A local life: Felice Quinto, 80

'King of the paparazzi' Felice Quinto, 80

Blonde Swedish actress Anita Ekberg, shoeless and holding a bow for her arrows, angrily confronts freelance photographer Felice Quinto outside her Rome Villa Oct. 20, 1960 in Rome.
Blonde Swedish actress Anita Ekberg, shoeless and holding a bow for her arrows, angrily confronts freelance photographer Felice Quinto outside her Rome Villa Oct. 20, 1960 in Rome. (Associated Press - Associated Press)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 7, 2010

In "La Dolce Vita," his 1960 film about jaded sophisticates at play, Italian director Federico Fellini portrayed a week in the life of a tabloid reporter in Rome. The reporter, played by Marcello Mastroianni, visits nightclubs and parties, has sexual encounters, drinks too much and contemplates his spiritual emptiness as the line between glamour and desperation is blurred.

Mastroianni's partner in pursuit of pleasure and tabloid headlines is a sharp-elbowed, flash-in-the-face photographer named Paparazzo. The term "paparazzi" is derived from his character.

The photographer who may have been the model for Paparazzo was one of Fellini's friends in Rome, Felice Quinto, who died of pneumonia Jan. 17 in Rockville at age 80.

Mr. Quinto strolled with his camera among the cafes of the Via Veneto, waiting for opportunities to capture celebrities and royals acting like mere mortals. He hid in bushes, assumed false identities and raced around Rome on his motorcycle to get the pictures that fed gossip-hungry publications around the world. He was always well dressed, and press accounts sometimes called him the "king of the paparazzi."

"I was the first to begin in Rome before Fellini was doing his movie," Mr. Quinto told the Dallas Morning News in 1985. "We were five to begin with, five press photographers -- but freelancing. By the time Fellini came out with the movie, it was already about four years that I had been doing photography."

According to his wife, Fellini asked Mr. Quinto to play a photographer in "La Dolce Vita," but he declined because being a paparazzo on the streets of Rome was far more lucrative. In the end, Mr. Quinto had a brief appearance in the film as a bystander.

Fiction and reality collided for Mr. Quinto one night in 1960 when he snapped a photo of actress Anita Ekberg -- featured in "La Dolce Vita" as a starlet stalked by paparazzi -- smooching a married movie producer at a cafe in Rome. When Mr. Quinto staked out Ekberg's house at 5 a.m., the Swedish bombshell emerged in stocking feet and a black cocktail dress, armed with a bow and arrow.

One arrow struck a photographer's car and a second nicked Mr. Quinto's hand.

"She just let it go and goodbye, Charlie," he recalled in a 1997 interview with ABC News.

The enraged actress wasn't finished. She attacked Mr. Quinto with her fists and a well-placed knee to the groin.

"And so, from one word to another," he later put it, "she just grab me by my coat, wow, with the right knee, get me where the sun doesn't shine."

The episode would seem to have come from the fevered imagination of, well, a tabloid reporter if it hadn't been caught on film by one of Mr. Quinto's fellow paparazzi.


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