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Uncredited Extras: Cinecittà’s Refugees and the Italian American Who Filmed Them

Uncredited Extras: Cinecittà’s Refugees and the Italian American Who Filmed Them

Laura E. Ruberto (August 8, 2009)
Refugees at Cinecitta', Rome, 1944

Jack Salvatori, an almost-forgotten Italian American director, made a film about Cinecittà’s role as a camp for WWII refugees.


Starting in the summer of 1944, on June 6, just two days after the U.S. troops entered Rome, the Allied Control Commission took over the studio space of Cinecittà, Italy’s famed film studios. By August the city of cinema—which had only opened eight years earlier (Mussolini had inaugurated it on the symbolic anniversary of the founding of Rome, April 21, 1937)—became a camp for displaced persons. 
Mussolini at Cinecitta's Inauguration, 1937
Most refugees were Italians who had lost their homes, but there were also hundreds who arrived from former Italian colonies, as well as others from close to thirty different nations. At times there were upwards of 3000 people housed among sets sectioned off with haystacks and plywood. Although much of the studio space was “liberated” of its war refugees by 1947, it was late August 1950 before Cinecittà was fully restored to its original purpose.
Among the few visual reminders marking this extraordinary moment in Italian (cinema) history is a little-known film directed by an almost-forgotten Italian American filmmaker. Information about the filmmaker, Jack Salvatori (1901-1974), and the film, Umanità (1946), is almost nonexistent.
Noa Steimatsky, Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago, recounts the fascinating history of the studio and offers a wonderful close reading of Umanità in her article “The Cinecittà Refugee Camp” (Spring 2009, October).  Steimatsky’s central argument involves a reconceptualization of postwar neorealist films, which, oddly enough, again and again ignored the existence of the Cinecittà camp, its explicit Fascist references, and its hundreds of child refugees—even as neorealist filmmakers attempted to represent the everyday tragic realities, especially those of children, in Italy’s dopoguerra city streets (think Bicycle Thief).
Steimatsky also points out that one of the most revealing visual documents of the Cinecittà refugee camp is Salvatori’s fictional film. The film—from what I have gathered as I have not been to the Italian film archives to see it—constructs a series of war-related romances among the ruins of late-forties Italy and the downtrodden backdrop of the camp. Included among the lovers is a pair of American aid-workers. This cinematic nod to the Marshall Plan predates the kind of films produced during the “Hollywood on the Tiber” period (starting with Mervin LeRoy’s Quo Vadis in 1949, just as the refugees were leaving, as Steimatsky notes), during which American companies found ways to take advantage of cheap labor, exotic Mediterranean settings, and economic incentives meant to benefit Italian companies. 
Still from Quo Vadis (1951)
So far I’ve managed to find only a few facts about Salvatori and I’m eager to discover more. One intriguing tidbit: he was born Giovanni Salvatori Manners in Rome, to a family originally from Ireland. This transnational identity in and of itself offers a useful example of how migratory movements are rarely as straightforward as they first appear and raise all sorts of interesting cultural and socio-historical questions.
After spending time making movies in New York, Salvatori moved to France, where he directed and starred in films, apparently until the beginning of World War II. He worked for Paramount, which, along with other U.S. studios, had built soundstages on the outskirts of Paris, in Joinville, in order to take advantage of the European market and produce multi-language films. In fact, Paramount produced at least five different versions of W. Somerset Maugham’s 1925 short story “The Letter.” The English-language version was filmed in what today is called the Kaufman Astoria Studios in New York—where Rudolf Valentino and the Marx Brothers made their movies—but the German, Italian, Spanish, and French versions were all filmed in Joinville. (The Marx Brothers and Valentino suggest their own complicated set of issues related to ethnic representation.) 
Marx Brothers publicity shot and Rudolph Valentino as The Sheik
Salvatori directed the Italian version of "The Letter," La donna bianca, which seems to have screened in New York, as did at least some of his other films. Indeed, the work history of someone like Salvatori forces us to reevaulate the direction of influence immigrants and immigrant communities have on both their adopted and native countries and to recognize the multidirectional ways culture moves. (I am reminded here of the work of film scholars such as Giorgio Bertellini and Sabine Haenni, both of whom have taken an interest in, among other things, the reception of early Italian-language films in the U.S. and the nonlinear movement of culture associated with Italian transnational migration, especially within urban, entertainment spaces.)The story of Jack Salvatori, a largely unknown immigrant filmmaker whose cultural sensibilities draw from Italian (and presumably Irish) connections, suggests a peculiar and under-examined moment of displacement within Italy’s borders; in so doing he illustrates some of the unusual ways immigrants continue to have a say in the construction of their homeland.

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Cinecittà refugees camp

From 1945 to 1947 I was with my family in this camp. I have clear memories of this period. I would appreciate if you could provide any slide to confirm my memories. Best regards. Emilio


To Emilio, You may be able to get a CD of the film from The Lucci Institute as I did. Alternatively Marco Bertozi made a documentary about 3 years ago, Refugees in Cinecita, which included an extract of my fathers film. Sorry I could not help you further, good luck. Ray Holland

Jack Salvatori

My father was christened Giovanni Salvatori in1901. Jack, and Manners were both stage names.He died of lung cancer in 1949 when I was 13. He had returned to London where he had spent most of his young life,to offer his film UMANITA to British companies but he was unsuccessful. He was not an American Italian but British Italian.His mother Eva (nee Cross) was English and his father Roman.The family lived at 227 Elgin Avenue Maida Vale London.He was one of 6 children.His father was the Italian Agent for Thomas Cook Travel Agents,and he was also the first Labour Party candidate for Paddington. My father joined The Bedfordshire Regiment about 1916 claiming that he was at least a year older than he was.He became one of General Allenbys dispatch riders in North Africa during WWI and after the war attempted to be the first man to cross the Sahara Desert on a motor bike.He did not achieve this and was rescued by The French Foreign Legion after 3 days. He was trapped in Houdan near Paris at the outbreak of WWII and walked from Paris to Rome where the Catholic priests hid him in the catacombs beneath or near The coliseum(where he had played as a child),before smuggling him to The Partisans in the hills with whom he stayed for the rest of the war. The day Rome was liberated by The Allies he led a group to greet the British forces waving a union jack and was disappointed to find that they had been held back to let the Americans enter first. After the war he had a small part at the beginning of THE BICYCLE THIEF .He joked that when they were casting they wanted thin half starved looking actors and that he fitted the part perfectly. At this time he made a health and safety film for United Nations Relief Association and took it around villages in Italy in a mobile cinema van. I do not know much about his life between the wars.I have a photo of him in a West End play and one or two others.He was billed as THE BRITISH VALENTINO before Ivor Novello.He was with British Lion Films for a while.In America he formed a friendship with Lillian Gish. He spoke 5 languages which helped him when he crossed enemy occupied France as did his acting ability.He hid in a mental institution in Houdan initially and pretended to be an inmate.I have one of two hand written books by him about his experiences at this time.He said that he had written them with a view to making a film. I have attempted to procure a copy of UMANITA without success. His early childhood was spent in Rome and his mother owned a dress shop at the bottom of The Spanish Steps. He had been the boxing champion of The Bedfordshire Regiment, but he was very thin and frail when he returned to England in 1947-48. As to the Irish connection,his sister Sylvia did once tell me that there was Irish ancestry two generations back. An older cousin told me that whist in North Africa my father had led a camel charge but I have nothing to substantiate this. One of my grandsons is named after him.Everyone liked him and he always looked for the good in others.