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|Sir Robert Rietti|
8 February 1923
|Other names||Bobby Rietti|
Born of Italian heritage, Rietti was “discovered” at the age of 8 by his father Vittorio, veteran actor of the stage and screen, who noticed the boy had completely memorised a copy of a script he had given Lucio, having wanted help from his son while rehearsing his lines for a play. Vittorio had Lucio join his own acting school (which turned out students such as Ida Lupino). Hollywood mogul David O. Selznick, having seen the boy perform, tried to sign him to an extended contract with his studio but, being so young, strict schooling laws of the time forced him to decline the offer. He was handpicked by Alfred Hitchcock for the role of Stevie in Sabotage (1936), but again was forced to turn down the part. Eventually his father managed to work around these laws, and, under the name Bobby Rietti, made over 22 films before the age of 10. In the theatre he scored his first success starring as Poor Jo in Dickens' Bleak House sharing the billing with Gracie Fields, after which he starred as Jonathan opposite Elizebeth Bergner in The Boy David.
He was 15 years old when World War II broke out and, being of Italian family, was placed in a detention camp with his father and brother Ronaldo (later a film director and producer). After eight months he was released upon special request to organise an army unit made up of professional actors to entertain the troops. It was during this time that his stage name was altered to Robert Rietty in an attempt to make it sound less Italian and more Irish (who were neutral during the war). It was under the name Robert Rietty that he would come to be known best by the public. After 5½ years of army service Rietty returned to public attention, picking up where he had left off. Over the next several years he participated in every form of entertainment: radio, stage, films and the early days of television.
In radio Rietty teamed up with Orson Welles twice for The Third Man (1951) (a.k.a. Harry Lime), based on the hit film and the crime drama series The Black Museum (1952) broadcast to the United States armed forces. This proved to be the beginning of a lifelong friendship between the two and Orson used Rietty in many of his films. Rietty was also a regular on the radio series Horatio Hornblower (1952), Scarlet Pimpernel (1952) and Theatre Royal (1954), the last with Sir Laurence Olivier, as well as frequent guest appearances on other radio shows. In films Rietty continued to work mostly in character parts with the exception of his performances in Call of the Blood (1948), Prelude to Fame (1950) and Stock Car (1955). Also during this time he was heavily involved in the theatre starring in dozens of plays, even writing quite a few, and was editor of the drama quarterly Gambit.
Rietty once found the script of the Italian play To Live in Peace, which his father had translated to English, but had no luck convincing anyone to produce it. Despite the fact the story was rejected countless times, he rewrote the script and found a producer willing to back the project with his father in the lead role as Don Geronimo and himself as Maso. The play became an instant success, winning many awards, and toured in Europe, eventually being made twice as films made for television in 1951 and 1952. Rietty and his father were knighted by the Italian Government for their contribution to the Italian entertainment industry, in particular from translating Italian plays into English. Robert's knighthood was then upgraded. Early television took up much of Rietty's time, guest-starring repeatedly in over 100 TV shows, many of them being shot live. In television he often got the chance to work with his father again, most notably in The Jack Benny Program episode "Jack Falls Into Canal in Venice" (1957) and in the pilot for the series Harry's Girls (1960). During the next 15 years most of Robert's acting was confined to TV and film with his most memorable performances in The Crooked Road (1965) with Robert Ryan and Stewart Granger, Hell Is Empty (1967) produced by his brother Ronald and co-starring French actress Martine Carol (who died before the end of shooting the film), The Italian Job (1969) and The Omen (1976) with Gregory Peck.
During this time Rietty made the change from actor to director (although he continued acting), becoming heavily involved in post-production work, directing and revoicing, and became sought-after director in Hollywood and Europe, known as the "King Of Dubbers" and "Man of a Thousand Voices". His direction was used for almost every film in the James Bond series (and he acted in several) and hundreds of pictures.