Obituaries: Edilio Rusconi

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The Independent Online
When historians come to analyse post-war Italy's tawdry obsession with popular culture, when sociologists start to look for the rationale behind all those royal scandals, stripping housewives and lurid gameshows that dominate the country's modern media, they will inevitably focus long and hard on the figure of Edilio Rusconi.

Of all the Italian publishing tycoons whose careers took off in the aftermath of Fascism, it was Rusconi who best defined - and exploited - the appetites and interests of the mass reading public. Through magazines such as Oggi and Gente, first published in the 1940s and 1950s, he hit upon a best- selling mix of upper-class glamour, Catholic high-mindedness and prurient low-life sleaze that continues to fascinate editors, readers and television viewers to this day.

In many ways, he was to his generation what Silvio Berlusconi was to the Italy of the 1980s - a self-made man, a canny entrepreneur and an astute arbiter of popular taste. Indeed, the two men became direct competitors in later years as the Rusconi empire moved into film production and television.

But the pair are notable also for their differences. In the innocent, carefree years of Italy's post-war boom, Rusconi projected the image of the gentleman publisher, a man of letters who stumbled into business through his intellectual, rather than financial, abilities. He was very much a man of his time, an establishment figure who threatened nobody - in stark contrast to the resolutely rebellious, burningly ambitious Berlusconi.

Edilio Rusconi was born in Milan in 1916, graduated in literature from the city's Catholic University, and soon became involved in anti-Fascist intellectual circles. A promising writing career, which spanned reviews, newspaper articles and four novels, was abruptly interrupted when civil war broke out in Italy and he was deported to a prison camp in Dresden in 1944.

He escaped just a few days before the German city was firebombed by British and American planes, and returned to Milan in time to see his home town liberated on 25 April 1945. Already he was a celebrity, and when the publishing house Rizzoli decided to launch Oggi the following June, his writing talents and anti-Fascist credentials secured him the job of editor at the tender age of 29.

As his publishing career flourished, so his outlook on life veered increasingly to the right. In 1946, just two months after Italy voted to abolish the monarchy, he daringly published a photograph of the exiled Savoy family and saw his readership shoot up as a result. Sweeping political changes had not on their own eradicated the popular appetite for royal glamour, and despite the fall of Fascism public opinion remained staunchly conservative. "People like what they don't have," was Rusconi's motto, and he enthusiastically pursued friendships with Popes, monarchists and even some neofascists.

By the 1970s, his stable included some 20 newspapers and weekly magazines and was poised to move into broadcasting, too. He produced Visconti's late film Conversation Piece, and bought two television stations, Antenna Nord and Italia Uno. But Rusconi was getting old and tired, and unable to compete with the likes of Berlusconi, who quickly took over Italia Uno for himself. In 1985 he retired, leaving the business in the hands of his son, Alberto, although he kept a watchful eye from a distance until the very end of his life.

Edilio Rusconi, journalist and publisher: born Milan 11 November 1916; died Milan 10 July 1996.