- Associated Press - Saturday, July 31, 2010

ROME (AP) - Screenwriter Suso Cecchi D’Amico, who emerged from the male-dominated post-war Italian cinema to become a celebrated artist and contribute to such milestones as “Bicycle Thieves” and “The Leopard,” died Saturday at age 96.

Cecchi D'Amico died in her hometown, Rome, the ANSA news agency said, citing her family. No cause of death was given.

Cecchi D'Amico worked with some of the most renowned Italian directors, including Franco Zeffirelli, Michelangelo Antonioni and Mario Monicelli, whose movie “Casanova 70” earned her an Oscar nomination.

She was equally successful at writing scripts for neo-realistic movies, art-house films and comedies such as “Big Deal on Madonna Street.” Her work helped make the Italian post-war movie scene a vibrant and innovative one.

“It was an extraordinary generation, not just for cinema,” said longtime friend Monicelli, himself in his 90s.

“That generation grew out of dramatic events such as Fascism and war,” he said, but “those minds put Italy back on its feet, finding a new way to do things, to produce.”

A long partnership with Luchino Visconti became a defining element in Cecchi D'Amico’s career, spanning more than two decades and several movies. Among other titles, she contributed to “The Leopard,” the sumptuous depiction of the decline of a Sicilian aristocratic family based on the book by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and starring Burt Lancaster and Alain Delon.

Condolences poured in.

President Giorgio Napolitano said Cecchi D'Amico was a “great protagonist of one of the best seasons of Italian cinema.”

Claudia Cardinale, who starred in “The Leopard,” praised her deep culture and generosity. Zeffirelli called her “an extraordinary screenwriter” but also a good-hearted woman who was “a mom and a sister to all of us.”

Born Giovanna Cecchi in 1914 to a family of writers and intellectuals, she began working in cinema soon after the war. She quickly landed a high-profile job helping write the script for Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves,” which was released in 1948 and became a manifesto for neo-realism.

She went on to a long career during which she often adapted literary works, including “The Stranger,” “The Taming of the Shrew” and books by Dostoevsky and Pirandello.

Cecchi D'Amico won several Italian awards and in 1994 the Venice Film Festival gave her a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement.

ANSA said she is survived by her three children. A funeral is scheduled for Monday in Rome.