On this date in 1983, Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli comes out as gay in an interview with The Advocate, saying, “I’m gay…. This is the first time I’ve talked about it openly. I don’t like to talk about my sexual inclinations. People are not special because they like one thing better than another in bed.”
Franco Zeffirelli, born on February 12, 1923, in Florence, Italy, was an acclaimed film director, screenwriter, and producer. Throughout his career, Zeffirelli left an indelible mark on the world of cinema, with his unique vision, and passion for storytelling.
Zeffirelli’s deep passion for theater led him to work as an assistant to notable theater directors such as Luchino Visconti and Laurence Olivier. He honed his craft, learning from the best in the field, and soon gained recognition for his talent and innovative approach to stage design. Zeffirelli’s groundbreaking production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” at London’s Old Vic Theatre in 1960 catapulted him to international acclaim.
Building on his success in theater, Zeffirelli ventured into opera, collaborating with renowned artists and opera houses worldwide. His notable productions included Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” at La Scala in Milan. Zeffirelli’s ability to seamlessly merge the elements of music, drama, and visuals on stage earned him accolades and further solidified his reputation as a master of spectacle and emotion.
Film Career: Zeffirelli’s transition to filmmaking was a natural progression of his artistic pursuits. In 1967, he directed his first feature film, “The Taming of the Shrew,” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The film was praised for its energetic performances, vibrant cinematography, and Zeffirelli’s ability to adapt Shakespearean works for the screen while retaining their essence.
One of Zeffirelli’s most notable films is his 1968 adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet.” This cinematic masterpiece captivated audiences worldwide with its romanticism, meticulous attention to detail, and unforgettable performances by Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting. The film garnered critical acclaim, earning four Academy Award nominations and winning two.
Zeffirelli continued to create a diverse range of films throughout his career, including “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” (1972), “Endless Love” (1981), “Tea with Mussolini” (1999), and “Callas Forever” (2002). Each film showcased his versatility as a director, from historical epics to intimate dramas, while maintaining his distinct visual style and emotional storytelling.
Franco Zeffirelli’s contributions to cinema, theater, and opera are immeasurable. His dedication to visually stunning productions, meticulous attention to detail, and ability to breathe new life into classic works cemented his status as one of the greatest Italian directors of his time. Zeffirelli’s films continue to inspire and resonate with audiences, showcasing his profound understanding of human emotions and universal themes.
Franco Zeffirelli’s legacy as an Italian film director, theater director, and opera producer and as a gay man remains unparalleled. Zeffirelli’s passion for the arts, his commitment to excellence, and his ability to evoke powerful emotions continue to make him a revered figure in the realm of cinema. His contributions will forever be celebrated, and his films will continue to captivate generations to come.
Zeffirelli died after a long illness on June 15, 2019.