Carlo Fortunato Pietro Ponti
11 December 1912
|Died||10 January 2007 (aged 94)|
|Alma mater||University of Milan|
(m. 1946; div. 1965)
(m. 1957; annulled 1962)
|Children||4; including Carlo Jr. and Edoardo|
|Honours||Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (1st Class)|
Carlo Fortunato Pietro Ponti Sr. Cavaliere di Gran Croce OMRI (11 December 1912 – 10 January 2007) was an Italian film producer with more than 140 productions to his credit. Along with Dino De Laurentiis, he is credited with reinvigorating and popularizing Italian cinema post-World War II, producing some of the country's most acclaimed and financially-successful films of the 1950s and 1960s.
Ponti worked with many of the most important directors of Italian cinema of the era, including Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Vittorio De Sica, as well as many international directors. He helped launch the career of his wife, international film star Sophia Loren. He won the Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film for La Strada (1954) and was nominated for Best Picture for producing Doctor Zhivago (1965). In 1996, he was ascended as a Knight Grand Cross to the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.
Ponti was born in Magenta, Lombardy, where his grandfather had been mayor of the city. Ponti studied law at the University of Milan. He joined his father's law firm in Milan and became involved in the film business through negotiating contracts.
Ponti attempted to establish a film industry in Milan in 1940 and produced Mario Soldati's Piccolo mondo antico there, starring Alida Valli, in her first notable role. The film dealt with the Italian struggle against the Austrians for the inclusion of northeastern Italy into the Kingdom of Italy during the Risorgimento. The film was successful, because it was easy to see "the Austrians as Germans" during World War II. As a result, Ponti was briefly jailed for undermining relations with Nazi Germany.
Ponti accepted an offer from Riccardo Gualino's Lux Film in Rome in 1941. He made Giacomo the Idealist (1943), A Yank in Rome (1946), To Live in Peace (1947), The White Primrose (1948), Prelude to Madness (1948) andHey Boy (1948).
Ponti produced some films starring Gina Lollobrigida: Alarm Bells (1949), The White Line (1950), A Dog's Life (1950). Her Favourite Husband (1950) was a British-Italian co production with Jean Kent. He made a number of comedies including Figaro Here, Figaro There (1950), Toto the Third Man (1951) and Toto in Color (1952), with Totò, plus The Knight Has Arrived! (1951), The Piano Tuner Has Arrived (1952) and The Steamship Owner (1951) with Walter Chiari. Ponti alternated this with more serious material such as Europe '51 (1952) from Roberto Rossellini, Brothers of Italy (1952), Lieutenant Giorgio (1953), and Easy Years (1953). The Unfaithfuls (1953) reunited Ponti with Lollobrigida, while Neapolitan Carousel (1954) won the International Prize at Cannes.
In 1954 Ponti had his greatest artistic success with the production of Federico Fellini's La strada. However, Fellini denied Ponti's role in its success and said that "La Strada was made in spite of Ponti and De Laurentiis". Along with a Toto comedy The Doctor of the Mad (1954) he and de Laurentiis produced an international film, Mambo (1954) directed by Robert Rossen. There was An American in Rome (1955) with Alberto Sordi and The Gold of Naples (1954) with a young Sophia Loren.
Loren was the female lead in Ponti's Attila (1954), a biopic of Attila the Hun with Anthony Quinn that became a big box office success. Loren was in The Miller's Beautiful Wife (1955), a comedy.
Ponti and de Laurentiis made the epic war film War and Peace (1956). In June 1956 his partnership with De Laurentiis ended after more than eighty films over six years.
Ponti continued to produce smaller movies for the Italian market such as The Railroad Man (1956), and Guendalina (1957), but his focus was increasingly on bigger budgeted films aimed at the international Market starring Loren: The Black Orchid (1959) with Anthony Quinn, That Kind of Woman (1959) with Tab Hunter, Heller in Pink Tights (1960) with Quinn again, A Breath of Scandal (1960) with John Gavin. Two Women (1960) starring Loren and directed by Vittorio de Sica was a huge success, winning Loren the Oscar.
Ponti produced a series of movies in France: Lola (1961) starred Anouk Aimee, A Woman Is a Woman (1961) directed by Jean-Luc Goddard, Léon Morin, Priest (1961) from Jean Paul Melville starring Jean Paul Belmondo, Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962) from Agnes Varda, Le Doulos (1962) with Belmondo, Landru (1962), plus The Carabineers (1963) and Contempt (1963) from Goddard.
Ponti continued to make movies in Italy, notably Boccaccio '70 (1962), Redhead (1962), The Empty Canvas (1962), Break Up (1965) and two with Loren, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963) and Marriage Italian Style (1964).
