Mario Soldati (Torino, November 17, 1906 – Tellaro, June 19, 1999) was an Italian writer, journalist, essayist, director, screenwriter, and television author. Born in Torino to parents Umberto and Barbara Bargilli, Soldati began his education at the Jesuit Istituto Sociale in 1912. During this time, he was a devout practitioner and even contemplated joining the Jesuit Order. He later developed a personal and rationalistic approach to faith, which would influence his literary work. At 17, Soldati enrolled at the university to study letters, immersing himself in the intellectual climate of Torino, where he befriended individuals like Agostino Richelmy, Mario Bonfantini, and Carlo Levi.
Early Career and Academic Achievements
In 1924, Soldati made his literary debut with the drama Pilato. In 1927, while still a student, he curated a catalog for the Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Torino. He later graduated in art history, discussing a thesis on the Renaissance painter Boccaccio Boccaccino. He then secured a three-year scholarship to study at the Istituto d’Arte di Roma, where he met art historians Adolfo Venturi and Pietro Toesca.
Literary and Academic Stints in the United States
Soldati ventured into narrative fiction in 1929 with his book of stories Salmace. That same year, a scholarship took him to New York, where he taught Italian art history at Columbia University. This experience led to an autobiographical book, America primo amore. He returned to Italy in 1931, disheartened at not being able to acquire U.S. citizenship.
Career in Film and Screenwriting
Back in Italy, Soldati began working for Cines-Pittaluga, a major Italian film production company. He initially struggled to find a place for his humanistic and artistic background but soon began his career as a screenwriter. His career took a temporary setback in 1934 due to the commercial failure of the film Acciaio. Nevertheless, he continued writing and eventually returned to Rome in 1936 at the behest of director Mario Camerini.
Directorial Debut and Popularity
Soldati made his directorial debut in 1939 with Dora Nelson, a comedy in the style of Ernst Lubitsch. His 1941 film Piccolo mondo antico gained him wide acclaim and popularity.
Personal Life and Wartime Experience
In 1941, Soldati met Jucci Kellermann, an actress from Fiume with whom he would spend the rest of his life. They had three children together. During World War II, Soldati experienced an adventurous escape from Rome, documented in his travel diary Fuga in Italia. He spent nine months in Naples working for “Radio Napoli” and upon his return to Rome, covered the war for newspapers Avanti! and l’Unità.
Work in Television and Later Career
Soldati’s work Le miserie del signor Travet became the first film broadcast by the newly founded RAI in 1954. He also pioneered “gastronomic reportage” on Italian television, contributing to the anthropological understanding of Italy’s culinary culture.
Final Years and Legacy
In his later years, Soldati moved between Milan and Tellaro, focusing on writing novels such as Le due città and L’incendio. He passed away in 1999 and was buried in the Monumental Cemetery of Torino. His enduring influence was celebrated in 2006 with a national committee for commemorations, reinforcing his legacy as an interpreter of Italian identity through multiple media. An “Associazione culturale Mario Soldati” was also established in 2007 to continue exploring his work and contributions.