Who is Albert Band?

(This article will be published on facebook too)

http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/834/johndoe1.gif/ [size=12pt]Who is Albert Band ?[/size]

Albert Band was an American director, producer and writer, who was involved in a handful of spaghetti westerns. He was born in 1924, in Paris. So far, there’s no discussion.

It’s also confirmed that he worked in Hollywood in the late forties, early fifties. He directed his own Hollywood western in 1956, The Young Guns. In the late fifties he went back to Europe, and was involved in the production of five spaghetti westerns, among them the key movie Duello nel Texas (1963), co-produced by Jolly Films, the company of Arrigo Colombo and Giorgio Papi, who would produce, one year later, the film that changed everything, Per un Pugno di Dollari. Band’s next project was Massacro al Grande Canyon, now best known as the first western (co-)directed by Sergio Corbucci. Band and Corbucci would meet again on the set of I Crudeli (The Hellbenders), the first as producer, the second as director, a loose sequel to Band’s Gli Uomini dal Passo Pesante (The Tramplers). Band also contributed to the script of Un Minute per Pregare, un Istante per Morire (A Minute to Pray, a moment to Die), directed by Franco Giraldi).

The problem is that are three readings of this history, an Italian one (sustained by Marco Giusti, several other Italian sources and IMDB, and supported by me in the various reviews of Band’s movies) and an American one, brought up in reaction to the reviews, by William Connolly. The third one, is a mix of these two.

# The three versions

According to the Italian version, Band was an ‘Italo-americano’, an American of Italian descent, born as Alfredo Antonini. On facebook, William Connolly denied that Albert Band’s real name was Alfredo Antonini. He claims that Band told him, shortly before his death in 2002, that he didn’t know where the name Antonini came from. It was suggested that somebody had mixed him up with a crew member of that name, and that the mistake had been copied by many others. The name Albert Band would also appear on his birth certificate. So in this version the director was born (still in Paris, in 1924) as Albert Band to his father, Max Band, a landscape artist, who was born, in 1901, not in Italy, but in Lithuania. Albert Band had two children, Charles and Richard, who both work within the film industry, Charles as a writer, producer and director of horror movies, Richard as a film composer. The blog ‘WesternsallItaliana’ offers a sort of blend of these theories: it is suggested that Band used Antonini as a pseudonym. So in this version, he was doing the direct opposite of the Italians in the business: while they were Americanizing their names, he was Italianating his. It seems far-fatched, but as we shall see it’s not impossible.

# Some questions

At first sight the American version seems the most likely. Mistakes are easily made and often start living their own life, and it also seems unlikely that a family called Antonini would Americanize its name into Band. Anthony would have been a more likely choice. But there are a few problems. Giusti has spoken to several people who have worked with the man, and according to them Band spoke Italian rather well. This seems to suggest an Italian background. Americans of Italian descent usually are very proud of their family origins and often have a good knowledge of the Italian language. Younger generations are more reluctant to study the ‘difficult foreign language’ Italian is to them, but if they can afford it, their parents send them to Rome or Florence, to study the language in one of the many language schools or ‘summer universities’. At the same time the study of Italian is not very popular among people without any historic bond with the country. So where and why did he learn Italian? Was his mother by any chance Italian? Was her family name Antonini and did he use it as a pseudonym (probably by means of introduction within the Italian film business)?

This brings me to another aspect of this story: it seems unlikely that an American director without any Italian background, would get involved in these early spaghetti westerns. If he spoke no Italian, such a person would also have had a difficult time, since few Italians spoke any English in those days. According to Giusti, Band dreamt of bringing the western genre to his home country. Now that makes sense.

# The Name and the certificate

The name Band is not Italian, and it doesn’t sound Russian either. In the first half of the 20th Century, people who settled down in another country, often changed their names, because they thought the new name would help them to be accepted in their new homeland, or (mainly in the case of Jews) to hide their ethnic or religious background. One link (comments on painter Max Band’s work) seems to suggest that the family had a Jewish background. Families moving to America often had only a rudimentary knowledge of the English language (in the first half of the 20th Century French was more common than English in Europe) and occasionally chose English names that were easy to the eye or to the tongue.

And then this birth certificate. It’s my experience that people know surprisingly little of their own background. Four cousins will often tell you different stories about the history of the family. In France, where Band was born, original certificates are kept in the place of birth and official copies aren’t easy to obtain. In the first half of the 20th century, there was a lively trade in false birth certificates, and this was perfectly understandable. Most European countries were (and still are) bureaucracies, and official copies of birth certificates weren’t (and still aren’t) easy to obtain. In France, where Band was born, a birth certificate, un acte the naissance, is an authentic legal certificate, that must be signed by an official Civil Service agent. Moreover official copies have only a limited validity. Many people in need of a certificate, didn’t know how to obtain an official copy and therefore chose for an unofficial one, that was, so to speak ‘officialized’ on American soil: from this moment on, the forged copy became the real one. So even if his name was on his birth certificate, we can’t be sure that Albert Band was his real – or original – name.

