Mussolini's Shadow: The Double Life of Count Galeazzo Cianoby Ray Moseley
Galeazzo Ciano was a brilliant, ambitious and ruthless young Italian.Throughout his period in office Ciano kept a diary so detailed and revealing that both Mussolini and Hitler sought to impound and destroy it. The diary was smuggled out of Italy by Edda, who sought, unsuccessfully, to trade it for Ciano's life. The diary was later acquired by the American spy, Allen… See more details below
Galeazzo Ciano was a brilliant, ambitious and ruthless young Italian.Throughout his period in office Ciano kept a diary so detailed and revealing that both Mussolini and Hitler sought to impound and destroy it. The diary was smuggled out of Italy by Edda, who sought, unsuccessfully, to trade it for Ciano's life. The diary was later acquired by the American spy, Allen W. Dulles (later head of the CIA) and extracted in the Chicago Daily News. It remains one of the classic insider accounts of the workings of the Fascist governments. Ciano's glamorous, violent, and promiscuous life was acted out at the highest levels of European politics and society. There has never been a biography of him in English: this one is a gripping read.
- Yale University Press
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Galeazzo and Edda
The drama that culminated in Edda Mussolini Ciano's flight to Switzerland in 1944 began in more banal circumstances fourteen years earlier. Edda was nineteen and Count Galeazzo Ciano, an Italian diplomat newly returned from a tour of duty in China, was eight years older. They had met at a party and, after just seventeen days, had fallen in love. On the afternoon of February 13, 1930, as they sat together in a darkened Roman movie theater, Ciano leaned toward her and whispered, "You must know, Edda, that I am in love with you. Will you marry me?" Edda hesitated only for a moment. "Why not?" she said with characteristic nonchalance. When the film was over, she ran home to break the news to her father as he was changing for a reception. "Daddy, I became engaged this evening to Galeazzo Ciano, the son of Costanzo," she exclaimed. Mussolini stared incredulously for a moment, then dashed through the house calling to his wife, "Rachele, Rachele, Edda is engaged! This time it's true! And I certainly approve of the young man!" In a letter to a cousin, Edda described her feeling for Galeazzo as "a real thunderbolt" and said, "My destiny is now decided and frankly it could not be decided better." This was the beginning of a love affair, a marriage and a career that would in a few years become part of European history. The beginning, too, of a family tragedy of epic proportions. Ciano was then serving as a junior diplomat in Italy's Embassy to the Holy See. When he broke the news of his engagement to his colleagues, one of them observed: "You have found an insurance policyfor life."
There seemed little reason to doubt that. The regime that Mussolini created in 1922 already had blood on its hands, but it was still widely admired in Europe and the United States, and marriage to Edda seemed to assure Ciano a glittering future. At a time of world depression, many noted with approval that the Italian economy was growing. Mussolini had instituted ambitious public works projects, set up a social security system, drained the Pontine Marshes, preserved the monuments of ancient Rome, and made the trains run on time. He was bringing order and discipline to Italy, compelling his countrymen to abandon their languorous Latin way of life and become part of modern Europe. A few journalists, such as the American John Gunther, might raise questions about Mussolini's human rights record, but many people rationalized their support for Mussolini on the grounds that the backward Italians needed the lash of dictatorship. The country, after long years of poverty and decline, finally had a ruler of iron determination who felt he had a mission to restore it to the glory it had known under the Caesars. Mussolini's ambitions would coincide with a gradual unraveling of the European order established after World War I, and amid the discontent of the European masses, Hitler, Franco and Salazar would soon vault to power. Winston Churchill praised Mussolini's fight against European Socialism, called him "the greatest living legislator" and declared that he would have donned the Fascist black shirt if he had been an Italian. David Lloyd George and George Bernard Shaw counted themselves among his admirers. President Roosevelt and members of his Cabinet joined the chorus of praise. Cardinal O'Connell of Boston said Mussolini was a genius given to Italy by God. The New York Times called him a defender of peace, and a university in Hungary wanted to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize. He was widely compared with Caesar, Napoleon and Cromwell. Little wonder that the young, impressionable Galeazzo Ciano soon fell under the spell and indulged in boyish hero-worship of his father-in-law.
