On my first trip out to Los Angeles, I was armed with one name and one meeting: Martha De Laurentiis. Martha and her husband, Dino, ran The Dino De Laurentiis Company out of the former Hitchcock bungalow on the Universal Studios lot. On the day of our meeting, Martha took an hour out of her busy, pre-production schedule to given me advice, make some phone calls, and supply me with more names. She became my mentor. Though I didn’t end up staying in California, Martha and I continued to stay in touch.
During my annual visits in July, it became a tradition to stop by Martha and Dino’s for lunch or dinner and a birthday toast — Martha’s and my birthday are three days apart. Dino would sometimes join us. Our conversations would run the gamut from movies (Italian, American, Japanese, it didn’t matter where they came from, just if they were worth watching) to books, to my former boss and his latest project. Dino would speak mainly in Italian, throwing out a few english words for my benefit. He was sharp, listened to everything and didn’t miss a trick.
One year I asked Martha for a list of Italian films to watch, starting with the neo-realists. In reply to my email, I received a syllabus worthy of a grad school film class. Three years later, I am nearly finished with the list. I’ve discovered some of my favorite films through their recommendations, including L’avventura and Dino’s own heart-breakingly beautiful, Le Notti di Cabiria:
When I traveled to Italy for the first time, Martha and Dino sent me off with a seven page list of where to go/what to do/see/eat in Rome. My family called it The De Laurentiis List and we never deviated from it. We went to some fantastic off-the-beaten path places, in both the heart of the city and the upscale suburban areas, where we ate and drank alongside Romans. We saw Italy through the eyes of an Italian rather than a tourist. In a sense, they gave me the gift of their city. It was one of the best presents I have ever received. Whenever someone I know travels to Italy for the first time, I send them off with a copy of The De Laurentiis List — the best form of re-gifting there is.
This past July was the last time I saw Dino. I went up to the house to meet Martha for lunch and our birthday toast. She was running late. Dino was there, sitting in the darkened living room watching the World Cup on a large screen. I joined him. “Who are we rooting for?” I asked. Dino looked at me. “You don’t follow football, do you,” he half-asked me, pretty much knowing how I would answer. “No, not really.” “Orange,” he said. “We like orange.” Orange was Poland. They were winning. Dino and I sat watching, he broke the silence by occasionally muttering in Italian at the men on the screen, until a player from the orange team head-butted the ball into the goal. Dino let out a cheer as the announcer yelled: “GOALLLLL, GOALLLLL, GOALLLLL!!!!” We watched the replay of the shot, then a replay of the replay. Martha walked in shortly after and I left Dino to cheer on the orange team alone. Our lunch that afternoon was punctuated by background noises: Dino shouting at the TV; the announcer’s “GOALLLL, GOALLLL, GOALLLL!!!” When the game finally ended, Poland had won. Dino was happy. And Martha and I toasted to another good year.
”When you are born and when you die…who knows? I don’t know for what this pebble is useful, but it must be useful. For if it’s useless, everything is useless. So are the stars!” – La Strada