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Emilio D'Alessandro

In 1960 the young Emilio D'Alessandro left Italy to avoid the military service obligation and found himself in London working as the driver for a certain Mr. Kubrick. He served the great director for 30 years, becoming one of Kubrick's closest friends and confidant.

I knew him well
by Piero Calderoni

From Cassino to London: a life spent in Stanley Kubrick's circle.


Whoever has seen Eyes Wide Shut probably remembers him: the newspaper vendor who sells the daily to Tom Cruise. A small part, sure. Yet behind that apparition in Stanley Kubrick's last film lies the story of a long, and not well known, friendship. The name of that "newspaper vendor", in fact, is Emilio D'Alessandro, born in Cassino, a little town between Rome and Neaples, 59 years ago and spent thirty years of his life at the side of the great director (who passed away Sunday, March 7, 1999). He served him first as driver, then as assistant, and finally as a catch-all secretary, confidant and friend... Now D'Alessandro has returned to live in Cassino, in a beautiful little two-story villa, immersed in the countryside. On his kitchen walls hang a few framed photographs of D'Alessandro with Kubrick's family in their garden in St. Albans, near London. On the refrigerator, a picture of Nicole Kidman on the set, and another of the last Rolls-Royce he drove for Kubrick. D'Alessandro's English wife, Janette, offers us coffee and pastries, while he opens a huge album full of photographs; he turns the pages and tells us his stories...

"It was 1960. I was 19, was here in Cassino, and I was really afraid of going into the military service: marches, weapons... I preferred to escape to England with some friends. After some time, in London, the police approached us and said, 'If you go to Italy you'll end up in prison, but if you stay here you have to find a job'... There wasn't much choice." In 1962 he married Janette, and work was going well. Since he had always had a passion for cars (he also raced), he was taken in as the taxi driver for a small society.

"One nice day," he remembers, "in 1970, it had snowed in London and there was ice everywhere. They told me that I had to transport a huge object from one side of town to the other. I went in a shed and, to my surprise, discovered that I would be taking an enormous fallus that I later delivered to the set of the film A Clockwork Orange. That was the first time I worked, without knowing it, for the society of Mr. Kubrick. Some time later I was called to Abbots Mead, at the time the house of Stanley Kubrick, to Elstree Herts, an area outside London, where there were cinematographic studios. Kubrick was holding in his hand a newspaper clipping in which there was a story of my days as a pilot, and he asked me if I wanted to work just for him. I would have to drive his car, a beautiful white Mercedes. I had only seen cars like that in the movies and was so struck by his luxurious offer. I noted, however, that it wasn't a convertible and asked why. He replied that he had a recurring nightmare: a car accident, with the car flipping over and him dying because there was no top!"

That first meeting with Kubrick left Emilio with an indelible impression, just as strong today, of a calm man who never yelled. ("If he had to tell you something, he never said it to you in the heat of the moment but instead would let a few days pass and then bring up the subject, letting you know how he was thinking.") But he was also a solitary, insecure man, full of fears, above all in his relationships with other people. Here's another episode: "In 1975 they began scoutings for Barry Lyndon and I started to drive around Stanley. We got to know each other better. He liked me because I was calm, like him, I didn't drink, I wasn't a ladies' man - I was happily married to Janette... He ordered me to stay with the actors, take them where they needed to go, pick them up at the airport, let them see where they'd be staying. I was the first person they met upon arrival. Kubrick, always insecure and suspicious, asked me to ask certain things to learn what they were really already thinking of him, what kind of comments they'd make." D'Alessandro pauses again, takes a sip of tea and then adds with a wicked smile: "Ryan O'Neal and Marisa Berenson were terrified! She, in the car, told me that among actors Kubrick had a reputation as a brusque director. I calmed her down. We stopped to eat at a truckstop along the way. As soon as we entered there was a whistle of admiration. We didn't respond. We ate excellent sandwiches with cheese and then left. Another whistle greeted us. When we arrived on the set, Kubrick came up to me afraid that Berenson was hungry. I told him that we had already eaten. He was surprised: but what's this, he said, that with all the money they make me spend, then they eat bread and cheese with you! But he was satisfied with my initiative."