The adulation of Mussolini reflected a moment of naiveté in world affairs that was about to end forever. Perceptions outside Italy would change dramatically after his invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and the brutalities that followed, including the use of poison gas. That act of aggression would provoke the League of Nations to impose economic sanctions against Italy, leaving Mussolini isolated and reviled and helping to drive him into a fatal partnership with Hitler's Germany. It would be followed by Italian intervention on the side of the Fascists in Spain's civil war, by a deepening bitterness on Mussolini's part toward the European democracies, and by Italian military disasters in Greece, North Africa, East Africa and the Soviet Union. Many who had thrilled to the sight of Mussolini, legs spread apart, hands on hips, jaw thrust upward, as he addressed crowds from the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia now saw his gestures as comical. Admiration gave way to ridicule and contempt.
Within six years of his marriage to Edda, Galeazzo Ciano would become Italy's Foreign Minister. As such he emerged as the chief accomplice of Mussolini's misdeeds, the dauphin of the regime, the Duce's principal emissary to Hitler and his Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and one of the principal players in the central drama of twentieth-century history. Over the nearly seven years Ciano served as Foreign Minister, Italy would go to war against Ethiopia, enter into its doomed Axis partnership with Germany, seize control of Albania, join Germany as an aggressor in World War II and launch a disastrous war against Greece. Later, it would be forced into a humiliating surrender to the Allies while German troops occupied the country. After Mussolini himself, no one in Italy played a more important role in the history of fascism and its embrace of Nazi Germany than Ciano. He signed the Pact of Steel and the Anti-Comintern Pact that bound Italy into its partnership with the Nazis. In addition to representing the regime in discussions with Hitler and Ribbentrop, he sat in on nearly all of Mussolini's meetings with the Führer. But in the end he would stand apart from the gaggle of ruffians, psychopaths and buffoons with whom he had been associated, for he would break with the man he had adored, struggle to keep Italy out of the war, and try to stave off the catastrophic consequences he had helped to set in motion. He failed to stop the march to war, of course, and to that extent his influence was negligible. But in other respects, he helped to shape the course of history. The adventures in Albania and Greece were largely undertaken at the instigation of Ciano, and the Greek debacle made him, justifiably, the most hated man in Italy.
As a chronicler of the history in which he participated, Ciano was a figure of considerable significance. He kept a diary during his years as Foreign Minister which was one of the most valuable documents to come out of World War II, a diary replete with often unique and surprising insights into the inner workings of the regime, fascinating vignettes of Hitler and his cronies, revelations about Mussolini's vacillations and conflicting attitudes toward Germany and disclosures about Germany's callous treatment of its ally. The diary was a goldmine for historians of fascism. It exploded any notion that the Nazi and Fascist dictators marched in perfect lockstep toward their evil goals, guided by a harmony of purpose. It revealed the huge gulf of mistrust that separated them behind their facade of iron determination and unity and, perhaps more surprisingly, it made plain how often decisions affecting the lives of millions were determined by petty jealousies, personal vanity and point scoring. It may be ever thus in the lives of statesmen, but there is an infantile quality to the relationships between the Nazi and Fascist leaders that is sometimes truly breathtaking, and no one documented this better than Ciano.
