Totò (1898-1967) was, without question, the most popular film personality in the history of Italian cinema—as well as one of the most naturally funny individuals to ever mug before the movie camera.
J. Hoberman – Totò Recall – Village Voice October 2000
One of the most prominent and loved figures in Italy and abroad, Antonio De Curtis – Totò was born in the rione Sanità, a poor and popular sector of Napoli where together with some friends, such as the De Filippo brothers (Eduardo, Titina, and Peppino), started his career in little theatres acting plots based in the Commedia dell’arte tradition. He was the son of Anna Clemente and the marquis Giuseppe de Curtis, who recognized him as his son in 1922; in 1933 Totò inherited his titles included Prince of Byzantium, Duke of Cyprus, and Noble Knight of the Holy Roman Empire).
In 1922 he moved to Rome, where he had his first appearances in bigger theatres, and in the 1930s he started his own companies, alone and together with many great artists such as the Great Anna Magnani, as he used to call her. His shows, sometime avanspettacolo – music, ballet and comic sketches – and sometime rivista, more similar to American revues, where always hits in the Italian theatre.
In 1937 he made his first movie, Fermo con le mani (Hands Off!). After that, he made about 100 films, becaming a living legend for the audience; yet he was largely ignored by Italian critics and cineastes. After his death, everyone agreed that Toto’ was a genius and his work was unique and superb. He worked with some of the greatest directors ever: Mario Monicelli, Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Eduardo De Filippo and Pier Paolo Pasolini, just to name a few. He worked with actors such as Sophia Loren (she was at the beginning of her career then), Ben Gazzara, Orson Welles, Vittorio De Sica, Anna Magnani, Vittorio Gassman, Marcello Mastroianni, and Fernandel. He also made many films together with Peppino De Filippo (often titled Toto’ and Peppino and… ).
As Richard Peňa, director of Film Society at Lincoln Center, stated: In the contentious, charged atmosphere of Italian cinema — in which political parties nominate candidates to run major film festivals — there is one thing on which the Left and the Right, the Communists and the Christian Democrats all agree: Totò is truly the King.