaboration with Franco Zeffirelli, Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972), earned him his first Silver Ribbon for best cinematography; he was awarded with a second Silver Ribbon ten years later again with a film directed by Zeffirelli, La traviata.From the eighties onward Guarnieri focused on television and advertising.

Hamlet (1990 film)

Hamlet is a 1990 drama film based on the Shakespearean tragedy of the same name, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring Mel Gibson as the eponymous character. The film also features Glenn Close, Alan Bates, Paul Scofield, Ian Holm, Helena Bonham Carter, Stephen Dillane, and Nathaniel Parker. An international co-production between the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, the film was the first produced by Icon Productions, a company co-founded by Gibson.

Jane Eyre (1996 film)

Jane Eyre is a 1996 American, British, French and Italian romantic epic and dramatic feature film adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel Jane Eyre. This Hollywood version, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, is similar to the original novel, although it compresses and eliminates most of the plot in the last quarter of the book (the running away, the trials and tribulations, new found relations, and new job) to condense it into a 2-hour movie.

La Bohème (1965 film)

La Bohème is a 1965 West German film production of the opera of the same name by Puccini, filmed in a Milan studio and recorded at the Munich Opera. The film director and producer and set designer was the Italian director Franco Zeffirelli; Herbert von Karajan conducted the chorus and orchestra of La Scala and was the artistic supervisor. This is not a stage live recording: the singers mime to their own pre-recordings.

La Traviata (1983 film)

La Traviata is a 1983 Italian film written, designed, and directed by Franco Zeffirelli. It is based on the opera La traviata with music by Giuseppe Verdi and libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. Soprano Teresa Stratas, tenor Plácido Domingo, and baritone Cornell MacNeil starred in the movie, in addition to singing their roles. The film premiered in Italy in 1982 and went into general release there the following year. It opened in theatres in the U.S. on April 22, 1983. The movie's soundtrack with James Levine conducting the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus won a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording.

Otello (1986 film)

Otello is a 1986 film based on the Giuseppe Verdi opera of the same name, which was itself based on the Shakespearean play Othello. The film was directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starred Plácido Domingo in the title role, Katia Ricciarelli as Desdemona and Justino Díaz as Iago. For the movie's soundtrack, Lorin Maazel conducted the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro alla Scala. The film premiered in West Germany on 28 August 1986 and received a U.S. theatrical release on 12 September 1986. It was nominated for a Bafta Award and a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.

Pagliacci (1982 film)

Pagliacci is a 1982 Italian film of Ruggero Leoncavallo's opera Pagliacci, directed by Franco Zeffirelli. All the actors, including Plácido Domingo and Teresa Stratas in the starring roles, were opera singers who sang their own parts. Pagliacci was shot at Milan's La Scala opera house and on a movie sound stage. Georges Prêtre conducted the Orchestra and Choir of La Scala.

The film was screened out of competition at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival. It was also shown on Italian and U.S. television and brought Zeffirelli an Emmy Award for Best Director in the category of Classical Music Programming. In 2003, Pagliacci was re-released on DVD by Deutsche Grammophon (having earlier been released by Philips/Decca on DVD), paired with Cavalleria rusticana (also starring Plácido Domingo).

Peter Taylor (editor)

For other people named Peter Taylor, see Peter Taylor.

Peter Taylor (18 February 1922 – 17 December 1997) was an English film editor with more than 30 film credits. Perhaps his best remembered contribution is the editing of the 1957 film The Bridge on the River Kwai.

In his obituary for Taylor, Tony Sloman gives several examples to illustrate Taylor's editing. He writes:By 1963 the British New Wave had beached, and Peter Taylor edited the superb This Sporting Life, the debut feature of the cine-literate director Lindsay Anderson. It is a remarkable study of working-class angst, with a cutting style like no other British feature before it, an ever-underrated achievement by Taylor, as Anderson received all the credit, as directors do. This Sporting Life remains, with The Bridge on the River Kwai, the supreme testament to Peter Taylor's craft and talent.

Taylor won an Academy Award for Film Editing for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), which was placed as the 36th best American film ever made in the 2007 American Film Institute listing. David Lean directed the film, about whom Ken Dancyger has noted that, "Lean may have made few films, but his influence has far exceeded those numbers. The role of editing in his films may help explain that influence." Lean himself had begun his own career as a film editor. Sloman comments on the relationship of Lean, Taylor, and the film's editing: industry wags may assert that the editing Oscar came with the letter of engagement on a David Lean film - and in later years it is certainly true that Lean, a former editor, would himself dictate the precise nature of the cutting - none the less, Peter Taylor had served a long apprenticeship with Lean. His Oscar for Kwai was an honest vindication of his talent, for Taylor physically edited the film into shape, working closely with Lean only on the final cut.

Taylor moved to Rome, Italy around 1966. He cut three films with Italian director Franco Zeffirelli; both La Traviata (1983) and Otello (1986) were nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Film.

Romeo and Juliet (1968 film)

Romeo and Juliet is a 1968 British-Italian romantic drama film based on the play of the same name by William Shakespeare.

The film was directed and co-written by Franco Zeffirelli, and stars Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. It won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography (Pasqualino De Santis) and Best Costume Design (Danilo Donati); it was also nominated for Best Director and Best Picture, making it the last Shakespearean film to be nominated for Best Picture to date. Sir Laurence Olivier spoke the film's prologue and epilogue and reportedly dubbed the voice of the Italian actor playing Lord Montague, but was not credited in the film.

The most financially successful film adaptation of a Shakespeare play at the time of its release, it was popular among teenagers partly because it was the first film to use actors who were close to the age of the characters from the original play. Several critics also welcomed the film enthusiastically.

Sparrow (1993 film)

Sparrow (Italian: Storia di una capinera) is a 1993 Italian drama film directed by Franco Zeffirelli. It is an adaptation of Giovanni Verga's novel, Storia di una capinera and was filmed in Sicily in 1993. It stars Angela Bettis, and premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival in October 1993.

Tea with Mussolini

Tea with Mussolini is a 1999 Anglo-Italian semi-autobiographical film directed by Franco Zeffirelli, scripted by John Mortimer, telling the story of a young Italian boy's upbringing by a circle of British and American women before and during the Second World War.

The Champ (1979 film)

The Champ is a 1979 American drama sports film directed by Franco Zeffirelli and a remake of the 1931 Academy Award-winning film of the same name which was directed by King Vidor. It stars Jon Voight as Billy Flynn, a past boxer with custody of his son Timothy (Ricky Schroder) who attempts to support his son and make up with his ex-wife Annie (Faye Dunaway) by fighting in the ring again. It is also the final film for actress Joan Blondell to be released during her lifetime. Blondell, who died from leukemia on Christmas Day eight months later, also starred in two other films that were released after her death.

The Taming of the Shrew (1967 film)

The Taming of the Shrew (Italian: La Bisbetica domata) is a 1967 American-Italian romantic comedy film based on the play of the same name by William Shakespeare about a courtship between two strong-willed people. The film was directed by Franco Zeffirelli and stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as Shakespeare's Kate and Petruchio.

Young Toscanini

Young Toscanini (original title: Il giovane Toscanini) is a 1988 Italian-French biographical drama film directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring C. Thomas Howell and Elizabeth Taylor.

Films directed by Franco Zeffirelli
Awards for Franco Zeffirelli
ACF Fiorentina – Hall of Fame inductees

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