At the height of his celebrity, he and Edda were the talk of Europe, and their faces graced the covers of leading American news magazines. Ciano, with his dark hair combed straight back and a friendly smile on his face, could appear rather dashing in the military uniforms he initially favored. But the overall effect was spoiled by a high-pitched, nasal voice, a flat-footed, slightly comic walk, and an attempt to ape Mussolini's gestures of chin thrust out and chest pushed forward. Edda, acutely intelligent but politically naive, was a thin, nervous woman with sharply chiseled features and a personality that was often acidic. But, despite their unprepossessing appearance, Ciano and Edda moved in an aura of youthful glamour and power in the early years of their marriage, and the fascination grew as they drifted apart and openly flaunted their extramarital affairs in a manner that recalled the licentiousness of the Borgia court. For all his flaws, Ciano possessed admirable qualities. He had more intelligence than was sometimes credited to him, and he was warm-hearted toward his friends and generous in his eagerness to do them favors. He was a devoted, if sometimes overly strict and frequently absentee, father to his three children. He displayed a charm and sense of humor that not only attracted adoring women but won over Allied diplomats who dealt with him, sometimes behind Mussolini's back. Americans ranging from Sumner Welles, President Roosevelt's under-secretary of state, to William Shirer and Clare Booth Luce, found him likeable, but Joseph Kennedy, the father of President Kennedy, dismissed him as a pompous ass. He had the reckless courage of youth, and in the crucial drama of his life that drew him and Edda together again, both displayed an exemplary courage that partially redeemed their past.
But Ciano, inordinately vain, arrogant and frivolous, had a darker side. He plotted murder on more than one occasion, and may have had it carried it out at least once. His judgment in international affairs was often faulty, spectacularly so during the Greek affair. No doubt he was corrupted by too-easy success at too early an age, and by the misfortune of having been born in Fascist Italy. For, as the English writer Malcolm Muggeridge observed, he would undoubtedly have been a staunch democrat under a democratic regime. Essentially he was apolitical and a careerist, a man without fixed beliefs or a moral compass, convinced only of his own destiny and ultimately undone by that conviction. Whatever may be said in mitigation of his record in office, he stands condemned before history as a participant and arch-conspirator in criminal enterprises of the gravest sort, that is, crimes against humanity. For Italians, the fascination that Ciano has exerted over their imaginations for a half century is less political than familial. His story, as literature, would be worthy of an Aeschylus, or a Shakespeare; it is a story of intrigue, betrayal and death in a powerful family of clashing personalities and will, often called a modern Greek tragedy. Ciano was the creation of his father-in-law, and it was Mussolini who destroyed him, in the process sundering the ties that bound the Duce and his beloved daughter. This was family conflict played out not in private but as a page of history. But Ciano triumphed over the man who manipulated his fortunes so disastrously, for there was an element of heroism in him that manifested itself at the end, a quality singularly lacking in the human wreck that Mussolini had become. Both men were deeply flawed; but one retained a spark of human decency while the other, just before the final curtain, sealed an ignoble life with a shameful and cowardly act. Tragedy requires a hero, and Ciano's final heroism revealed the kind of man he might have been, had he not become embroiled in a family, and a regime, that corrupted him.
Postwar Italy has understood the poisonous legacy of the Mussolini years, but remains ambivalent about the family. Thus a Mussolini granddaughter has been able to win election to Parliament on the strength of her name alone. It is hardly conceivable, of course, that a Hitler granddaughter, if one existed, could achieve the same in Germany. It goes without saying that Hitler was an infinitely more scabrous individual than Mussolini, but both men bear responsibility for one of the most sordid chapters in human history, and many Italians still have not fully come to terms with that. Ciano's role in all this had its good moments and bad, tawdriness mixed with exemplary conduct, but, above all, the tangled web of his life and Edda's entered the realm of high drama. They were the principal characters in a political thriller that happened to be true.
The romance between Galeazzo and Edda that blossomed in 1930 hardly came as a surprise to Mussolini; in a sense, he was the matchmaker. Edda, independent and headstrong, and known in the family as la cavallina matta, the wild filly, had been a worry to her parents for some time. Her boyfriends tended to be the Latin lover, gigolo type, and her parents could never be sure she would not rush into a disastrous and possibly even scandalous marriage. The police, who monitored her activities for Mussolini, reported in 1929 that she had sneaked off to Bologna to meet the son of a rich industrialist who was a cocaine addict and suffered from syphilis. Another boyfriend, the police reported, was an unemployed womanizer who often posed as a count or a marquess and kept bad company.
