Domenico Benassi, detto Memo (Sorbolo 1891 – Bologna 1957)
Memo Benassi was born as a cellist and only later became an actor. He was a gifted artist, expressive and with great stage presence, he made a rapid career, despite his Parma cadence and nasal voice. In 1921 the he met Eleonora Duse who marked his destiny and wanted him in her company: he was “the foreigner” in Ibsen’s “La donna del mare”, and “the son” in Marco Prague’s “Closed door”. He also followed her to the United States in 1924 and played Osvaldo in Ibsen’s “Spectri” and Leonardo in D’Annunzio’s “The Dead City”.
Acts with Irma Gramatica and in 1929/30 participates in the shows ZA BUM. In 1938, he formed a company with Rina Morelli and in 1939 with Laura Carli. Equipped with a very mobile and expressive face and thanks to his extraordinary stage presence, he faces and manages to make the public welcome challenging Italian and foreign texts, acting with originality and flair.
It has been said of him that he was the only “heir” of the Dusian art. Charlie Chaplin, who saw Duse perform in Los Angeles in 1924, recalls «… she was accompanied by an excellent Italian company. Before his entrance a handsome young actor gave a superb performance, holding the stage beautifully. How would Duse have managed to overcome this young man’s extraordinary performance?…» (Charlie Chaplin, My autobiography, Milan, Mondadori, 1977). Although he was born for the theatre, from 1916 he also devoted himself to cinema, when he was still silent, taking part in at least thirty-five films.