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confessionalWho are Giovanni Guareschi and Don Camillo?
You’re kidding, right? ūüôā Okay, here goes: Guareschi was an Italian political journalist who lived from 1908-1968, and Don Camillo is a fictional character he created for a series of stories which ended up becoming very well known. In the stories, Don Camillo, a Catholic priest, carries on a friendly enmity with Peppone, the Communist mayor of his little village, during the height of the Cold War. The hot-headed priest consults frequently with the Christ on the altar cross in his church, and the reader is privy to the Lord’s often provocative answers.

Why do I sometimes see the author’s name written as “Giovannino” Guareschi?
Because that was his real name! “Giovannino,” is usually a diminutive of “Giovanni” (in English, the two names would be “Johnny” and “John,” respectively), so it’s not surprising that many people simply assumed that the name on “Nino” Guareschi’s birth certificate must be the more formal “Giovanni.” Included among those who got it wrong were the author’s publishers, and that’s why the name on your edition’s dust jacket may read “Giovanni Guareschi.” The publishers were made aware of their error and eventually switched to using “Giovannino” in Italy and much of Europe, but no move was ever made to correct things for the English-speaking audience (for fear of confusing loyal readers and losing sales, I suppose).¬†¬†

When were the Don Camillo stories written, and how many were there? Do we have them all in English? If not, is there a plan to translate the ones that don’t exist in English?
According to Alberto and Carlotta Guareschi, there were 347 Don Camillo stories published in Italian between 1946 (when the first one appeared in Guareschi’s paper, Candido) and 1966 (when the last one appeared as the conclusion of a series in the journal Oggi). After being published individually in periodicals, some of the stories were collected and published in books, which is the form in which we received them in English. But we didn’t get them all. ūüė¶ The six Don Camillo books in English contain just 132 of the stories, say Alberto and Carlotta. As for plans to translate the other 215 stories for publication? We live in hope.

About the books in English: are they in print? If not, how can I get copies?
They’re out of print, so secondhand bookshops are just about your only bet.

What do you mean, out of print? I’ve seen editions for sale at Amazon with fairly recent print dates.
The “in print & in stock” items in Amazon’s catalog are pirated editions. Buy secondhand!

Were the stories popular in their day?
When it was initially published, the very first Don Camillo book could not even get reviewed in Italy, so unpopular were Guareschi’s conservative politics with the left-wing press. But then it was translated into French and a few other languages and became a runaway bestseller, which paved the way for more books, a film series, and an enduring place in the European popular imagination.

Meanwhile, the English translation of that first book, The Little World of Don Camillo, debuted in the US in 1950 as a “Book of the Month Club” pick and was a great success. I’ve read various clippings in which American reviewers of the day give primary credit to the Book of the Month Club for catapulting GG to international fame; this would appear to be an exaggeration at best. But in any event, that first book and subsequent entries in the Don Camillo series did so well here and in Britain that six “non-Camillo” books by Guareschi were eventually translated into English and published more or less on Don Camillo’s coat-tails. And in 1964, the Book of the Month Club came calling again, this time for Comrade Don Camillo.

Into how many languages were the Don Camillo stories translated?
I once asked Alberto Guareschi how many languages Don Camillo has been translated into over the years. The answer? To his knowledge, every language except Mandarin Chinese, Albanian, and … oh, shoot; one other, which I can’t for the life of me remember at the moment. Interestingly,¬†not all were authorized translations. But many of these translated volumes are still (or again) in print.

How do you pronounce “Peppone”?
It’s three syllables– “Peh-poh’-nay.” And it’s actually a standard nickname for “Giuseppe” (Mayor Botazzi’s first name in the stories), at least when the Giuseppe in question is a big fellow (a smaller Giuseppe might be called “Peppino”). I remember originally thinking Guareschi might have invented the name!

What’s the name of Don Camillo and Peppone’s home town? Is it a real place?
The name of Don Camillo and Peppone’s hometown is meant to be unspecified. That said, it’s true that in the very first Don Camillo story Guareschi wrote for his newspaper in 1946 (before he knew it would be such a hit, and the beginning of a long series), the fictional town was called “Pontenara” … but the author must have changed his mind soon after, because the name was never mentioned again, and when it came time to publish the first book of collected Don Camillo stories in 1948, Guareschi had edited the name out.

Things are a little different with respect to the town in the Don Camillo movies. There were five Don Camillo films made in the 1950’s and 60’s, and in the first two of them the priest’s little village goes unnamed. However, in films 3, 4, and 5 in the series, it is given the same name as the real-life town where the location shooting was done: “Brescello.” One can still visit various film-related sites in Brescello, which bills itself as “the town of Don Camillo and Peppone.”

