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Totò: Gentlemen are born

Totò: The Prince of Laughter and the Soul of Naples

Totò, whose real name was Antonio de Curtis Gagliardi Griffo Focas Comneno di Bisanzio, Marquis of Oliveto, was born on February 15, 1898 in Naples. This legendary figure of Italian cinema and theater is affectionately known as "the Prince of Laughter". Totò is considered one of the greatest comedians of all time and an indelible icon in Neapolitan culture.

Antonio De Curtis, aka Totò

Totò's Life

Antonio de Curtis was born in the Sanità district, one of the most characteristic and lively neighborhoods of Naples, known for being the center of Neapolitan "guapperia". His birthplace was on the third floor of number 107, via Santa Maria Antesaecula. However, due to the small size of the house, the family moved shortly thereafter to the second floor of number 109 of the same street, now recognized as Totò's historic residence.
Antonio was born from a clandestine relationship between Anna Clemente (1881-1947) and Giuseppe De Curtis (1873-1944), who initially did not officially acknowledge him to keep the relationship secret and was only recognized by his father in 1921, thus adopting the noble title of Marquis. Totò spent a modest childhood, characterized by poverty but also by the immense vitality of Neapolitan neighborhood life, which deeply influenced his art. Solitary and melancholic in nature, Totò grew up demonstrating from a young age a strong artistic vocation that often interfered with his school studies. Demoted to the third grade from the fourth, he did not get discouraged and entertained his classmates with small performances, showing off grimaces and jokes.
Young Antonio was an attentive observer of people, especially those more eccentric, whom he tried to imitate in their movements, earning him the nickname "‘o spione" (the spy). This method of study was useful for characterizing many of the roles he played during his career.
After elementary school, he was enrolled in the Cimino college, where an incident with a teacher, who inadvertently struck him with a punch, left a deformation on his face that contributed to the creation of his famous "mask". He did not make much progress in school and dropped out without obtaining the gymnasium diploma. His mother wanted him to become a priest, but Totò, encouraged by his early successes in family performances, began to attend peripheral theaters in Naples in 1913, performing under the pseudonym "Clerment" in sketches and imitations of Gustavo De Marco's repertoire, known for his great mime and agile movements.

Artistic Career and Success

On stage he met actors like Eduardo De Filippo, Peppino De Filippo, and musicians like Cesare Andrea Bixio and Armando Fragna, who influenced his career. During World War I, he volunteered in the Royal Army and was assigned to the 22nd Infantry Regiment. After various adventures, including a fainting spell at the Alessandria station that spared him from going to the French front, he was assigned to the 88th Infantry Regiment "Friuli" in Livorno. There he suffered continuous abuse from a non-commissioned officer, from which the famous motto originated: "Are we men or corporals?".
In the 1930s, Totò began working in cinema, immediately finding great success. With over 97 films to his credit, many of his films have become Italian cinema classics, such as "Totò, Peppino e la… malafemmina" (1956), "Totò, Fabrizi e i giovani d'oggi" (1960), "Miseria e Nobiltà" (1954), and "Uccellacci e uccellini" (1966), directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Totò and Peppino De Filippo
Totò and Peppino

Anecdotes and Curiosities about Totò

Totò's life is filled with anecdotes that reflect his personality and wit. A famous episode involves a lunch with his friend and colleague Peppino De Filippo. During a heated discussion, Totò took off one of his shoes and threw it out the window. The shoe landed on the roof of a passing tram and was carried away. Totò, undeterred, replied: "Well, at least I saved myself the trouble of going to look for it!"

Another interesting anecdote concerns his passion for poetry. Totò was a refined and sensitive poet, and he wrote several poems in Neapolitan dialect. The most famous, "‘A livella", is a touching monologue about death that highlights the equality of all human beings in the face of their final destiny.

Totò was also the author of the famous song "Malafemmena", a masterpiece of Neapolitan song. Written in 1951, the song speaks of the pain caused by a cruel woman, reflecting a more intimate and vulnerable side of the Neapolitan comedian. "Malafemmena" has become a classic, interpreted by countless artists over the years.

Totò's iconic expressions

Famous Quotes by Totò

Totò was famous not only for his films but also for his memorable quotes that have entered common language and Italian popular culture. Here are some:

"You don't become gentlemen, you are born" - This phrase underlines his innate sense of nobility and dignity, despite humble origins.

"I am a man of the world, I served three years in the military in Cuneo!" - A joke that plays on the apparent provincialism of Cuneo but that Totò uses to ironically exalt his life experience.

"It is the sum that makes the total." - One of his most famous phrases, used ironically to simplify complex situations.

"You're an idiot, find out!" - One of Totò's most famous lines, taken from the 1960 film "Signori si nasce".

"I have the courage. It's fear that bothers me." - It expresses in an ironic way a universal truth about human beings: even those endowed with courage can be paralyzed by irrational fear.

"In times of crisis, the intelligent look for solutions, the imbeciles look for culprits." - A reflection on people's reactions to difficulties.

"This is civilization: you have everything you want when you don't need it." - A bitter and ironic consideration about modern consumer society.

Totò and Naples

For Naples and the Neapolitans, Totò is not just a comedian, but a symbol. He represents the popular soul of the city, with his ability to laugh at everything, even the difficulties of life. Totò embodies the essence of the "true Neapolitan", with his lively intelligence, rebellious spirit, and generous heart.
His language, made up of idiomatic expressions and wordplay, has become part of Naples' cultural heritage. Totò gave voice to popular wisdom, often denouncing social injustices and ridiculing the powerful with his subtle satire.
His life, characterized by a difficult childhood and a constant search for redemption, reflects that of many Neapolitans who, despite difficulties, always find the strength to move forward with a smile. Totò has become the symbol of Neapolitan resilience, of the ability to face adversity with irony and lightness.
Totò knew how to give voice and dignity to the "scugnizzi" (street urchins) and the marginalized, making them protagonists of his stories and jokes. This allowed Neapolitans to see themselves reflected in his characters, recognizing their struggles, joys, and pains. His comedy, imbued with humanity, brought the audience closer, making him a familiar and beloved figure.

Naples has paid tribute to Totò in many ways. There is a monument dedicated to him in the Sanità district, and the Totò Museum celebrates his life and career with a collection of personal belongings, photographs, and memorabilia. Every year, on February 15th, Neapolitans remember Totò's birthday with events and celebrations that reflect their eternal affection for their "Prince".

Totò mural
Totò mural

Totò's Legacy

Totò's legacy goes beyond the laughter he was able to give. He influenced generations of Italian comedians and actors, leaving an indelible mark on Italian culture. Totò represents the union between tradition and modernity, between the popular and the intellectual.
Totò knew how to use comedy as a tool for social criticism and with his art, imbued with humanity and wisdom, continues to speak to new generations, making him an immortal icon not only of Naples but of all Italy.

Totò is a symbol of Naples and its people, an ambassador of Neapolitan and Italian art and culture, a living testament to the ability to find light even in the darkest moments.

Totò's death announcement
The sad announcement of Totò's death

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