Rita Luisa Zucca (1912 - 1998) was an Italian-American radio announcer who broadcast Axis propaganda to Allied troops in Italy and North Africa. She became known as one of the "Axis Sallys", along with Mildred Gillars, who broadcast out of Berlin, Germany.
Zucca's father, Louis, owned a very successful restaurant in New York's Midtown district in the 1930s and 1940s, called Zucca's Italian Garden. Located at 116-118-120 West 49th Street, the restaurant had its own promotional postcards which displayed a distinctly refined setting. Zucca spent her teenage years in a convent school in Florence and, as a young woman, had worked in the family business.
She returned to Italy in 1938, working as a typist and renouncing her American citizenship three years later to save her family's property from expropriation by Mussolini's government.
As the Allied invasion of Italy progressed, the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini decided to try and emulate the German radio’s Axis Sally broadcasts of Mildred Gillars. In the summer of 1943, the Italian national radio network in Rome hired the 30-year-old Zucca with this aim in mind, in spite of her losing a typing job in 1942 for copying an anti-Fascist pamphlet.
Zucca was teamed with German broadcaster Charles Goedel in the program 'Jerry's Front Calling'. Much to Gillars' chagrin, Zucca was also referred to as Axis Sally. Zucca's trademark sign-off was "a sweet kiss from Sally", and she was often mistaken for Gillars.
Her broadcasts sometimes used intelligence provided by the German embassy in Rome in an attempt to confuse Allied troops. One notable example came on July 8, 1943, the night before the invasion of Sicily. Zucca's broadcast that night told "the wonderful boys of the 504th Parachute Regiment" that "Col. Willis Mitchell's playboys the 61st Troop Carrier Group are going to carry you to certain death. We know where and when you are jumping and you will be wiped out."
As the Allied armies advanced north into Rome, Zucca retreated north with the Germans in 1944 and resumed broadcasting from Milan. There, in September 1944, the broadcast crew of Jerry's Front was attached to a German military propaganda unit called the Liberty Station. By then Zucca was pregnant. Her son was born on December 15, 1944. She returned to the microphone 40 days later and continued until her final broadcast on April 25, 1945.
A correspondent from the American military magazine Stars and Stripes said that Zucca's well-known crossed-eye condition did nothing to detract from her attractiveness: "True, her left eye is inclined to wander — but that cooey, sexy voice really has something to back it up."
Newspapers in America were far more scathing. "Soft-Voiced 'Sally from Berlin' Found to Be Ugly Ex–N.Y. Girl" was a typical headline, with descriptions of the young mother as "[as] ugly and unattractive in person as her voice was appealing." Another journalist called her "cross-eyed, bow-legged and sallow-skinned."
All attempts by the American government to prosecute Zucca for treason broke down when it became clear that she had renounced her American citizenship before she had started broadcasting. The FBI's J. Edgar Hoover wrote to the Justice Department: "In view of the fact that she has lost her American citizenship, no efforts are being made at the present time to develop a treason case against her."
Zucca was then tried by an Italian military tribunal on charges of collaboration. On March 29, 1946 she was sentenced to 4½ years in prison, but was released after 9 months. She was barred from returning to the United States.
In popular culture
- Herman Charles Morris (1946) World war II in pictures. New York, The Journal of Living Pub. Corp. p. 737
- Zucca’s Italian Garden: call Bryant 5511 Ephemeral New York, May 4, 2009
- Axis Sally: The Americans Behind That Alluring Voice, HistoryNet, November 23, 2009
- Byrd Stuart Leavell (1970) The 8th Evac: a history of the University of Virginia hospital unit in World War II. p. 213. Richmond: Dietz Press. OCLC:116968
- William G. Shofield (1964) Treason Trail. p. 24-25. Chicago: Rand McNally
- Tom Maloney (1946) United States camera, Volume 10, Issue 11. p. 20. New York: U.S. Camera Publishing Corp.
- Richard Lamparski (1968) Whatever became of…? Vol II. p. 10. New York: Ace Books. OCLC: 8977472
- Wiener, Robert (March 21, 2012). "Both sides used radio as wartime weapon". New Jersey Jewish News. Retrieved February 21, 2014.
- Rita Zucca at the Internet Movie Database
- Talking History radio show on Axis Sally, Tokyo Rose, and Lord Haw Haw
- Courtroom Battle of World War II (Part 1 of 3). contains information on the careers and fates of some of the Nazi broadcasters and other collaborators.
- Courtroom Battles of World War II (Part 2 of 3).
- Courtroom Battles of World War II (Part 3 of 3). Listed as "Rita Louisa Zucci."