D'Alessandro at this moment was not longer just Kubrick's driver, but also his assistant. He was the only person allowed to enter his study ("Never be out of pens, ink, or bloc-notes."), who had to run the house ("Stanley only ate meat, so I had to buy two steaks per day: one for him and one for his dog. Then when there was a buzz for I don't know what kind of virus, he would only eat salmon!") and care for his adored animals, the dogs and cats especially. "If one of his dogs was sick, I had to call the veterinarian, who in turn had to come to Kubrick's house until the animal began to get better... His favorite cat used to sleep in a small climatized room and I had to take him Evian water and fresh grass to eat every morning.”


A group picture in the garden of the villa in St. Albans: (from left) Christiane, Jan Harlan, Stanley, Emilio and Andros Epaminondas, and two of the dearly-loved dogs. 1994

When Kubrick wasn't home, Emilio's job was to leave him a list of tasks and appointments written on a piece of paper in a sealed envelope. Otherwise Kubrick would have passed his days with his favorite hobby: playing chess. Ruthless matches in which he wanted absolutely not to lose. "If he had any doubt he would glue himself to the telephone, asking an expert friend to advise him on the best move." Another of Kubrick's passions ("a real, true mania" according to D'Alessandro) was to see all newly-released films: "Every week he would watch three or four movies that we (his Greek assistant Andros Epaminondas and I) would project for him. He liked war movies, which is why, I think, his own favorite film was Paths of Glory with Kirk Douglas. I remember one film he liked in which Dean Martin sings the famous song That's Amore! which at a certain point has the line, 'Pasta e fasuli'. Kubrick asked me what it meant, and when I explained that it was an Italian dish he asked me immediately to cook it for him. And then he realized that pasta was easy to cook; he just never got tired of it. His favorite dish was pasta alla Bolognese, with sausage!"

Kubrick rarely left home; when he did so it was to go to concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, or where his daughter Vivian was giving a concert. "He liked instead to play the drums, at home, alone or with friends. He tried also an electric drumset, the one that plays just with the push of a button, but once he told me, smiling, that he preferred using drumsticks than pushing buttons. His last drumset was a gift from his daughter Vivian. Unfortunately he didn't have enough time to use it..."

Kubrick never visited many people; he never had very many friends. One of his chances to see them was November 5, Guy Fawkes' Day and a national holiday that the town-area of St. Albans celebrates with fantastic fireworks. "Stanley heard very often from just a few people: Jack Nicholson and Ryan O'Neal, whose daughter Tatum played with Kubrick's daughters. When he made 2001: A Space Odyssey, he saw both George C. Scott and Peter Sellars quite often. And he also really liked Ennio Morricone and Nino Rota. At that point he became friends with George Lucas and then there was Steven Spielberg. Lately Tom Cruise... I repeat, when he had to check in with someone, he did it over the telephone. He and Federico Fellini, for example, heard from each other very frequently, but because Kubrick didn't speak a word of Italian I served as interpreter. Kubrick was curious. He would have me ask Fellini how he had filmed a specific scene, and then he'd want to know how on Earth Nino Rota had settled on that particular music; and Fellini would respond to me. They shared their opinions on Italian films... another director he had his eye on was Spielberg. Those two were constantly in touch. And every once in a while, with the excuse of taking him a greeting card, Kubrick would send me to the set of Jurrasic Park, which Spielberg was making. In reality, he would ask me to watch how the filming was going or whether Spielberg had taken the advice Kubrick had given him over the phone."

