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January 3: Celebrate the birth of director, Sergio Leone!
Date: 1/3/2018 8:04 AM

Sergio Leone "I can't see America any other way than with a European's eyes. It fascinates me and terrifies me at the same time."

Today we celebrate the birth of director, Sergio Leone—born in Rome, Italy on this date in 1929. The son of a noted silent-film director, Leone began his career in the film industry at the age of 18, as an assistant to director Vittorio de Sica during filming of the movie,The Bicycle Thief (1948). By the 1950s he was writing screenplays, mostly for 'sword and sandal' historical epics that were popular at the time. He also worked as an assistant director on a number of international productions filmed in Rome, notably Quo Vadis (1951) and Ben-Hur (1959). He would continue to work as an assistant director or second unit director throughout his career, amassing 35 film credits in that role. In 1961 he made his directorial debut with Colossus of Rhodes, a film he also co-wrote.

Leone shifted from historical epics to American-style westerns with his second film, A Fistful of Dollars (1964), which featured Clint Eastwood in the leading role. Eastwood would star in Leone's next two films as well, establishing a genre that came to be known as the "spaghetti western." In 1965, he appeared alongside Lee Van Cleef in Leone's For a Few Dollars More. The following year, Eastwood and Van Cleef joined Eli Wallach in the cast of what has become one of Leone's best-known films, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. These three westerns—which collectively make up what has become known as the "Dollars Trilogy"—catapulted Eastwood to international stardom.

In 1967, Leone was invited to the United States to direct Once Upon a Time in the West, which starred Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, and Charles Bronson. He followed with the 1971 Rod Steiger/James Coburn film, Duck, You Sucker!. Originally intending only to produce the film, Leone took over directing after artistic differences with original director, Peter Bogdanovich.

After producing a handful of films through the 1970s and early 80s— including My Name Is Nobody (1973), Il Gatto (1977), and Fun Is Beautiful (1980), Leone returned to directing with the 1984 crime drama, Once Upon a Time in America, starring Robert De Niro, James Woods, and Elizabeth McGovern. The film, which Leone also helped to write, would prove to be his last as a director. Originally a four-hour homage to American gangster films, the work was drastically edited by Warner Bros. for its American release. The recut two-hour version was a box office flop however, and failed to recoup its production cost. It nonetheless earned Leone Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for Best Director—the only two such nominations in his career.

Sergio Leone passed away in April 1989, at the age of 60. He left a legacy of eight directing credits—including some of the best-known westerns of the late 1960s— as well as 35 assistant director credits, seven producing credits and six film credits as an actor. Check out a Sergio Leone DVD at your Pinal County Libraries!

[SOURCES: Famous Birthdays, Wikipedia, IMDb.com, Spaghetti-Western.net NYTimes.com (obituary), and BrainyQuote.com]

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