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Guest post: 8 1/2 by Michael A. Carson

March 24, 2009 at 9:16 am

A treat for my blogees…especially you artsy, fartsy ones…a refreshing departure…Put your seat belts on an enjoy a unique story from screenwriter, Michael A. Carson. Enjoy!

Fellini’s screenwriter,Tullio Pinelli died last week at age one hundred. (A name that seems perfectly designed for screen credit — non e vero?) Pinelli scribbled La Strada, La Dolce Vita, and 8 1/2 while punching his Olivetti to help write another seventy or so films.  He was born in Turin, Italy, the home of one of the best mid-twentieth century Italian writers who most have never heard of — Cesare Pavase.

I discovered Pavase’s work as a young dance/theater choreographer in the early 1990’s and instantly became a devoted fan, so much so, that even today I use his name as a secret password for a few ‘special’ sites I visit.

Armed with a puny production grant from The Pennsylvania Council of the Arts, and ninety minutes of shared stage time with my co-artistic director, I set out to write and choreograph a definitive, exhaustive work examinig the great man’s life.

If I were lucky, maybe a hundred people would witness this spectacle, that is, if my friends didn’t stiff me like they did last time.

I conned my co-artistic director into letting me show my piece first on our shared program, rather than risking her audience walking out during intermission before seeing my work.

The stuff you read about dancers being stupid is so not true.

At the time, I was reading a lot of artist’s biographies – I still do – and in them, there always came a time where the subject worte a naive letter to an artistic hero, or perspective mentor, or whatever, never thinking they’d get a reply back — but they always did!

It worked once for me in the past, actually. I wrote a fan letter to Honey Bruce, Lenny’s saucy ex, and she wrote back, and I swear, we sent letters back and forth for years! She even sent my son a card when he was born.

So I know this stuff works, but here’s the rub: In 1950, Pavase followed a great meal with a fine cigar and a bottle of sleeping pills – so this cat ain’t getting any mail I’m sending, right? Never married, sister dead, no family member I can find – this was way before Facebook, remember – so I’m basically screwed, but then I think: his publisher, I’ll write a letter to his publisher! Praying, of course, that he hadn’t offed himself as well.

Cesar Pavase was a top editor at Giulio Einaudi editore in Turin, one of the most prestigious and well-respected publishing houses in Italy (okay, they were a bunch of Communists — grow up). Pavase held the hands — slapped the wrists — of most of the Italian writers we’re all familiar with: Calvino, Ginzburg, Vittorini, and that lot.

One last detail: Guilio Einaudi’s father was once the president of the Italian Republic. This guy’s getting a letter months before the premiere of my opus, I dash off a letter to Guilio Einaudi in Turin – I can’t seem to find a copy of it now, but I do have his reply or rather, his secretary’s reply: Giulio Einaudi will be glad to meet you on 13 March at 7:00 pm at his flat, Piazza Paganica, 50 – Rome.

It worked again! Only this time better! I still get chills reading this thing.  Hey, I don’t know who they thought I was – I’m not even sure I knew who I was – but I had a man-date with one of the most powerful men in Italy.

This was better than the friggin piece! I’m on a roll, letter writing to Italy-wise. I write my dirt poor cousins (I spoke no Italian then) who live near the port city of Bari, saying I’ll be visiting soon, cause I’m meeting Giulio Einaudi at his apartment!

This bunch of card-carrying commies immediately shoot back a letter in obviously shaky English – the penmanship, not the grammar nervously reacting as if I’d be twirling pasta with the Pope.

After making the travel arrangements, I realized two things: One, meeting this guy would have absolutely no bearing on how good this new piece would be. I just was too young, too green as an artist for it to make the necessary impact. And, two, I don’t know what I’m even going to ask him.

I just dug Pavase. I wasn’t nervous. I’m never nervous with this kind of thing. Okay, to the chase: I pound on his sixteenth century door wearing a three-quarter length overcoat that has the flounce of a cape as I walk – in halting English, Giulio later confesses I look like a priest. The man is tall, regal even, with thick, wavy, snow white hair, and a Hamilton-grade tan.  In my memory, he’s wearing a smoking jacket — or I expected him to be wearing on – and his long spindly legs are crossed like a man sans testicles.

I always wish I could cross my legs that way, it looks so European.

He constantly apologizes for his bad English, while sporting around a sixty thousand word vocabulary. We have coffee – I’ll be up for hours now, I’m thinking – and we talk, about the writer, things I could never have read in any book – then he goes to the bookshelf. Einaudi’s bookshelf was like those you see in Woody Allen movies, floor to ceiling, covering an entire wall. He slides out a copy of Lessico Famigliare, Natalia’s best, he says (Ginzburg, I knew that) and hands it to me.  Next he goes for a copy of Severino Cesari’s Colloquio con Giulio Einaudi – didn’t sell too many of these, he jokes as he signs it: To Michael. Giulio. Roma, 13 Marzo, 1992. As he glances at his watch, discreetly, I swipe my gifts and take my cure, reentering the blustery Italian night like a papal’s assistant.

The piece? Hotel Roma premiered several months later to a packed house. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s dance critic at the time – a real bitch-on-wheels, this woman gave it a great review, using a broad headline and devoting ninety-percent of her column to the thing, which rattled my co-artistic director to no end.

Giulio Einaudi? Several years later, on April 5th, 1999, to be exact he died of natural causes.

Screenwriter Michael A. Carson is represented by Max Freedman Management in LA. His latest script, “MESSIAH SEVEN”, is currently in the hands of several Hollywood production companies. See for logline and synopsis.

Comments (2)


    Loved this!! What a coup!! To get a meeting like that with Einaudi!! Awesome.

    And . . . if you’re gonna’ be a commie, be an Italian one. They take the best from both worlds. 🙂

    Pavese was a staple for reading aassignments in school in Italy. I remember liking his writing . . .

    Comment by ElisabethMarch 25, 2009 @ 11:43 am

    Michael is both gifted and a natural…his story hooked me, and I felt as though I was there.

    Comment by Michael AdamseMarch 24, 2009 @ 10:27 am

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