# Interim report

I tell you all this to illustrate how complicated these matters are. It wouldn’t surprise me if we got some conflicting comments, with various people sustaining that their version is absolutely right. All comments are of course more than welcome. Seize matters, details too, and we can at least try to get to the bottom of this.



Nice detective work, scherp! It would be nice, although maybe impossible, to finally be able to solve this mystery. I do have a question though, it’s been a while since I wondered, but where does the information that Band co-directed Massacro al Grande Canyon comes from? Especially the Corbucci quote saying : “Massacre at Grand Canyon” is one of those mysterious films which are credited to me though I only shot some scenes. It was just a mercenary business. I took the money and went back to Rome." I mean, it would make a lot of sense, but, if my memory serves me right, Jean-François Giré doesn’t even mention the possibility in his book, does Giusti? Sorry if the question has already been addressed somewhere.

If Corbucci did only some scenes, who then did the other ones?
Giusti says Band started to direct the movie, but after a while, one of the co-producers, Turi Vasile, realized he wasn’t capable of finishing the job. Vasile first asked Franco Giraldi (of the MacGregor movies) to take over direction, but Giraldi refused and proposed Corbucci. Corbucci said about it: “I went to Yugoslavia were a bunch of americans who were financed by Italians, had all kinds of difficulties because the director, an intellectual and a half-idiot, had no idea what he was doing. I finished the movie, and discovered that it was fun to work with indians, bandits and pistols. I got convinced that the western was the right genre for me.” (This is by the way how Corbucci used to talk).

Jean-François Giré (pag. 422, le chapitre sur Corbucci):
“Tourné d’après un scénario écrit par le producteur Albert Band (Alfredo Antonini), Massacre au Grand Canyon est le premier essai dans l’univers du western de Sergio Corbucci. La réalisation est signé Stanley Corbett; certaines sources soulignent qu’en vérité le film est une coréalisation avec le producteur”

(Filmed at the base of a script by producer Albert Band (Alfredo Antonini), Massacre at Grand Canyon is the first foray into the universe of the western by Sergio Corbucci. The direction is accredited to Stanley Corbett, but some sources note that in truth the film was co-directed by the producer)

Ah, so my memory doesn’t serve me right, I completely forgot about that line from Giré. Thanks for the precisions too, love the Corbucci quote.

The qouote is from this Italian book:

Sergio Corbucci a cura di Orio Caldiron, Ramberti Editore, Rimini, 1993.

It seems to include Corbucci’s autobiography.

I think it was some kind of mercenary business, yes.
But if he really ‘discovered’ the genre doing it, we can be very happy he did it.

Thanks for the information, Stanton.

[quote=“scherpschutter, post:6, topic:2736”]I think it was some kind of mercenary business, yes.
But if he really ‘discovered’ the genre doing it, we can be very happy he did it.[/quote]


Good work schershutter, I never realised there was so much confusion over who Albert Band really was.

Well if his dad was Lithuanian-born Max Band then he would have had to have changed his surname along with his dad. It seems more likely to me therefore that “Band” or something similar to that was the original name and that Antonini was, as Albert Band said, added later.

It looks like the family (at least form Albert father’s side) is from Lithuania, but I haven’t been able to find out when and why they left the country. They might have settled in Istria, where many ‘Italians’ lived who had a Slavic background (the Garko family came from the Italian enclave Zadar, their original family name was Garkovich), or maybe they went straight through to one of Europe’s capitals, like many wealthy Russian families did after the communist revolution of 1917. Lithuania - Italy - France - America. I guess they were one of those wealthy Jewish-Russian families who were moving from one place to another after 1917. They remind me a little of the Nabokov family, who went to Berlin and Paris before going to the US. Nabokov was multi-lingual too: he was raised in Russian, French and English. His son is fluent in English and Russian too.

My obvious question is what about his mother’s side of the family? Maybe they were Italian therefore Albert’s use of Italian. I would think if his real name was Antonini one of his kids would have used it as an alias somewhere along the line as an homage to their father or family but they all use Band. Maybe we have the problem with co-production credits and percentages and since Band only directed a portion of MASSACRE AT GRAND CANYON the producer’s changed his name to Alfred Antonini for tax purposes. None of these things were thought about 50 years ago that anyone today would be researching these names and films today or would even care.

Mother: I thought about that too.

Use of Alfred Antonini for tax purposes: this is a possibility too, I hadn’t thought about it yet. To receive state subsidies, they needed an Italian in de directional chair, Antonini sounded Italian (and they often used Italian ‘straw men’, names of Italians who weren’t involved in the production to solve these problems). Corbucci was hired later, when filming had already started, so the decision to use the Italian name was probably taken before he got involved.

If I’m not mistaken, the name appears only in the opening credits of Massacro al Grande Canyon, in which Franco Giraldi and Alfredo Antonini are credited as Second Unit Director and Assistant Director respectively.

Oddly, at that time there was a rather well-known Italian/American symphony conductor and composer named Alfredo Antonini.

Alfredo Antonini

Albert Band