The other day on TV, the RAI—the Italian state radio and television agency—presented the first in a series looking back at 50 years of television broadcasting in Italy.
One of the most poignant moments was the portion dedicated to the work of Alighiero Noschese, the Neapolitan who might have remained just another actor/comic in a profession awash with actors and comics had it not been for his uncanny ability to imitate others.
substantiate the anecdotes from his schooldays here in
Naples; for example, on the phone, "Hello, I can't
come to school today. I'm ill. This is my daddy
speaking," —but it wouldn't surprise me. A woman I
know who remembers Noschese as a high school student in
Naples says he didn't stand out: he was courteous and
easy to get along with, but not the life of the party,
not the person who just naturally seems born to
entertain and delight others —"anonymous", she used.
That described him as an adult on the few occasions you
got to see him as himself and not in one of his comic
sketches. Who knows if that description was not at the
heart of his ultimate tragedy?
He was born in
Naples in 1932. By the late 1960s and all during the
70s, Noschese pretty much owned the field of imitating.
It was one that he invented, at least for Italians.
Before Noschese, it was not at all common to watch
comics get up and make fun of well-known persons in
public life. After Noschese, it was commonplace, as any
young comic/mimic in Italy will tell you. One of them
said, about Noschese, "it was embarrassing to see
someone with so much talent."
Perhaps his secret
was that he didn't make fun of so much as have
fun with the people he imitated. I can't imagine
any of the prime ministers of Italy, the heads of
political parties, other actors, news commentators
—anyone at all— ever being offended. I saw him once live
on stage when he imitated Pope Paul VI. It wasn't in the
least offensive, and I'm sure the Pope loved it!
Noschese "did" all the prime ministers and politicians
in Italy to perfection; as well, his version of the
great director Fellini was hilarious, as was his
imitation of the poet Giuseppe Ungaretti, whose excited,
incoherent readings of his own poetry on TV were funny
enough in their own right. Noschese did voices and body
mannerisms to perfection and then spent hours on make-up
to wind up looking as much as possible like his target.
Noschese took his
own life in 1979. He was being treated for depression,
and I have heard he was found dead in front of a statue
of the Virgin Mary. His suicide sent a wave of
incomprehension through Italy... the funny guy, the
great mimic, why would he kill himself? Amateur analysts
speculate that his life was so devoted to imitating
others that he had no sense of self. Who knows?
============part 2==22 Feb 2023=======================
From Neo-Realism to
Noschesi as Marlon Brando in The Godfather
I offer only that
comedians often don't seem able to make themselves laugh.
Noschese reminds me of another great comic who killed
himself — Robin Williams. The
Sad Clown paradox, Pagliacci, laughing on the
outside-crying on the inside —our
language is full of clichés about this. I am not
qualified to speak on this, so I desist. I saw Noschese
in person just once, when he did Pope Paul VI. His
comment as he started tells you about the man. First, he
flashed his radiant smile (like the sun going on in the
theater) and said "Senza malizia" — (Without malice) We're
just having some fun. He wanted you to have fun. I
hate to think that being funny is a mental illness.
Again, I desist.
When he started, no one in Italy did impersonations. After some theater, he quickly became popular with the TV show Doppia coppia [Double copy], where, for the first time on the then wholly state-controlled Italian television, an actor was allowed to parody politicians. Noschese had an outstanding capability for imitating not only the voices of his subjects, but also their physical features and attitudes. In an interview just before his death, Noschese listed a total of 1,156 voices he had imitated in his career. In reality he set the bar so high, no one has replaced him.
==============add Feb 23, 2023==============================
after Noschese's death, RAI released a 51-minute
documentary, "Soul Thief" about his life. It
question "Who was Alighiero Noschese". That is available here.
They came to no conclusion. That wasn't the point. If you are an armchair amateur shrink (and who isn't?) you'll
draw your own conclusions. Rather, they presented an episodic review of his career starting with his first TV appearances, and largely through running commentary from those who had been targets of his impersonations. All of their comments are interesting; some are more relevant than others in trying to untangle this very complicated man. I present my comments here in the order I jotted them down from the documentary.
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