Edda's aunt Edvige attempted to arrange a match with Pier Francesco Orsi Mangelli, the twenty-seven-year-old son of a noble family from Forli. Edda was less than impressed when they met and took a new boyfriend, a young Jew who was the son of an army colonel. When she wrote to her father that she wished to marry him, Mussolini was horror-struck. He urged Edvige to warn Edda that marriage between the daughter of the Duce and a Jew would "fill the world with talk." Mussolini sent his brother Arnaldo to the young man's parents to inform them he would not permit such a marriage. The parents, as observant Jews, were indignant and informed Arnaldo they never would have allowed their son to marry Edda. Reluctantly, she gave him up and went off to Spain with Mangelli, his parents acting as chaperones. The trip was intended to allow them to become better acquainted, but Edda did everything she could to turn her intended and his parents against her. She drank, smoked, used coarse language and affirmed she would never have children because she wanted to preserve her figure. None of this quelled the ardor of Mangelli, and under family pressure she eventually accepted his proposal of marriage. But he made the mistake of asking Mussolini what kind of dowry Edda would bring to their marriage. The Duce, enraged, ordered his daughter to break off her engagement. Edda was overjoyed, but sympathized with Mangelli. "Poor little thing," she told Edvige. "He is not to blame. His father forced him to make such a gaffe." Ten days later, she met Ciano. He was the son of Admiral Costanzo Ciano, a leading Fascist and World War I hero whom Mussolini had once named as his successor.
Gian Galeazzo Ciano was born on March 18, 1903, in the Tuscan coastal city of Livorno. His sister Maria, the couple's only other child, was born three years later. Costanzo had followed his father into a naval career, and at an early stage headed a signalman's and radiotelegraphist's school at La Spezia, where he became a close friend of Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of radio. He was ambitious, courageous, stem with his children and, ultimately, corrupt. Galeazzo had a deep admiration for his father, and suffered from his frequent absences due to his naval career. "When he saw him leave ... his eyes filled with tears and sometimes he threw himself on the floor, crying desperately," his mother Carolina said. Later Edda described her father-in-law as a strict disciplinarian and said he "believed more in the persuasive force of a good thrashing than in the virtue of a moral lesson." He made his son wear a sailor suit cut down from one of his discarded uniforms, and a sailor's beret instead of the straw hat worn by his schoolmates. When one of Galeazzo's friends asked why, Costanzo replied, "Because I want him to find it impossible to accompany you and the others to the whorehouse." As a young man, Galeazzo neither drank nor smoked and had a strong aversion to gambling, all values inculcated by his father that remained with him throughout his life. But Orio Vergani, a childhood friend who became a famous journalist, said Ciano's father also encouraged him "along the road to Fascist virility," meaning that Costanzo passed on to him an attitude toward women that may have accounted for his numerous affairs in later life.
Costanzo was awarded four silver medals for valor for his daring exploits against the Austrian navy in World War I, and Mussolini later gave him a gold medal. In 1925 King Victor Emanuel III named him the Count of Cortellazzo in recognition of his military heroism. Many other military men were ennobled at the same time, because Mussolini had persuaded the king it was necessary to create a new aristocratic class based on Fascist values. Immediately after the war, Costanzo was nominated by Giovanni Agnelli, grandfather of the later Fiat chairman of that name, to head the shipping company Il Mare, and the family moved to Genoa. In 1919 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the right-wing, Democratic Union, but he later joined the Fascists and in the spring of 1921 became one of thirty-three Fascists to win a seat in Parliament. He resigned the presidency of Il Mare and moved the family to Rome to become a full-time politician.
