Romano Mussolini

Jazz-musician son of 'Il Duce'
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Romano Mussolini, jazz pianist: born Carpena, Italy 26 September 1927; married first Maria Scicolone (two daughters), second Carla Puccini (one daughter); died Rome 3 February 2006.

Romano Mussolini carved out a respected career as a jazz pianist but waited until 2004 to make public his recollections about his father, the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, contributing significantly to a latter-day tendency in Italy to rehabilitate "Il Duce" as apparently more benign and less totalitarian than Hitler or Stalin.

The book, Il Duce Mio Padre (My Father, Il Duce), by the last survivor of the Italian leader's five children, was not an entirely flattering portrait. Mussolini had driven his wife to attempt suicide, had considered "abandoning" Hitler and thought that if captured by the Allies he would be tried in Madison Square Garden. Still, Romano admitted he privately shared his father's far-right political views and judged the dictator's record "as both man and politician" to have been "90 per cent positive," arguing that the "enthusiasm, almost hysteria" shown by many Italians for Il Duce was sincere.

When Romano was born in 1927, his father had been leader for five years and was revelling in admiration from much of the world. Churchill came to call and extolled "Mussolini's courteous and simple bearing . . . his only thought is for the lasting welfare of the Italian people". But Romano's thoughts from a precociously early age were for music. "Our house was always full of music," he later told an interviewer.

My father was an excellent violinist, my sister played piano, [my elder brother] Vittorio cello. My father particularly liked classical music, but he heard a lot of jazz, too - because that was what we played.

We talked more about art than politics. And our way of life was quite simple and ordinary. I went to the local state school with the local children.

According to Romano, when his father was deposed in July 1943 as the Allies advanced, he could have "pressed a button to have the conspirators murdered, as Hitler or Stalin would certainly have done". Instead, he claimed, Mussolini had avoided a bloodbath by obeying a summons from King Victor Emmanuel III, even though he knew he would be arrested.

Mussolini was rescued later by German commandos from the mountain hotel at Gran Sasso in central Italy where he was imprisoned, and set up his last, short-lived Nazi-puppet régime, the "Republic of Salò", on Lake Garda.

During the last days at the lake, Romano's mother, Donna Rachele, faced up to the fact that her husband was having a serious relationship with his mistress, Clara Petacci (with whom he would be shot by partisans while trying to flee to Switzerland in April 1945). She had "tried to ignore the affair," despite knowing that Mussolini was an inveterate womaniser. At one point his mother locked herself in the bathroom and swallowed bleach before a maid broke in and called a doctor.

Nevertheless she told her sons that Benito was a good father and husband who, in spite of his "defects," never spent a night away from home and "always fulfilled his conjugal duties".

The dictator always believed the Allies would try him if he were arrested and had imagined himself on trial in Madison Square Garden, "with people looking at me as if I was a caged wild beast". Mussolini "had considered abandoning Hitler to his fate" after the United States entered the war but felt bound to honour his pact with Nazi Germany.

Romano Mussolini was the fourth of five children: Edda was born in 1910, Vittorio in 1916, Bruno 1918, and Anna Maria 1927. Romano and Vittorio loved jazz in their youth despite their father's regime heavily censoring it. During Fascism, recordings by American artists, especially black ones, were released with the musicians given Italian names. Louis Armstrong was known as Luigi Fortebraccio.

After the war Romano Mussolini became a leading figure in the Italian jazz scene, inspired by his idol Scott Petersen. In the 1950s and 1960s he took part in the San Remo international jazz festival together with Italy's leading trumpeter at the time, Nunzio Rotondo. It was unclear whether his surname helped or hindered his musical career. At one point he performed under the name Romano Full. He always made an effort to keep his family heritage separate from his music.

His first wife was Maria Scicolone, sister of the actress Sophia Loren. Their daughter Alessandra Mussolini has enjoyed a flamboyant political career.

John Phillips