Once Upon a Time in Italy: The Vita Italiana of an American Journalist

Jack Casserly, Author
Jack Casserly, Author Roberts Rinehart Publishers $12.95 (284p) ISBN 978-1-57098-019-0
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Casserly lived in Rome from 1957 to 1964 as bureau chief for three separate news organizations, a series of plum assignments for any journalist. In this affectionate memoir, Casserly reports on the historic events he covered, the characters he met-from Il Duce's jazz pianist son, Romano Mussolini, to Lucky Luciano-and the bel confusione that describes daily life. On that glorious stage, some of the world's greatest actors perform. One of the finest, certainly, was Achille Lauro, the mayor of Naples who greeted an audience of women each morning from the balcony of his villa dressed in a bedsheet. ``For all their showmanship,'' writes Casserly, ``Italians have great magnanimity of spirit and avoid the pettiness of French and Germans. [They] would rather outfox you with charm and a smile than with a stern lecture.'' When coffee-bar employees go on strike, espresso addicts all over Rome stop work and a wage increase is quickly won. Celebrity cameos include Mario Lanza, Sophia Loren, Maria Callas and the American expatriate singer Bricktop. From the tinsel of the Via Veneto, Casserly descends to the squalor of Italy's South to search out the mother of Turridu, Sicily's Robin Hood or to the north to break bread with the Roncalli family, soon to take their first train ride to Rome for the coronation of Uncle Angelo as Pope John XXIII. A masterful storyteller, Casserly expertly captures the spirit of Italia sparita (bygone Italy) complete with lapses into '50s jargon and Cold war references to Italian Communists as ``Reds.'' (Mar.)
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