Pontig produced his most popular and financially successful film, Doctor Zhivago, in 1965; the movie was directed by David Lean and made by MGM. Also for MGM Ponti produced Operation Crossbow (1965), a war film with Loren, The Girl and the General (1967) with Rod Steiger, Ghosts – Italian Style (1967), and three notable films with Michelangelo Antonioni, Blowup in 1966, Zabriskie Point in 1970 and The Passenger in 1974.
He made The 10th Victim (1965), and some films for Paramount, Smashing Time (1967) Diamonds for Breakfast (1968).
Ponti's later movies included The Priest's Wife (1970) with Loren, What? (1972) from Roman Polanski, Giordano Bruno (1973), Torso (1973) a gallo with Suzy Kendall, Dirty Weekend (1973) with Oliver Reed, Mr. Hercules Against Karate (1973), Flesh for Frankenstein (1974), The Voyage (1974) with Loren, Sex Pot (1975) with Loren and Mastroinanni, L'Infermiera (1975) with Ursula Andress, and Down and Dirty (1977),
His final credits included The Cassandra Crossing (1977), an international co production starring Loren, and A Special Day (1977) with Mastroianni and Loren.
In 1946, he married Giuliana Fiastri with whom he had a daughter, Guendalina, in 1951, and a son, Alex, in 1953. While serving as a judge in a beauty contest in 1951, Ponti met a minor actress named Sofia Lazzaro (real name Sofia Villani Scicolone). He subsequently cast her in films such as Anna (1951). In 1952, his friend Goffredo Lombardo, head of production at Titanus, changed Lazzaro's name to Sophia Loren.
Five years later, Ponti obtained a Mexican divorce from his first wife and married Sophia Loren by proxy. Divorce was still forbidden in Italy, and he was informed that were he to return there, he would be charged with bigamy, and Loren would be charged with "concubinage".
Ponti co-produced several films in Hollywood starring Loren, establishing her fame. In 1960, he and Loren returned to Italy and when summoned to court, denied being married. In 1962, they had the marriage annulled, after which Ponti arranged with his first wife, Giuliana, that the three of them move to France (which at that time allowed divorce) and become French citizens. In 1965, Giuliana Ponti divorced her husband, allowing Ponti to marry Loren in 1966 in a civil wedding in Sèvres. They later became French citizens after their application was approved by then-French President Georges Pompidou.
Ponti and Loren had two sons:
Their daughters-in-law are Sasha Alexander and Andrea Meszaros. They have four grandchildren.
Loren remained married to Ponti until his death on 10 January 2007 of pulmonary complications.
Two unsuccessful attempts were made to kidnap Ponti in 1975, including one involving an attack on his car with gunfire.
He was tried in absentia in 1979 for smuggling money and works of art abroad, fined 22 billion lire, and sentenced to four years in prison. Ponti did not attend the hearing, as his French nationality made him immune from extradition. He was finally cleared of the charges in 1990.
Ponti owned works by, among others, Picasso, Georges Braque, Renoir, René Magritte (including his Lumière du pole from 1927), Salvador Dalí, Henry Moore (including his Figure from 1933), Barbara Hepworth, Giorgio de Chirico and Canaletto. His collection was renowned for containing ten works by Francis Bacon. These included examples from his early Van Gogh series, triptychs, self-portraits and pope paintings, which were rarely publicised or lent to public exhibitions. In 1977 the Bacon paintings, then valued at an estimated $6.7 million, were seized and turned over by the Italian government to the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan; thirty-three sketches by George Grosz went to a museum in Caserta. When Ponti reached a deal with the Italian government and was cleared of the charges brought against him in 1990, he regained possession of 230 confiscated paintings. At some point, the collection is said to have been split between Ponti and Loren.
Over the years, several works have been sold privately. In 2006 two Bacon paintings that had previously been in the Ponti collection were exhibited in an exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in London. One, a vertical composition of four self-portraits, had already been sold to the American collector Steven A. Cohen. In 2007 another pope painting by Bacon, sold by Ponti in 1991, was sold in a private deal brokered by Acquavella Galleries in New York for more than £15 million. That same year, Study for Portrait II (1956) was consigned by Loren at Christie's; it was auctioned for the record price of £14.2 million ($27.5 million).
Ponti died in Geneva, Switzerland, from pulmonary complications on 10 January 2007. He was survived by his daughter Guendalina (b. 1951), and his son Alessandro (b. 1953) from his first marriage; and by his second wife, Sophia Loren, and their sons Carlo (b. 1968) and Edoardo Ponti (b. 1973).
His body rests in the family tomb in Magenta, Lombardy.
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