Walter Santesso (center) as Paparazzo in La Dolce Vita
photograph: Cine Bazar
The common noun paparazzo and its plural form paparazzi were first used in English in the American magazine Time of 14th April 1961:
Paparazzi on the Prowl
On Rome’s Via Veneto, the night was gay with lights and pink azaleas in curbside tubs. At a sidewalk café, Ivan Kroscenko, 31, a man in a black leather jacket, sipped espresso and cased the pedestrian traffic with a predatory eye. A bearded giant strode past: Cinemactor Steve (“Hercules”) Reeves. “Mr. Universe,” sneered Kroscenko softly. “So who cares?” He was after bigger game. “Linda Christian, Ava Gardner, Anita Ekberg, Jayne Mansfield,” he rolled the names lovingly across his tongue. “They are important people. They make trouble.” Kroscenko rose, slung the strap of his Rolleicord camera over a shoulder, and went prowling for trouble.
Trouble that can be shot with a camera is Kroscenko’s business. A three-block stretch of the Via Veneto, cascading from the Aurelian Wall to the U.S. embassy, is his favorite hunting ground. Here, in the glittering array of hotels, smart shops and open-air cafés, throng Kroscenko’s picturesque prey. He is a paparazzo,* one of a ravenous wolf pack of freelance photographers who stalk big names for a living and fire with flash guns at point-blank range.
Shot from a Box. The paparazzi are a small crew—a couple of dozen at most—and they are more bullyboys than news photographers. They lounge beneath lampposts, lips leaking cigarettes, cameras drawn like automatics. “Come esce lo faccio secco [When he comes out, I’ll drill him],” they snarl, while waiting for their quarry to open a nightclub door. Then the paparazzi attack. These days they find more and more targets. Easter is past, celebrities are drifting down the peninsula, and hot times are ahead.
No one is safe, not even royalty (see cut). In February on the Veneto, when U.S. Actor Ernest Borgnine and his estranged wife, Katy Jurado, wrangled in the street, cameras popped. They caught Actor Cornel Wilde struggling with a local heckler, froze Anita Ekberg’s bosom as it heaved in a wild dance at a private Roman orgy. When Katharine Hepburn passed through town recently, the paparazzi mounted Vespa scooters, putt-putted out to waylay her at Fiumicino Airport. Because Ava Gardner once called him a dirty name, Paparazzo Tazio Secchiaroli vengefully hid for hours in a cardboard box on a Cinecittà movie lot, finally got what he came for: an unflattering shot of Ava in an old bath towel, hair wet and stringy as a mop.
Like a King. In slack moments, the paparazzi manufacture incidents: one of their number taunts a show business idol into arm-flailing rage, and bulbs flash. The practice has a sound commercial basis: Italian newspapers and magazines pay as little as $5 for paparazzo portraits of quiescent celebrities; pictures of celebrities rampant bring as much as $500.
Legitimate news photographers scorn the paparazzi as streetwalkers of Roman journalism. But like streetwalkers, they cling to their place in society. Via Veneto cafés have found they are good for business. With paparazzi lurking just off the premises, cash customers mass to watch for fireworks.
Now and then, a paparazzo goes on to loftier things—Tazio Secchiaroli has his own agency, employs five photographers. But most are content to bay on the Via Veneto. Displaced Russian Kroscenko would not consider moving his base of operations. “I couldn’t live anywhere else but here,” he said. “I feel like a king. I make the Via Veneto, and it makes me.”
* A name coined by Movie Director Federico Fellini for a freelance photographer in La Dolce Vita, his gamy study of Roman café society. “Paparazzo,” says Fellini, “suggests to me a buzzing insect, hovering, darting, stinging.”
The common noun, therefore, is from the name of the character Paparazzo (played by Walter Santesso – 1931-2008) in La Dolce Vita (1960) by the Italian film director Federico Fellini (1920-93).
But the choice of this name has been variously explained. The origin given in the magazine Time does not appear in I, Fellini (published in 1995), in which Federico Fellini told Charlotte Chandler:
When we came up with the name in 1959, I had no idea “paparazzo,” or “paparazzi,” would become a word in many languages. It’s from an opera libretto with a character named Paparazzo. Someone told it to me, and it sounded just right for our soulless photographer, who is more of a camera than a man. It’s really his camera that observes. He sees the world through the lens of a camera, the reason I go in close on the camera he is holding in his last appearance in the film.
It appears from this interview that Fellini did not know which opera libretto had a character called Paparazzo, and it is possible that this name is a combination of Papageno and Sarastro from The Magic Flute, an opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to a German libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder. It must be added that the Italian suffix -azzo, variant of -accio, also has pejorative connotations.
But Ennio Flaiano (1910-72), Fellini’s co-screenwriter, wrote in Fogli di via Veneto, giugno 1958 (Leaves of Via Veneto, June 1958 – published in Europeo, 22d July 1962) that he and Fellini found the name Paparazzo by opening at random “quell’aureo libretto” (“that golden little book”), Sulla riva dello Ionio, the 1957 Italian translation by Margherita Guidacci of By the Ionian Sea. Notes of a Ramble in Southern Italy (1901), by the English writer George Robert Gissing (1857-1903). In chapter 13, The Breezy Height, the author has just arrived at Catanzaro, the capital of Calabria:
My hotel afforded me little amusement after the Concordia at Cotrone, yet it did not lack its characteristic features. I found, for instance, in my bedroom a printed notice, making appeal in remarkable terms to all who occupied the chamber. The proprietor—thus it ran—had learnt with extreme regret that certain travellers who slept under his roof were in the habit of taking their meals at other places of entertainment. This practice, he desired it to be known, not only hurt his personal feelings—tocca il suo morale—but did harm to the reputation of his establishment. Assuring all and sundry that he would do his utmost to maintain a high standard of culinary excellence, the proprietor ended by begging his honourable clients that they would bestow their kind favours on the restaurant of the house—signora pregare i suoi respettabili clienti perche vogliano benignarsi il ristorante; and therewith signed himself—Coriolano Paparazzo.
It has also been said that one of the origins of the proper name Paparazzo in La Dolce Vita is the fact that in the dialect of Abruzzi, where Flaiano came from, the feminine noun paparazza, plural paparazze, designates a clam found in local waters, the sound of its shell’s opening and closing being reminiscent of that of a camera lens.