R.I.P. Aldo Berti

Aldo Berti in Once Upon a Time in the West

Aldo Berti in Once Upon a Time in the West

I’ve had a bit of a break from the blog over Christmas and, unsurprisingly, have som sad news to report.  Aldo Berti, the lanky, feline actor who featured in numerous spaghetti westerns has died.  Here’s a (rather rough) translation of an Italian article that I’ve seen in a couple of places:

In 2007, there was a section of the Venice Film Festival dedicated to the Spaghetti Western. I wonder if Quentin Tarantino, patron of the festival, knew Aldo Berti. Maybe not in person, but certainly he must have been familiar, since the show opened with a film starring this unusual actor: El Desperado. In 1968, the blockbuster western Once Upon a Time in the West, directed by Sergio Leone, came out in theaters around the world. The cast of the film included Claudia Cardinale, Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, and… Aldo Berti.

The name Aldo Berti might not mean much to many, especially the younger generation, but the man, who for years lived in Morocco, certainly has a lot to say. A man of many faces, of high hopes and endless dreams; he has lived his life to the full. “I always felt like there was another story, that the grass was greener.  Therefore, I’ve lived a life without appointments.  I have known in all the figures of that decade that still abound on television, but it was different: to take a cappuccino with Fellini was boring for me. He always had a question in his mouth and I hated his questions, and so I avoided him.  One day he called me, talking about this idea he’d had.  But I never knew what it was because I went into his office, he began to talk on the phone with Rizzoli and I, to the sound of the Federico’s voice, fell asleep. I awoke at one o’clock and we went out, giggling with his collaborators as we went out.  He never summoned me again and I never cared to ask what he had in mind

A Rignanese by origin, Aldo departed for Rome in 1960. He and three friends (Claudio Popovich Claudio, Bruno Gambone, and Jane, a cartoonist for Walt Disney) had little money and nowhere to live, but a constant dose of enthusiasm and desire to escape that brought them, in short, to live in a house with Enzo Battaglia, Sasca, Romano Scavolini (all directors), actor Pippo Franco and the painter Emily Tolve. Then 1964 was the year of miracles: the Beatles arrived and changed the choreography of the world. “I lived for two years in love and happy with Barbara Steele, and newspapers said that we were the craziest pair in Cinecitta, it was a love that lasted until ’68.” Fellini hired Barbara for La citta delle donne, then she made For Love and Gold and many others. “In ’68 we did a film together [Un angelo per satana (?)] which marked the end of our story and the end of her career. She left without explanation, did not survive the shoot and I seriously attempted suicide.” Steele packed her bags and moved to America, going to marry Jim Poe, a friend of Aldo and major shareholder of Universal. It was a scandal in the film world, but “… it disturbed me, but not that much; ’68 was like a tree full of exotic fruits, unknown and I was forever hungry.” One night “I met a girl with red hair, very nice, we danced and drank until late and then went out into the street and paparazzi stormed us and as we ran in search of a taxi, I asked: but who are you? Sarah Churchill said. We began a turbulent history. I was not in love with her.” Aldo was living in a dream, with open doors to the four cardinal points: London, Paris, Berlin, New York. Until ’69 everything seemed like a great theatrical scene, and while “…I was Sartana nella valle degli avvoltoi with my friend William Berger, I lived with the Florentine sculptor Mario Ceroli and actress Daria Nicolodi (Asia Argento’s mother) in a villa at the gates of Rome.” Gabriella Ferri was also one of Aldo’s loves, perhaps the most profound of all. In ’73, the last film in the Spirito Santo series also marked Aldo’s last film. He left Rome. “In ten years I had participated in more than 40 films, shot a television series, staged a few shows and I felt like I had not done anything.” From here started Aldo’s great and endless wandering, from large cities around the world to the most inaccessible places. Leaving the cinema and theater, dedicated to the discovery of new places, leaving behind films such as Ramon il Messicano, Sartana nella valle degli avvoltoi, Uno straniero a Sacramento (‘it was a western that made headlines, my character was called Green Bean’)

