Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mickey, My Sister, and the Panini Guy

So, my father has been doing a little digital archiving lately with a nifty tool he picked up at Hammacher Schlemmer a few months back. Better he than I because this sort of thing would drive me insane, but I'm so glad he's doing it. He purchase this media converter slide and negative scanner and has been going through the family slides archiving them to DVD. This neat little gadget converts 35mm slides and negatives into digital format with relative ease, according to my father. And he should know, he's already scanned hundreds of slides with this new toy.

Most of the slides he's converted are reassuringly familiar, filled with images of people who were younger and more vibrant, some toddling and reluctantly struggling with the concept of potty training, of Easter Sundays, of pets and loved ones long since passed, and trips around the world.

Then he stumbled across a real gem of a slide with a fun story behind it. A gem we thought was long since lost in the printed format of a photograph. A story of an American couple who traveled to Florence, Italy with their small child and a chance meeting with one of Hollywood's funniest actors. Of course, this all took place before I was born.

In my father's words...

"On my first sabbatical in 1966, Laura Mae (my mother) and I took Laura (my sister)to Europe. We spent a good part of our time abroad living in a charming house on a hill on the south side of Florence with great views of the city. Around the corner from us was a small local piazza with a little mom and pop grocery store where we bought daily necessaries and I practiced my Italian. On one side of this square was a high wall enclosing the grounds of a grand historic villa. One day I saw something really bizarre in the square. A couple of large vans were unloading movie equipment and even a real camel! I learned from my grocer friend that a movie company had rented the grounds of the villa to film a movie set in Renaissance Florence, and this villa with its view of the Duomo etc. was perfect. Moreover, my grocer friend had managed to get the contract to set up a lunch counter inside the wall where the movie people could get sandwiches and drinks during their breaks, and he said he could get us in!

Of course, we were excited to have all this fancy stuff going on right in our quiet little neighborhood. A little later in the morning Laura Mae and I wheeled Laura in her stroller over and my friend got us through the gate. Inside we saw actors, crew setting lights, cameras and cameramen, etc. All the actors were in fancy Renaissance dress, and looked pretty strange when they were on break, smoking cigarettes and drinking cokes! Much to our amazement, we saw an Italian movie star of the period, Vittorio Gassman (he was married for a time to Shelley Winters), and a well-known French actress, also all dressed up. Gassman was unbelievably handsome, even more so in person than in the movies. But the big special treat of the day was seeing, of all people, Mickey Rooney! He was playing a little devil (literally) in this movie. We watched them filming a scene for a while and when they broke for lunch Mickey came over to the lunch counter to get something to eat. I spoke to him, and he was so happy to hear English--with an American accent!--that he almost hugged me. We chatted a while, and a small crowd of locals who had also managed to get through the gate gathered around us. They were much more impressed by Mickey Rooney than by their own movie star. With me acting as interpreter, since I could speak a little Italian, they asked questions about various entertainers and Mickey was in his element, not only talking about his Hollywood friends but doing brilliant imitations of them. I remember that he did Jonathan Winters so perfectly you had to blink to see that it was Mickey and not Jonathan there, and Mickey was warm, friendly, and very very funny. The locals were enthralled, even though they could not understand English, but like the skilled entertainer he is Mickey managed to communicate very well with his impromptu audience. He was delighted with our little blond angel and picked her up and played with her. When he had to go back to work I asked if he'd pose with Laura for a picture, and we got my grocer friend into the picture too."

So there you have it, a gem of a tale with a fabulously converted slide photo that we can guarantee will be duplicated in triplicate and passed on to future generations.


Laura said...

Hi Sissy -
Thanks for putting my baby self up for the world to see - this is such a wonderful story!

elleabelle said...

That is so cool! Wow. He looked so different back then!!