Raised in Italy, Roberto de Leonardis became fluent in colloquial American English during two years as a prisoner alongside America GIs in a Japanese prison camp. It was a skill that served him well when the war was over; in 1947, Roberto was hired by Disney to translate its films, including Bambi, Dumbo, Pinocchio, and others, into Italian for audiences there to enjoy.
Roy E. Disney, former vice chairman of The Walt Disney Company, later recalled, “Roberto was a good friend to the Company. With his skilled English, he translated the Studio’s films with great care and precision and, subsequently, helped make Disney an integral part of the nation’s entertainment landscape.”
Born in Naples on February 14, 1913, Roberto’s father was an admiral in the Italian Navy. Young Roberto followed in his footsteps, attending the Military Academy in Livorno, Tuscany, and graduating as an officer.
As a captain, Roberto served as commanding officer of an Italian naval ship under the flag of King Victor Emanuel III. When confronted by the Japanese after Italy surrendered to the Allies on September 8, 1943, Roberto scuttled his ship in China’s Yangtze Kiang River. As a result, he was taken prisoner and detained until American troops freed him in 1945.
Roberto returned to Italy after the war and, with his newly acquired English skills, began to translate American films into his native language.
In 1949, as a member of the association of Italian short film producers, Roberto developed Filmeco, a production house that created about 50 documentaries. These included an episode of Disney’s People and Places travelogue series, Sardinia, in 1956.
Two years later, Roberto established his own dubbing company, Royfilm. This new venture translated Disney films into the Italian language, in addition to motion pictures produced by other major American studios including Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount, and Universal.
In 1961, Roberto was commissioned to work as executive producer on the Circarama film Italia ‘61. This 360-degree motion picture, which features a tour of Italy as well as spectacular views of the Genoa harbor and Mount Vesuvius, was prepared for the Italia ‘61 Exposition in Turin. Considered cutting-edge technology at the time, the motion picture was filmed with a unique camera invented by Disney Imagineers.
Roberto de Leonardis passed away on September 21, 1984, in Rome.