Eduardo de Filippo 1900-1984
Italian playwright, screenwriter, poet, and director.
De Filippo was among Italy's most distinguished contemporary playwrights. Strongly influenced by the social milieu of his native Naples, de Filippo continues to be highly respected in Europe for his farces, in which reality is often treated as shifting and transitory.
De Filippo was born in Naples, Italy, in 1900, to Eduardo Scarpetta and Luisa de Filippo. He entered the theater while still an adolescent, performing with siblings in his father's acting troupe, then moving to comedic and musical companies. By 1930 de Filippo had collaborated—frequently under pseudonyms—on numerous skits and one-act farces. Around this time he reteamed with family members and began performing his own works in Naples. He also commenced his film career, appearing in the 1932 production Tre uomini in frak. Five years later he made his screenwriting debut with Sono stato io! (1937). During World War II de Filippo worked only sporadically, but once peace was restored he resumed his varied careers, and throughout the remainder of the 1940s he produced what are usually considered his greatest works. De Filippo continued to write plays and later screenplays through the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, and in the early 1980s he was a lecturer at the University of Rome. He also maintained a very successful acting career, both on stage and in films. He died in 1984.
Among de Filippo's most important works is Napoli Milionaria (1945; Naples Millionaire), a realistic drama about a family's involvement in the Italian black market. He followed this work with Questi fantasmi! (1946; Neapolitan Ghosts), a comedy in which a husband mistakes his wife's ever-present lover for a ghost. In 1946 de Filippo also wrote Filumena marturano (Filumena), in which a former prostitute obtains financial stability for her three offspring by successfully conning her lover—who is already engaged to a younger woman—into marriage. De Filippo continued his success in Italy with Le voci di dentro (1948; Inner Voices), in which a man mistakes for reality his dream in which a friend is murdered by neighbors. After learning of his folly, the dreamer is visited by the falsely accused neighbors, who accuse each other of plotting the crime. Shifting reality is also the premise of La grande magica (1949; Grand Magic), de Filippo's complex comedy about infidelity and faith. In this play an adulteress cuckolds her husband after vanishing as part of a magic show. When she fails to return, her husband is given a small box from which she can be produced if he trusts in her fidelity. Four years pass before the untrusting husband, convinced by the magician that only a few minutes have elapsed, decides to open the box. But before he has opened it, his wife reappears. The husband, however, prefers to believe that she is still inside the box.
It is probably as a screenwriter that de Filippo received his greatest recognition in the United States. Italian sex comedies were particularly prevalent among foreign films shown in America during the 1960s. Among de Filippo's contributions to this genre included such films as Matrimonio all'italiana (1964; Marriage Italian Style), featuring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni—adapted from de Filippo's Filumena,—and, Shoot Loud, Louder … I Don't Understand (1967), adapted from Le voci di dentro and pairing Raquel Welch with Mastroianni. With English-speaking audiences, de Filippo enjoyed perhaps his greatest theatrical success in the 1970s with Saturday, Sunday, Monday, a translated production of his play Sabato, Demenica e Lunedi (1959).
Largely because his language and themes do not translate well, de Filippo is not generally known in the United States. However he still enjoys immense status in his native Italy, with some critics ranking him second only to Luigi Pirandello, with whom de Filippo once worked. Some critics have also seen de Filippo's influence in the works of later Italian playwrights, notably Dario Fo. He developed such a following as an actor of both stage and screen that he is readily identified by just his first name in Italy.