When Mussolini came to power in 1922, he named Costanzo undersecretary of the Navy and commissioner of the Merchant Marine, elevating him the following year to membership of the Fascist Grand Council, the most powerful political body in the country. He was named Minister of Posts and Telegraph in 1924 and, two months after that, Minister of Communications. In that post he had control of railroads, the merchant marine, the automobile industry and trams. Costanzo and his brother Arturo, who worked for him in the Ministry of Communications, became wealthy men. His Fascist critics said Costanzo received a large, annual payoff from Provvida, a consumer cooperative for state employees that was managed by his ministry. In 1925-6 Arturo Ciano and a group of his friends had a contract for the distribution of hundreds of thousands of tons of coal delivered to Italy by Germany as World War I reparations, and a part of the proceeds was assigned to the minister. He was also reported to have made large sums of money from the nationalization of the telephone and broadcasting industries. In 1930 Fascist Party Secretary Augusto Turati openly accused Costanzo of giving favors to industrialists and financiers in return for money. After the fall of fascism in 1943, a government commission found that Arturo Ciano owned 1,025 acres of cultivated land in Tuscany, and numerous apartments and villas on the Tyrrhenian coast, including a grand villa with park and stables at Ponte a Moriano, near Lucca. Costanzo benefited politically from the crisis over the murder of Giacomo Matteotti, one of Mussolini's ablest opponents, by Fascist squadristi in 1924. The uproar that followed shook the regime, and some Fascists abandoned Mussolini, but Costanzo stood by him throughout. He was rewarded when Mussolini, in an unpublished document, designated him in 1926 as his successor in case of his sudden death.
Galeazzo, timid and studious, was a star pupil in school, finishing second among all high school graduates in Italy in his final exams in classical studies. His friend Tito Torelli said Galeazzo sometimes was punished for having copied work from his fellow pupils when in fact he gave his homework to them to copy "because he was superior to all of us in most subjects." Torelli said Galeazzo also lost his temper easily, and was once expelled from school for having thrown an inkwell at a professor who infuriated him. When he was older, Costanzo forbade Galeazzo's friends to take him to a Fascist cell meeting because he did not want him involved in politics. In high school, Galeazzo had a platonic love for a Jewish girl, but her parents opposed their friendship on religious grounds. After graduation, he enrolled in the Faculty of Law at Rome University but his interests lay elsewhere. He was part of a group of young men known as the "jackals," who frequented the theater and made sport of booing the performances. Fabrizio Sarazani, a friend, remembered Ciano mostly for "the hoarse voice, the flat feet and a great wish to be taken seriously intellectually." He said Ciano liked to pick up the "easy" girls he met at night in the Gallinaccio Café in the Largo del Tritone in Rome. "In the Ciano of those years," he wrote, "the man he became was not recognizable or predictable ... Ciano, a young man of good family, had not yet contracted the illness of Roman snobbism."
Galeazzo's sister Maria, to whom he was devoted, was anorexic. She had a horror of food and, when her father tried to encourage her to eat something more substantial than her usual diet of bread and olives, she would wait until he was distracted and spit her food into a napkin. She married the Italian diplomat Count Massimo Magistrati in November 1930, but the day before her wedding she panicked at the thought of marriage and developed a high fever. A year later, Magistrati went to Costanzo to complain that the marriage was not yet consummated. Maria died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-three, weighing less than eighty-three pounds.
