The premier Italian actor of the postwar era, Marcello Mastroianni was among the most popular international stars in movie history. A speculative, almost introverted screen presence, he was the perfect foil for the arid, often puzzling films of directors like Michelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fellini, with whom he achieved some of his greatest success. Born September 28, 1924 in Fontana Liri, Italy, Mastroianni worked in Rome as a draughtsman during World War II. Towards the close of the conflict he was captured by the Nazis and exiled to a labor camp in northern Germany, but he managed to escape and subsequently flee to Venice, where he spent the remainder of the war in hiding. Upon returning to Rome in 1945, Mastroianni accepted an accounting position with Eagle Lion (Rank) Films, and in his spare hours performed with a local drama troupe, earning raves for an appearance in Angelica which brought him to the attention of director Luchino Visconti, who subsequently cast him in his production of As You Like It. Mastroianni became a regular member of Visconti's company and starred in dramas ranging from A Streetcar Named Desire to Death of a Salesman to Uncle Vanya. In 1947 he made his film debut in I Miserabli but did not reappear again onscreen for two more years.
Although Mastroianni enjoyed a successful and prolific motion-picture career from 1949 onward, the films he made in his earliest days as a screen actor were almost exclusively minor efforts, rarely screened outside of Italy. In 1955 he co-starred with Vittorio De Sica and Sophia Loren -- an actress with whom he would frequently be paired in the years to come -- in Alessandro Blasetti's comedy Peccato che Sia una Canaglia and later worked with director Mario Monicelli on Padri e Figli. Still, for the most part both the casts and crews of his projects were undistinguished, and he remained an unknown outside of his native land. However, in 1957 Mastroianni reunited with Visconti for Le Notti Bianche, a picture which the actor later noted as a film that re-ignited his waning interest in the performing process. He next appeared as a supporting player in Monicelli's classic crime caper I Soliti Ignot, and for the first time he enjoyed success in the overseas market. However, his international breakthrough was Fellini's 1960 masterpiece, La Dolce Vita; a long, enigmatic exposé of the lives of Italy's Via Veneto set (Rome's wealthy socialites and partygoers), the picture was a global smash, and star Mastroianni, portraying a jaded, disillusioned gossip columnist, became a worldwide success story.