In 1980 Stanley Kubrick was very busy indeed with Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall in the making of The Shining, so he begged Emilio and Janette to drive around his parents, invited to London during that period: "I think we made a good impression. His parents, actually, went to Fortnum & Mason and gave us a huge package full of sweets and all kinds of goodies. Kubrick was very happy. My wife Janette had become a sort of personal assistant for Christiane, Kubrick's wife. After Christmas parties they would go off together to buy gifts for everyone, and then, at home, wrap all the presents together. Janette also mended her dresses. When the Kubricks, though, needed something more special, a dress for her, a suit for him, they went to Willie Rothary, one of the costume designers for Barry Lyndon, who worked near Windsor Castle and sewed even for the royal family. Stanley was like that, always trying to give business to friends or work collaborators."

Emilio and Kubrick's friendship continued to grow, indissoluble, in as much as Kubrick, as a sign of gratitude and respect, listed D'Alessandro as production assistant in the credits of his last three films: The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut. In 1974 Janette was recovered in the hospital, and D'Alessandro, being busy with Kubrick who is preparing Barry Lyndon, didn't know what to do with his young children. "Kubrick told me not to worry: 'Bring them to our house; Christiane and I will take care of it.' They spent one month at Kubrick's house! At our daughter Marisa's first communion, Stanley and his entire family came to our house to celebrate. And among friends, close friends, he never could keep a segret, not even about work. Once, for example, he told me to take my whole family to the set of The Shining to attend the shooting of the scene in which the boy is chased through the labyrinth by Nicholson with an axe. 'It will be fun, I promise!' he said."

Even in Emilio D'Alessandro's memories, Kubrick appears as a perfectionist in his work. "Towards the end of the making of Barry Lyndon," Emilio recalls, "Kubrick told me he had had problems with the music composed up to that point." So he called Ennio Morricone. "Morricone was another who feared Kubrick. In the usual car ride from the airport to the house he asked me if Kubrick was brusque. I reassured him, but he asked me to stay next to him throughout the interview. At the end of Barry Lyndon, Kubrick began to think again about one of his old projects, a movie about Napoleon, insisting that the costumes for Barry Lyndon could be used again for Napoleon."


1978 the Kubricks leave their house at Elstree Herts and move to St. Albans ("I remember that to decorate his new living room he asked me to get off the set the enormous table used in The Shining."); the D'Alessandros lived closeby in Edgware, no more than two kilometers away. "It was at that point that Kubrick asked me to move my family to his residence. We could have chosen one of the cottages or, if we preferred, could have moved into the house with him. But I declined. If I was already spending 20 hours per day with him, I told him, go figure if I lived in his house... he trusted only me. I had the keys to his two personal rooms; neither his wife, nor even the security company had them. No servants allowed. It was him and me."

In 1990, after almost thirty years together, D'Alessandro let Kubrick know that within four years he would have left London and return permanently to Italy, to Cassino. "I advised him to look for another person, but he wouldn't have any of it. Only when I sold my house did he come to me and say, 'So it's true...' Then with a series of excuses and after having rented another place for us, he convinced us to stay one more year. We finally left in '94. At our good-bye party I invited all of our closest friends, his and mine. We took a ton of pictures. It was all so beautiful and so moving. He cried; so did I. I told him that I wanted to return to Cassino, to my own home, that I wanted to go back to working on a tractor... He looked at me for a moment before asking me, in all seriousness, 'Could you put a phone on your tractor, so I can call you?'"

But it isn't over. "In 1996 Janette and I went to London to visit our children, who had stayed there. Kubrick invited us to dinner and told me, 'I need help for six weeks.' He spoke with me about Eyes Wide Shut, about the actors, the story. Only six weeks, he pleaded. I accepted. I stayed there another two years, until that wretched March of 1999. The morning of March 6, Stanley phoned me at home to find out about the next day, Sunday; I would have gone over to his house anyway. The following day, in fact, I took care of some personal business and then, without waking him, around 10:00 I left my usual note on his door, alerting him that there was no news from the US and that he could relax until later. At home at 4:00 that afternoon my phone rang. It was Jan Harlan. He told me, 'Emilio, Stanley's dead.'"

Ciak, July 2000
Translated from Italian for ArchivioKubrick by Eleanor Paynter

Emilio D'Alessandro
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