Several current reference books state that Ciano took part in the Fascist March on Rome, but that was a fabrication of Ciano's personal myth-making. As a university student, he took no interest in fascism. Ten years later, his fortunes altered, he backdated his membership in the Fascist Party to May 1921, a year before his father joined, and listed himself as a member of the Florentine squad "Disperata" that had participated in the march. While still a university student, Ciano began to do parliamentary work for the Rome newspaper Il Paese; then, with no apparent qualms about its politics, he went to work for the left-wing Il Mondo. When the Fascists came to power, he became deputy theater critic of Nuovo Paese, a pro-Fascist paper, later switching to the extreme Fascist L'Impero. "As a journalist, he was less than mediocre," said Sarazani. He tried his hand at fiction and wrote six short stories that appeared between 1923 and 1925 in Nuovo Paese and L'Impero. The theme of all of them was death. More than anything, he wanted to be a playwright. He managed to get two of his plays produced in Rome, but both were spectacular flops and he gave up playwriting. His friend Princess Cyprienne Charles-Roux del Drago said he told her years later: "Thank God I entered politics. I know how to write a short telegram, but I wouldn't have been any good as a playwright or columnist."
After Ciano graduated from university in 1925, his father persuaded him to try for a diplomatic career. The Foreign Ministry was offering thirty-five posts, and Ciano was among six hundred applicants. Another was Filippo Anfuso, a Sicilian poet and war correspondent who later became Ciano's principal assistant, and then Mussolini's last ambassador to Nazi Germany. Anfuso came first in the competition, and Ciano twenty-seventh. Another who entered the diplomatic service through that competition was Massimo Magistrati, Ciano's future brother-in-law. As a new diplomat, Ciano had only schoolboy French. But he later perfected his French, learned excellent English and spoke Spanish rather well. The Foreign Ministry posted him as vice-consul to Rio de Janeiro, where he became involved with the daughter of an Italo-American millionaire. The girl's father feared he was a fortune hunter and sounded out Italian Ambassador Giulio Cesare Montagna, who told him: "He is the son of a squadrista and a count. He will not get very far." Ciano disgraced himself at a reception in Rio, smiling and saying to a Brazilian whom he mistakenly believed did not understand Italian: "And the very best to you, you old ass kisser." He was then transferred to Buenos Aires as second secretary, and hated it there. Maria Rosa Oliver, a writer who would become a Communist and win a Lenin Prize in the 1950s, made friends with him in Buenos Aires. She asked him if he wanted to be another Mussolini and he replied, "Why set any limits?" She also remembered that he disliked Germans in those days, and once threatened to punch a secretary of the German Embassy. He was happy to leave Buenos Aires, partly to get away from an importunate Spanish lady who was threatening to leave her husband for him. The Foreign Ministry sent him to Peking as secretary of legation in May 1927 and he moved into an apartment previously occupied by Magistrati.
Ciano had been two years in China when he was recalled to Rome. Mussolini's brother Arnaldo, looking around for a suitable husband for his niece, spoke to a Sicilian politician who suggested Galeazzo would be an ideal candidate. Arnaldo raised the matter with Mussolini, and the Duce was delighted. He ordered the Foreign Ministry to recall Ciano. The young diplomat sailed on the SS President McKinley and stopped in Seattle on August 11, 1929, the only time he set foot in the United States. Even though he was a diplomat of no importance, his title was sufficient to attract coverage in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which reported: "Not all counts are bewhiskered individuals with monocles and a penchant for soft jobs. Count di Cortellazzo (sic) is a pleasant, clean-shaven young fellow, still in his twenties." Ciano traveled on to New York and took another ship for home.
Mussolini the matchmaker had done his work, but Galeazzo and Edda actually met by chance when she accompanied Maria Ciano to a reception. Maria already had shown Edda a photograph of her brother, and Edda thought he was handsome. When they met, she said to him, "They tell me you are very intelligent." Galeazzo merely smiled. They were both smitten. They danced together all evening and, when they parted, promised to meet again soon. "I had a good sense of humor and a vivid imagination, but was extremely timid," Edda said of herself later. "Galeazzo had tasted most of life's pleasures and was a man about town who attended all the most fashionable social functions." She discovered that he was more emotional and warm-hearted than the Mussolinis, herself included, whom she judged to be rather cold. They began seeing each other frequently, either alone or in the company of Maria. Edda's older brother Vittorio said, "Edda went out more often. At home she was happier, listened to records for hours and, in a word, showed all the symptoms of a girl in love." Edvige also noted a change in Edda. "Her habitual disposition, perhaps a little exhibitionist, jokey and carefree, gave way to an unreserved warmth, to a true and proper romantic impulse," she said. Costanzo was ignorant of the developing romance, and was not entirely pleased when the Rome police chief came to warn him that the police had to report the young couple's meetings to the Duce. Costanzo confronted Galeazzo and demanded an explanation. Galeazzo laughed. On that very day, he and Edda had become engaged.
