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Raf Vallone, 86; Italian Soccer Player, Lawyer Turned Film Star

November 04, 2002|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Raf Vallone, the ruggedly handsome soccer player, lawyer, reporter and movie critic who became an international film star with the classic "Bitter Rice" in the late 1940s, has died. He was 86.

Vallone, who made films from Italy to Hollywood in Italian, French and English, died Thursday in a hospital in Rome of unspecified causes.

Often compared to Burt Lancaster, the athletic Vallone proved as popular with American audiences in the 1960s as he had with Italians in the late 1940s and 1950s. Among his films that were well-received in the U.S. were "Two Women" in 1960 and "El Cid" in 1961, both co-starring Sophia Loren. He played Jean Harlow's stepfather in the 1965 "Harlow."

Vallone delighted the bald director Otto Preminger by volunteering to shave his thick dark crop of hair for a role as the bald cleric in "The Cardinal" in 1963. Vallone also played memorable clerics in Henry Hathaway's "Nevada Smith" in 1966 and Francis Ford Coppola's "Godfather Part III" in 1990.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday November 05, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 12 inches; 439 words Type of Material: Correction
Raf Vallone -- The obituary of Italian actor Raf Vallone in Monday's California section incorrectly stated his birthplace. He was born in Tropea, Calabria, Italy.

But the American role that Vallone made his own was Eddie, the Italian American dockworker obsessed with his niece in Arthur Miller's "A View from the Bridge." After Vallone saw a London production of the play, he sought and won the role as Eddie in the Paris version, which ran for 550 performances.

When Sidney Lumet filmed the play, Vallone easily won the screen role in 1962 opposite Maureen Stapleton.

In addition to Loren and Stapleton, Vallone worked in his half-century on film, TV and the stage with Silvana Mangano, Simone Signoret, Gina Lollobrigida, Anna Magnani, Melina Mercouri and his wife, Elena Varzi.

Cast as leading man and in character parts, including villains, Vallone was never considered for comedic roles. Yet he wanted to try comedy, he told The Times in 1965 when he was in Los Angeles to film "Harlow," with Carroll Baker.

"To be an actor is to be someone who likes to express himself, to integrate himself with his part," he said. "I [have] missed occasions to transmit my joy, my optimism, about life. It is my particular attitude to be generous, to look for the positive, in front of the mistakes of other people ... my sympathy for the human being."

Raffaele Vallone was born in Tropea in the Cambria section of Italy; his father was a prominent lawyer, his mother an aristocrat. He earned law and philosophy degrees at the University of Turin and practiced law with his father, while playing semiprofessional soccer and hoping to make a career of the sport.

When that didn't happen, Vallone became a sports reporter for the communist newspaper L'Unita and drama critic for the journal La Stampa. He was also a member of the anti-Fascist resistance during World War II.

Although he had a bit part as a sailor in the 1942 "We the Living," Vallone gave little thought to an acting career until Giuseppe De Santis hired him a few years later to research "Bitter Rice," which was about labor strife in the Po River valley. De Santis, declaring Vallone "a natural," cast him as the soldier vying with Vittorio Gassman for the affections of leading lady Mangano. The neo-realist film made Vallone, by then in his early 30s, a worldwide star and gave him a new career.

Although he seemed to have no problems finding work on stages in Rome, Paris, London and New York or in films in Europe and the U.S., in 1989, Vallone joined Gina Lollobrigida and other actors to protest the increasing number of foreign performers hired for Italian films.

Vallone, who is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter, said three years ago that he was unconcerned with thoughts of death. "I am not afraid of dying," he said. "I'm afraid of getting old."

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