Oreste Lionello, the Italian voice of Woody Allen Posted by on Feb 25, 2009 in Culture

I have just read the sad news in the Corriere della Sera (an Italian newspaper) that Oreste Lionello died last week at the age of 81 following a long illness. Born in Rhodes (Greece) in 1927 of Italian parents, he was a famous comedian and one of the founding figures of Italian cabaret. Oreste Lionello and his company Il Bagaglino satirized Italian politics for many years, both in theaters and on TV shows, with an intelligent humor which always avoided insults or rudeness. Particularly memorable was his excellent impersonation of our former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti.

However, aside from his career as a political satirist, Lionello was also a great voice over actor. Film subtitles in Italy are not very popular, and we have a long tradition of film dubbing. Lionello was the Italian voice of many famous actors, including Peter Sellers in Doctor Strangelove, Gene Wilder in Frankenstein Junior, Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator, and Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. But his longest lasting dubbing partnership was with Woody Allen, for whom Oreste Lionello was the official Italian voice in all of his films. According to the Corriere della Sera Allen is quoted as having said: “For many years Oreste Lionello made me a better actor than I really was. We met personally and he always seemed to me a very kind person”.

I grew up here in Italy watching Woody Allen films which had been overdubbed with Oreste Lionello’s voice, and I have to say that when I moved to England and finally saw one of Allen’s films with his original voice I was surprised to discover that it was just like hearing Oreste Lionello speaking in English: it’s not just that the voices are similar, but that Lionello perfectly portrays that particular way of speaking which Allen has, including all of his neurotic and world weary tones. Legend has it that Lionello occasionally introduced himself on the phone as “the voice of Woody Allen”.

Oreste Lionello added his voice to many cartoons and animated films, such as The Aristocats in which he portrayed the voice of Georges Hautecourt, Winnie the Pooh as the voice of Winnie the Pooh, and two of the Asterix  animated films for which he was the voice of Asterix himself.

Lionello also translated and adapted into Italian many film scripts including, notably, the challenging script for Cyrano de Bergerac, in which all the dialogues are in rhyme. Three of his five children have followed in his footsteps and have also become dubbing actors.

Here is a link to the Mondo dei Doppiatori (World of Dubbers) website page about Lionello:

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  1. June Silva:

    I have been reading the Italian word of the day and I really enjoy your added italian cultural background information.

    Keep up the good work!!!

  2. Jeannet Mulder:

    ….and so do I, I learn a lot of ‘word of the day’ and
    those informative blogs. Thank you very much,
    Serena, it is me a great pleasure.

  3. Serena:

    Salve Jeannet, I’m pleased that you are enjoying some of my older blogs. I notice that you write your comments in both English and Italian. What is your native language?

    A presto, Serena

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