Composer Ennio Morricone has said that Leone asked him to compose a film's music before the start of principal photography - contrary to normal practice. He would then play the music to the actors during takes to enhance their performance.
Was very insecure about the films he made and every film he made was almost his last. Between Duck, You Sucker! (1971) and Once Upon a Time in America (1984) he produced several films and directed several commercials. He also did some uncredited directing work on some of the films he produced. Before his death he planned on making a film called The 900 Days about the siege on Leningrad. He was able to get $100 million in financing without even having written a script and he planned to cast Robert De Niro.
Started many feuds with his collaborators - Sergio Donati, for not being credited for co-writing The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966); Luciano Vincenzoni; and Tonino Valerii, whom he usurped on the set of My Name Is Nobody (1973) by directing many scenes of that film.
Was often noted to embellish events that occurred on the sets of his films, as noted by many of his collaborators.
Although they did not work together until 1964, as children Leone and composer Ennio Morricone were classmates.
He had two daughters, Francesca Leone and Raffaella Leone, and a son, Andrea Leone. Francesca appeared in her father's For a Few Dollars More (1965) as a baby. Both girls were reportedly among the extras in Flagstone in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). For Leone's final film, Once Upon a Time in America (1984), Francesca was given a bit part and Raffaella was credited as Assistant Costume Designer.
Clint Eastwood was amused by Leone's on-set behavior during their collaborations, having called the short, heavy Leone "Yosemite Sam" for his over-the-top temper and attempts to act like a cowboy through his thick Italian accent.
Was voted the 41st Greatest Director of all time by Entertainment Weekly, having directed only 11 films.
When he made Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), his stylistic influence switched from the more frenetic pace of Hollywood westerns (which he put on hyper-drive for the "Dollars" trilogy with Clint Eastwood) to the slower, tenser style of Japanese samurai films, mainly those of Akira Kurosawa.
He died at the age of 60 from a heart attack, which was most likely resulted from his eating habits. He had an infamous love for food and gained weight throughout his life until he was borderline obese in the 1980s.
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume Two, 1945- 1985". Pages 577-581. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1988.
Son of director Roberto Roberti.
Son of Bice Valerian, father of Francesca Leone, Andrea Leone and Raffaella Leone.
Famously feuded with director Peter Bogdanovich over the directing reigns of Duck, You Sucker! (1971) - Leone claimed that Bogdanovich was fearful of such a large production and backed out at the last minute. Bogdonavich stands by the story that Leone hired him as a patsy, as he wanted to direct the film all along.
His favorite actor from childhood was Henry Fonda, who was offered a role in every one of Leone's early Westerns. After Fonda finally worked with him on Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), he returned the compliment, later citing that film as his favorite role.
His favorite movies were reportedly (in no particular order) Yojimbo (1961), Warlock (1959), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), High Noon (1952), Shane (1953), and Vera Cruz (1954).
Aside from saying 'Goodbye', Sergio Leone never spoke a word of English and always relied on a translator when talking to American actors. According to an interview with Eli Wallach, he spoke to Sergio in broken up French and discovered he is fluent in the language. This is how he communicated to Sergio Leone when shooting The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) ("The Good, the Bad and the Ugly").
Member of the 'Official Competition' jury at the 24th Cannes International Film Festival in 1971.
Member of the 'Official Competition' jury at the 28th Berlin International Film Festival in 1978.
Was sued by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa for remaking his Yojimbo (1961) as "A Fistful of Dollars" (A Fistful of Dollars (1964)) shot-for-shot without crediting him, and copyright infringement. The production of A Fistful of Dollars (1964) apologized, compensated Kurosawa with $100,000, and 15% of box office revenues.
His callous behavior towards his collaborators reached a high-water mark during the shooting of Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) ("Once Upon a Time in the West"), when bit-part actor Al Mulock committed suicide on the set of the movie. Murlock, who also had appeared as the one-armed bounty hunter in Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), jumped from a hotel on location in Guadix, Spain. Production manager Claudio Mancini was sitting in a room in the hotel with Mickey Knox, an expatriate American who had been hired by Leone as a screenwriter; they both saw Mulock's body pass by their window. Knox recalled in an interview that while Mancini put Mulock in his car to drive him to the hospital, Leone said to Mancini, "Get the costume! We need the costume!" Mulock was wearing the costume he wore in the movie when he made his fatal leap.
He didn't learn to speak English fluently until he was preparing Once Upon a Time in America (1984), having made 5 previously films with American actors by broken attempts at English (by Leone), Italian (by the actors) or French.
He was asked to direct Hang 'Em High (1968), but he turned it down in favour of Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).
According to Frayling's biography of Leone, Something to Do with Death, he envisioned a contemporary adaptation of Cervantes' 17th century novel Don Quixote with Clint Eastwood in the title role and Eli Wallach as Sancho Panza. He had discussed doing the project throughout the 1960s-1970s, and he started seriously considering it towards the end of his life.
