The birth of the motion picture industry in the United States coincided with the immigration of millions of Italians to America. Behind the camera, Italian immigrants played an integral role in the development of Hollywood. On screen, however, their portrayal was overwhelmingly negative. Today, Italian Americans are among the industry’s most noteworthy talents, yet the media continue to promote harmful stereotypes of Italian Americans as an ethnic group.
ITALIANS IN EARLY HOLLYWOOD
As masons, designers, artists, musicians, and tailors, many Italian immigrants and Italian Americans found work on Hollywood movie sets, where their skills were in great demand. Victor Venticinque, known by his stage name Vic Vent, worked for several studios as a musician. In this image, he instructs German American actress Marlene Dietrich, one of the highest-paid stars of her time, how to play the musical saw.
As a studio musician, Vent worked alongside Rita Hayworth in Gilda and Down to Earth. Vent used this musical saw, which produces an ethereal tone when played with a bow, during performances and to produce sound effects for films such as Wuthering Heights.
Another such immigrant was Antonio Campanaro, who arrived in the United States in 1913, and settled in Los Angeles. Campanaro, pictured left with comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, appeared in several early Hollywood films but is best remembered as Hal Roach’s animal trainer in the Our Gang (Little Rascals) and Laurel and Hardy series.
Campanaro’s pit bulls Pal and Pete were known on screen as Pete the Pup, or Petey. The dogs’ distinctive dark ring around one eye, partially created with makeup, made them among the most recognizable canine characters in film history. Continue reading at ItalianHall.org.