Movies? Tell me more! Were there TV shows as well?
There have been seven films; best-known are the five black-and-white ones starring the great French comic Fernandel as Don Camillo and respected Italian thesp Gino Cervi as Peppone. The series was made in Europe between 1951 and 1965 with the co-operation and (to varying degrees) involvement of Guareschi himself, so it tends to be regarded as definitive. In fact, for many people in Europe, the faces of Don Camillo and Peppone are those of Fernandel and Cervi.

I know of a couple of TV versions but can only give details (and sketchy ones at that) of the BBC’s 1981¬†attempt, which featured Mario Adorf¬†as Don Camillo and Brian Blessed (surely an inspired choice!)¬†as Peppone.

Are there plans for more?
As far as future movie and/or TV plans, I don’t know of any. The Guareschi family has been approached about film adaptations several times in the years since the rights to the books reverted from the publisher back to the heirs, but thus far they have resisted.

Were any of those old movies ever released in the US? Were they popular?
Yes, to the first question. The very first Don Camillo film, 1951’s The Little World of Don Camillo, was released here in 1953 in an English-dubbed version with Orson Welles as the narrator/Voice of Christ! But was it a hit? I’m guessing not, since none of the subsequent films in the series followed it across the Atlantic.

Still the release was sufficiently high-profile to attract one very prominent viewer; here’s the account in Louella Parsons’ “Hollywood Highlights” column for Tuesday, 11 August 1953:

“President Eisenhower, who prefers Western movies, saw ‘The Little World of Don Camillo,’ the controversial movie accused of being both pro- or anti- Communistic depending on who looked at it. If the President had a comment, he didn’t make it.”

How were Guareschi’s books received by the Roman Catholic Church? Weren’t they a little controversial?
Did every Roman Catholic reader agree with everything Guareschi wrote? Of course not. On the other hand, two of Don Camillo’s most prominent fans within the Church were Popes! Pope Pius XII played a role in silencing some of Guareschi’s critics (see next question) when in 1952 he invited Fernandel (who had just played the big priest in¬†two movies) to the Vatican in order to meet the star of “the first film which he really enjoyed.” And then in 1959, Pope John XXIII invited GG to write a new catechism for young people, including apologues featuring Don Camillo. GG refused, say his children, “out of humility.” But wouldn’t it have been a neat little book?

Guareschi wrote lots of anti-Communist stuff, but he also made the character of Peppone, the Communist mayor, a basically good guy. Did the author have closet Communist sympathies?
No, not at all, though some of Guareschi’s detractors did accuse him of it. In fact, in 1952, some former political allies that GG had alienated began a spiteful campaign to have the Don Camillo books put on the Index for their alleged softness on Communism. However, the fact that Pius XII was a fan (see above) was enough to spoil this attempt.

It’s telling that the stories’ “good” Communists tend to be the ones who routinely deviate from Party dictates.

Are Albertino and La Passionaria (aka The Duchess), Guareschi’s children from his family stories, still alive? How could I get in touch with them?
Yes, “Albertino” (Alberto) and “the Passionaria” (Carlotta) Guareschi are alive and well and still in Italy, looking after their father’s legacy by supervising the re-issues of his work and by running “Il Club dei 23,” an association of Guareschi fans. The Club’s website, http://giovanninoguareschi.com/, includes an email address where they may be reached.

Who owns the copyright on Don Camillo? I’d like to write a new Don Camillo story (or adapt some of the original stories and situations for stage/screen).
Alberto and Carlotta Guareschi own the rights. It is my understanding that no requests to use the Don Camillo characters in “original” short stories or novels¬†would be approved (this was also GG’s policy in his lifetime).¬†¬†As for TV/movie/stage¬†adaptations,¬†the family is very cautious about those, too, after being disappointed¬†by certain projects authorized back when the publisher still owned the rights.

What if I don’t want to “properly” publish it? You know, what if I just want to write pastiche/fan fiction for the Internet, and not get paid?
Even though the family disapproves? ūüė¶

Years ago, I did¬†find a Don Camillo parody of sorts at¬†the website of the¬†(now defunct?) humor e-zine Trout. It was pretty funny, too, mashing up The Little World and The Godfather. As far as I know, US copyright law protects parody…but I still wouldn’t try it at home, kids. ūüėČ

How ’bout Graham Greene’s 1982 book Monsignor Quixote, about the adventures of a rural Southern European priest and his unlikely friend, the Communist mayor of his small town? Ummm… no one thought that was a co-incidence, did they?
I asked a¬†Graham Greene expert I met online whether he could shed any light on this one, and he claimed that Greene himself commented somewhere on the superficial resemblance¬†between his plot¬†& characters¬†and Guareschi’s. But the frail priest in the Greene novel is not very much like Don Camillo, and Greene’s story explores other themes. Plus, his book is also — and more overtly — modeled on Don Quixote, so Cervantes is the author it puts more people in mind of.

Incidentally (and for whatever it’s worth),¬†Monsignor Quixote is a very good read.