Biography of Franco Zeffirelli

Franco Zeffirelli (born Gianfranco Zeffirelli) was born in 1923 in an outskirt of Florence, Italy, the result of an affair between Alaide Garosi, a fashion designer, and Ottorino Corsi, a wool and silk dealer. Both of his parents were married at the time of his birth and so neither could give him their surname. As an alternative, his mother came up with "Zeffiretti," which are the "little breezes" mentioned in Mozart's opera Idomeneo, of which she was fond. However, it was misspelled in the register and became Zeffirelli.

Zeffirelli graduated from the Accademia di Belle Arti Firenze in 1941 and went on to study art and architecture at the University of Florence. He fought with the Italian resistance against the German Nazi and Italian fascist regimes in World War II. When he returned to the University of Florence after the war, he saw Laurence Olivier's theatrical production of Henry V (1944) and decided to focus his studies on theater instead. His first major film was The Taming of the Shrew (1967), starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and his big breakout came about a year later with the direction of Romeo and Juliet (1968). The film received widespread critical acclaim and earned Zeffirelli his only Oscar nomination for Best Director. To date, it remains his most memorable and immediately culturally impactful film, and is still widely shown in high school English classes today.

In 1996, Zeffirelli came out as gay, but has otherwise preferred to keep his personal life discreet. Zeffirelli has said in interviews that he considers himself a "homosexual" rather than gay, as he feels the term "gay" is less elegant. Zeffirelli has adopted two adult sons, with whom he worked for years and who now live with him, managing his affairs. He has received criticism from religious groups for what they call the blasphemous representation of biblical figures in his films, as well as criticism from members of the gay community for publicly supporting the Roman Catholic Church with regard to their views on homosexuality. Zeffirelli resides in Florence with his adopted sons.

Study Guides on Works by Franco Zeffirelli