Antonio Griffo Focas Flavio Angelo Ducas Comneno Porfirogenito Gagliardi de Curtis di Bisanzio, best known by his stage name Totò or simply as Antonio de Curtis, and nicknamed il Principe della risata ("the Prince of laughter"), was an Italian actor, comedian, writer, poet, singer and lyricist. He was commonly referred to as one of the most popular Italian performers of all time. He is best known for his funny and sometimes cynical character as a comedian in theatre and then in many successful films shot from the 1940s to the 1960s, all regularly still on TV, but he also worked with many iconic Italian film directors in dramatic/poetic roles.
While he first gained his popularity as a comic actor, his dramatic roles, poetry, and songs are all deemed to be outstanding; writer and philosopher Umberto Eco has thus commented on the importance of Totò in Italian culture:
"[...] in this globalized world where it seems that everyone sees the same movies and eats the same food, there are still unbridgeable divisions between cultures. How can two peoples ever come to understand each other when one of them is ignorant of Totò?"
Mario Monicelli, who directed some of the most appreciated of Totò's movies, thus described his artistic value:
With Totò, we got it all wrong. He was a genius, not just a grandiose actor. And we constrained him, reduced him, forced him into a common human being, and thus clipped his wings.