Edda was the first-born child of the Mussolinis, and the one he loved the most. That may have owed a great deal to the resemblances between them. She shared his headstrong nature, and could intimidate and control those around her with the piercing, hypnotic eyes she inherited from him. Mussolini used to come home late at night and play his violin over her cradle and he recalled that, as a little girl, she once slapped him twice while refusing to take her medicine. She was born at a time when Italian women were expected simply to get married and produce children, but she was always testing the constraints of traditional society. She was one of the first women in Italy to drive a car and to wear slacks. At the beach she wore short bathing suits while other girls still covered their legs. She liked to use foul language, play poker and drink whisky and gin, and she shocked her father by smoking. Edda once recalled, "Daddy with all his anti-bourgeois attitudes was in certain things more conformist than a retired colonel. He forbade me, for example, to paint my lips ... He also didn't want me to smoke. One day, during a reception at the Palazzo Venezia, I saw him coming toward me suddenly with his finger pointed and a threatening look fixed on the cigarette that I had lighted in that moment. `You smoke ...,' he exclaimed, incredibly stunned, as if he couldn't believe his own eyes. `Yes,' I replied calmly, `the desire came upon me.'" In later years Rachele described the relationship between her husband and daughter: "They fought often, due to their very similar temperament and their combative ways. So much so that Benito once said jokingly to me, `I succeeded in bending Italy, but I will never succeed in bending Edda.' And yet for her he had a true adoration." Edda's brother Romano, famous in Italy as a jazz musician, recalled Edda with fondness in 1996. "My sister was a very cultivated woman," he said. "She was an aristocrat born into a family of peasants. Edda had a true nobility that none of us had. She read books, and American and French magazines. She had good table manners, and she spoke English and French while we still only spoke Romagnolo. She had friends in the nobility. And she was a courageous woman. I was always very fond of Edda."
Edda was born at 3 a.m. on September 1, 1910, in Forli, where her unmarried parents were then living in dire poverty. Her father called her the "child of misery." She was christened Edda Rosa Edvige. Rosa was the name of Mussolini's mother and Edvige the name of his sister. The unconventional name Edda was inspired by Mussolini's love of the theater. Once in Milan he had seen a performance of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, was entranced by its central character and determined he would some day name a daughter for her. Throughout Edda's life many Italians, and especially political opponents of her father, speculated that she was not in fact the daughter of Rachele but of Angelica Balabanoff, a Russian Jewish émigré whom Mussolini had known in Geneva and who later worked with him on his newspaper Il Popolo d'Italia. This was because Mussolini, in registering her birth, listed himself as the father but wrote that the mother was unknown. He did so because he and Rachele were not then married and were not, in fact, wed until four years later. Under Italian law, only the father's name could be mentioned in such circumstances. Mussolini added to the confusion by telling some of his Socialist friends that Edda's mother was really an English girl named Gibson whom he had met in Switzerland. He said he had imposed the infant upon Rachele. Edda herself later said no one, not even her father, could have forced her strong-willed peasant mother to raise another woman's child and pretend it was her own. After Mussolini came to power in 1922, he enrolled Edda in one of Italy's most exclusive private schools, the Poggio Imperiale College in Florence. The daughters of a number of Europe's royal families, including Marie José of Belgium, the future wife of Crown Prince Umberto of Italy, attended the college, as did the offspring of rich Americans and the English. Edda made few friends there, and proved so difficult to control that the school authorities once summoned Mussolini with a view to having her removed. But she completed a year and, if nothing else, acquired the polish that later would cause people to comment on her aristocratic bearing.