Leone was an avid fan of Margaret Mitchell's novel and the film Gone with the Wind (1939). His relatives and close friends stated that he talked about filming a remake that was closer to the original novel, but it never advanced beyond discussions to any serious form of production.
He was asked to direct The Godfather (1972), but he turned it down in order to make Once Upon a Time in America (1984).
He started his own production company which he named Rafran, after his two daughters Raffaella and Francesca.
In 1987, Leone contacted his old collaborators Sergio Donati and Fulvio Morsella, pitching an idea for a TV miniseries about a Colt revolver that passed from owner to owner throughout the Old West, similar to Winchester '73 (1950). Donati indicated that Leone was interested in a more revisionist take on the genre than his earlier works, wanting to show the Old West "like it really was." Leone abandoned this project in favor of A Place Only Mary Knows, though Donati wrote a treatment and the project remained in gestation for years after Leone's death.
Leone was a fan of Louis-Ferdinand Céline's novel Journey to the End of the Night and was considering a film adaptation in the late 1960s; he incorporated elements of the story into The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) and Duck, You Sucker! (1971) but his idea of adapting the novel itself never got past the planning stages.
Leone also started writing a screenplay based on Lee Falk's The Phantom, and scouted locations for the project. Despite this, he never got to make a movie based on the comic book hero. He declared he would have liked to follow his Phantom project with a movie based on another Falk-created character, Mandrake the Magician.
While finishing work on Once Upon a Time in America (1984) in 1982, Leone was impressed with Harrison Salisbury's non-fiction book The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad, and he planned on adapting the book as a war epic. Although no formal script had been completed or leaked, Leone came up with the opening scene and basic plot. According to the documentary Once Upon a Time: Sergio Leone (2001), the film opened in medias res as the camera goes from focusing on a Russian hiding from the Nazis' artillery fire to panning hundreds of feet away to show the German Panzer divisions approaching the walls of the city. The plot was to focus on an American photographer on assignment (whom Leone wanted to be played by Robert De Niro) becoming trapped in Russia as the German Luftwaffe begin to bombard the city. Throughout the course of the film, he becomes romantically involved with a Russian woman, whom he later impregnates, as they attempt to survive the prolonged siege and the secret police, because relationships with foreigners are forbidden. According to Leone, "In the end, the cameraman dies on the day of the liberation of the city, when he is currently filming the surrender of the Germans. And the girl is aware of his death by chance seeing a movie news: the camera sees it explode under a shell .... " By 1989, Leone had been able to acquire $100 million in financing from independent backers, and the film was to be a joint production with a Soviet film company. He had convinced Ennio Morricone to compose the film score, and Tonino Delli Colli was tapped to be the cinematographer. Shooting was scheduled to begin sometime in 1990. The project was cancelled when Leone died two days before he was to officially sign on for the film.
Leone was an early choice to direct Flash Gordon (1980). Leone was a fan of the original Alex Raymond comic strip, but turned down the film because the script did not resemble Raymond's work.
In his later years, Leone had a falling out of sorts with Clint Eastwood. When Leone directed Once Upon a Time in America (1984), he commented that Robert De Niro was a real actor, unlike Eastwood. This may have been in response to Eastwood declining to play the Irish police detective in the aforementioned film, according to one biography. However, the two made amends and reconciled before Leone's death. When Eastwood won the Oscar for Unforgiven (1992), Leone was one of the two directors whom Eastwood dedicated his award to (the other was Don Siegel) and the film contains the dedication "To Sergio & Don" before the end credits roll.
President of the 'Official Competition' jury at the 45th Venice International Film Festival in 1988.
Leone devised a western called A Place Only Mary Knows that he cowrote with Luca Morsella, and Fabio Toncelli. It is speculated to have been Leone's last western and was to have starred Mickey Rourke and Richard Gere as the two main leads. Set during the height of the American Civil War, the story focused on a Union drafter, Mike Kutcher from Georgia, whose job is to enroll men into the Union army. The other is Richard Burns, a Southern shady businessman transplanted to the North after a successful heist with his ex-lover and partner, Mary. Searching for the buried treasure left behind in an unmarked grave outside Atlanta in "A Place Only Mary Knows". Joined by a freed slave and an Italian immigrant, Francesco, who arrives via the port of Boston, they try desperately to avoid the battles of the ongoing war between the states. The film was to have been a homage to classic writers from literature such as - Edgar Lee Masters (Spoon River Anthology), Ambrose Bierce (An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge), Mark Twain (A Military Campaign that Failed), Stephen Crane (The Red Badge of Courage), and Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind), of whose novel he had wanted to film a remake. Although the written treatment never got turned into a full screenplay, Leone's son Andrea had it published in a June 2004 issue of the Italian cinema magazine Ciak. It is unsure if the treatment's publication will ever lead to a full production in America or Italy.
He developed a passion for Havana cigars after being introduced to them by writer/collaborator Luciano Vincenzoni.
He has directed one film that has been selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).
Clint Eastwood claims that he wound up getting the role in Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars (1964) because James Coburn, to whom the role was originally offered, wanted $25,000. Clint accepted the role for $15,000.