BASEHART AND FELLINI
For the character of Il Matto (The Fool), Fellini approached Richard Basehart, an American actor then living in Rome with his wife, the actress Valentina Cortese. Basehart had met Fellini through her, and accepted an invitation to have lunch with him. During lunch, Fellini told the actor about his preparations for La Strada, and said there was a good part in the film for him, a character called Il Matto.
"What kind of part is it?" Basehart asked.
"He's a kind of clown." responded Fellini.
"Me, for a clown? Why? asked Basehart.
"Because, said Fellini, "if you did what you did in Fourteen Hours (which had been a great success in Italy), you can do anything."
Basehart was quite attracted to Fellini's personality. "It was his zest for living," Basehart said, "and his humor."
Richard Basehart was stimulated by Fellini's working methods. "It ws not so much what he told you," Basehart said, "but how he opened you up and gave you a sense of freedom." During off huors, Fellini could be an enjoyable companion. "He was always telling stories, not about his films, but notions that came from his imagination and curiosity. He was fascinated by ancient Rome, and had ideas about what it would have been like to live then. What it would have been like to be a gentleman of that time living in the country."
On Sundays, Basehart and Fellini would take long drives around the country looking for just the right place to eat. "He loved food," Basehart said, "and liked to find new and different kinds of of places. He got that, I think, from a good friend of his, Fabrizi, who also was a great cook. We would enter a restaurant, and if Fellini saw too many people, or didn't care for the menu, off we would go looking for another one. One Sunday we tried six restaurants before Fellini was willing to stay in one. There were times when the place would be no more than a simple farmhouse, but the food would turn out to be wonderful.
"One Sunday we drove all the way to Rimini. Fellini wanted to show his home town to me, because I had admired his I Vitelloni so much. RImini, his memories of it, were embodied in that picture whether he was willing or not to admit it. We walked out on a pier--it was a misty, rather chilly day--and we looked back at the town through a twilight haze. Fellini said, 'Now, do you understand?'"
After La Strada was sold to America it meant success and that meant the Fellinis could spend some money. de Laurentiis saw that the way to Fellini's heart was through a car, and offered him a new one as a gift. After he made his choice, Fellini rang Richard Basehart to invite him for a drive. Basehart said, "I expected to see him in a Ferrari, or Mercedes. But when I looked out the window he was sitting in a Chevrolet convertible."
On living in Europe."The highest tax anyone pays there is 25 percent, gloated Dick Basehart." "A lot of people don't pay any tax at all."
Fellini on Basehart in Il Bidone. "I was fortunate that Richard Basehart was still in Rome after La Strada. He had exactly the right saintly expression for the sympathetic con man who barely understands the moral implications of what he is doing. He has a conscience, but it's well hidden.
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