On February 15, Ciano came to the Mussolini home, Villa Torlonia, to ask officially for Edda's hand. Wearing a gray suit and carrying white gloves, he was ushered into Mussolini's study while the Duce sat with his face buried in his papers. He looked up and pretended to discover by chance that Galeazzo was there. The two men remained closeted for several minutes, after which Mussolini called in Edda and her mother and informed them he had agreed to the wedding. Galeazzo took out a small jewel case, removed a ring and placed it on Edda's finger. Rachele embraced Galeazzo and, to her daughter's horror, told him, "You know, Edda doesn't know how to do anything. She can't sew, cook even an egg or run a household. As to her character, I won't even speak of that. But I'm her mother, and I wanted to warn you." Galeazzo and Edda exchanged their first real kiss on the staircase as he departed. Later she sent him a ring in an envelope delivered by a member of the Italian security service. Galeazzo wrote to her, "I knew that I could expect anything of you, but you will never fail to surprise me. Your sending me a ring by way of a policeman does not lack originality." Galeazzo did not suffer quite the misfortune that Mangelli had with his prospective father-in-law, but he did have one bad moment when Mussolini discovered he had taken his daughter to a nightclub. It was one of the more respectable clubs in Rome, but the Duce gave him a severe dressing-down. Edda observed, "Cabarets, nightclubs and other places of amusement were, to his mind, simply the antechambers of whorehouses."
Galeazzo and Edda were wed on April 24, 1930, in the Church of San Giuseppe, near the Mussolini home. Cyprienne Charles-Roux del Drago said of Edda, "I have never seen anything more elegant. Her figure was so extraordinary that everything suited her. She had long legs, good shoulders, she was not too tall and she had very narrow hips. She would not have been a beauty under Louis XV or Louis XVI of France. But she would have been a beauty during the Renaissance, because of the bones of her face, her shoulders, her hands and her minute feet. Anything you put on Edda would suit her." From the church the wedding party drove to St. Peter's Basilica for a tradition observed by nearly all Roman newlyweds: they kissed the foot of a bronze statue of St. Peter, a gesture meant to assure a happy marriage. Only Mussolini declined to participate. In the early evening Edda, with Galeazzo beside her, drove off in her Alfa-Romeo toward Naples, where the couple planned to take a boat to Capri for their honeymoon. Mussolini, suddenly feeling the loss of his favorite daughter, jumped in his own car and, with Rachele beside him, set off in pursuit. Several police escort cars followed. About twenty kilometers outside Rome, Edda saw his car, veiled in dust, and pulled over to the side of the road.
"Where do you want to go, daddy?" she asked. "It's ridiculous of you to follow us like this."
"I just wanted to accompany you part of the way," he replied lamely. She told him to go home and stop worrying.
At the Hotel Quisisana in Capri, Edda suffered an attack of nerves during dinner in the honeymoon suite. "I didn't succeed in eating even a bite of dinner, so paralyzed did I feel, but I continued to order new dishes so as to detain as long as possible the maitre," she wrote. "For the first time in my life I found myself alone at a table with a man." After dinner she hurried into the bathroom, locked the door and threatened to jump into the sea from an enormous rock outside the window if Ciano came near her.
"I know you are capable of doing what you say," Galeazzo shouted through the door. "I wouldn't dream of preventing you from doing whatever you wish. But just explain one thing to me. How will you climb to the top of the rock so as to leap into the sea?" Edda came out of the bathroom, looked at the rock and then looked at Galeazzo. Both of them burst out laughing, and her panic was over.
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