It wasn’t only westerns, Aldo, who worked on  Il mantenuto with Ugo Tognazzi, Tempo di villegiatura with Vittorio de Sica and Venere imperiale, with Gina Lollobrigida. Maria Luisa Sapaziani, a friend, remembers him as a preface of his books: “There was a dimension of Dostoevsky in his constant smile, the kind of wisdom of one who has seen it all and deleted two-thirds.” In his book of poems, entitled Canto Finale, Aldo, described it as so: ‘I did not have any other address than myself, beyond the window outside Rome. It was winter. It was January. It was cool.” He was now 37, knew his potential as an artist and “could not stand the smell of horses. Where could I go? Where the film world was based, so either Paris or London or Los Angeles. I went to all three capitals, meeting friends, colleagues, projects, lots of festivals, especially in London, and developing a disappointment that grew visibly. When I landed in America, I instinctively removed the reason that I had gone over there, dedicating myself to my old passion: travel.” Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Jamaica, Bahamas were some of his American destinations. A short break in Italy before India in ’79, “where I conducted an investigation for Paese Sera, which took me through makeshift places … and the newspaper published editorials for three days in a row on the front page under the alarmist title 20,000 Italians lost to India.” From Aldo’s travel bug intensified to forests, tribes, peoples and civilizations at the limits of survival, until the night of February 14, 1984 when, going up the Nile to reach Juba with one of the first groups of Doctors Without Borders, the barges on which they traveled (6 two-story boats loaded with displaced men, women and children) were attacked with machine guns and hand grenades and set ablaze. The hell lasted twenty, and by the end the waters of the Nile were full of small floating bodies. “The bodies of children return to the surface before adults, I found out then.” After a brief imprisonment, Aldo was freed along with five others who survived thanks, in particular, to the interests of the French government for photographer Paul le Carre.  “On the night of February 14, 1984 I died along with hundreds of other people. My whole life before that date was as if it belonged to another. I remember everything, but things are not mine. I was born that night, and I was born with the shame of having survived.” This was the episode that changed Aldo’s life, a man who had lived as one of the most diverse film actors, a writer and poet, a friend of leading artists, actors and directors of the time, a man who played, in ’66 , Gli Angeli del Fango, filmed in Florence. “You see… life is like a movie, it should be conducted by a single director, I tried to do this from a young age. To be born is the privilege of all, having lived is a privilege only few enjoy .”

About Matt Blake

The WildEye is a blog dedicated to the wild world of Italian cinema (and, ok, sometimes I digress into discussing films from other countries as well). Peplums, comedies, dramas, spaghetti westerns... they're all covered here.
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6 Responses to R.I.P. Aldo Berti

  1. Tom B. says:

    I’ve been asked about Aldo Berti over the years and could find no printed information about the often seen actor. Even with the Internet little was available. It wasn’t until Facebook came along I was able to locate him. He was living a simple life in Morocco with the 1984 massacre still heavy on his mind. He wrote poetry and took long walks on the beach with his dog. I posted a Buon Natale on his facebook and received an e-mail from a friend telling me Aldo was in a coma in Florence suffering from brain cancer that had been detected on a recent visit in October. I received another e-mail the day after Christmas telling me he had passed away shortly after midnight. It’s sad we often don’t know anything about some of the actors we’ve seen in dozens of films until after their passing and many feel they have been forgotten by the public. RIP

  2. mattblake says:

    Thanks for sharing that Tom, and I completely agree, it’s a shame they don’t know just how appreciated they are and how their work is still watched and enjoyed by many people around the world.

  3. Jan Kalserud says:

    Aldo Berti was an icon of Essaouira (Morocco). He was the friend you expected to find when walking on the beach or around Essaouira. His best friend, the black dog “Negro” was old too. They walked in the same way. The first time I met Aldo some 15 years ago, it was at the river mouth of Oued Ksob and I saw the young Negro was fishing and then Aldo resting in the morning sun at the ruins of the old bridge at Diabet. We liked the same places – the beach, the dunes, the river and the forest, enyoing solitude and natural beauty. He was my first European friend here.
    He lived in the medina at Chabanat and on the terace of his house – he had a view all over the town. We had black coffea and played chess in the afternoons and looked at pictures from his life. He learned to use PC for writing poetry and with internet he found old friends in the world. He loved to tell stories about his childhood, about the village where he was born and his film career. Aldo had an uncompromising character – he knew what he wanted and lived a simple natural life here with a lot of artisitc creativity – his poetry but he was also a painter. Oil paintings he sold time to time when needed.
    He was happy here. Aldo leaves a great void in the town of Essaouira and certainly in the hearts of his firends.

  4. dario iosimi says:

    I’ve been an Aldo’s friend too, maybe not so closer but I remember him as one of my best friends. I met him in Essaouira in the latest months of his life. We had in comoun another strange village, but in Italy, called Calcata, where we’ve been living in different periods.
    Some other friends told me that he was in Essaouira, so I found him by facebook when I got there on june 2010.
    After two hours of conversation we became best buddies, we’ve been talking about the old times in Rome, the artists and so much more.
    In October I had to bring him to the marrakech airport because he was leaving to Italy, we started from Essaouira at 4 in the morning!
    At the time he wasn’t sure to be sick, but he was feeling already that there was something wrong, He told me just that He wanted to pass beyond in a gentle way.
    tipical spirit of Tuscany… sweet and bitter together.
    see you Aldo, ciao!

  5. Raimundo Balby says:

    Aldo Berti, um dos grandes “homens maus” do ciclo de westerns à italiana. Ele não será esquecido pelos aficcionados do gênero.

  6. Quando surgia a imagem de Aldo Berti na tela, podia-se prever que o filme seria bom.
    Grande ator que deixará saudades aos fãs afecionados do Western.
    Sentimentos Brasileiros.

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