- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Isabella’s Italy

Isabella Rossellini may be one of the most famous Italian women living in America.

So it’s not surprising that the Discovery Channel asked her to narrate its “Discovery Atlas” episode on Italy, airing Sunday at 9 p.m.

“I spend a lot of time in Europe, mostly Paris, Rome and sometimes Sweden,” the actress says during a phone call from New York City, where she now lives. “Italian is the language we speak at home with the children and brothers and sisters.”

Always on the go, the busy Miss Rossellini (her latest film, “Infamous,” opens in theaters next week) signed on to the Discovery project after being impressed with the material producers sent her.

“I liked the idea of little biographies of people,” she says. One person featured in the documentary is a woman whose goal is to be a car racing champion. “I thought it was a nice illustration of the evolution of women in Italy,” Miss Rossellini says.

“Women are linked with the fight for divorce. And 10 or 15 years ago, we just passed laws to protect women against being battered.”

The producers did a particularly good job, she notes, of “illustrating the dilemma of Italy’s living with the past while still being a modern country.”

“Sometimes when I see documentaries about Italy, they seem to me never to quite grasp Italy today,” Miss Rossellini says. “Italy today, which is one of the richest countries in the world, adapted from an old culture of agriculture and food. These things are present still, but they’ve evolved.”

That story — of a country’s move from poor to rich — is one that Miss Rossellini (daughter of the late director Roberto Rossellini and actress Ingrid Bergman) sees reflected in her own life.

“Within me, there is the story of the Italy that was so poor that we know, especially in America. Italian Americans were forced to leave Italy because of starvation and poverty.

“That changed after the war. I was born a few years after the war. I think I really bridged that culture,” she says, noting that her father lived through two wars.

“Italy came out of monarchy, dictatorship and wars to reclaim freedom and wealth,” Miss Rossellini says. The documentary helps tell that story.

“Often when I see documentaries, I see an Italy that doesn’t really exist anymore,” she says, adding that too many people think the country is still poverty stricken.

“It isn’t anymore,” she says. “But they were still able to preserve a lot of their traditions and commingle them with advanced capitalism. The food is very important, the art, the styling.”

Miss Rossellini was born in Rome and had no idea what a special place it was until she came to America.

“Everybody has a sense of history,” she says of citizens of the Eternal City.

Eloise’ on TV

“Eloise,” one of the most beloved children’s book series of all time, comes to television on Sunday when an animated series about the 6-year-old resident of New York’s famed Plaza Hotel premieres on cable’s Starz Kids & Family channel.

The new show, airing at 6 p.m., is the first animated series based on the classic best-selling books by Kay Thompson.

Eloise is immediately recognizable. Director Wes Archer (“The Simpsons,” “King of the Hill”) has wisely used Hilary Knight’s original illustrations as the foundation for the show. The first “Eloise” book was published in 1955, and the new series has a warm, old-fashioned feel.

Veteran British actress and two-time Oscar-nominee Lynn Redgrave (“Gods and Monsters”) voices the role of Eloise’s much-put-upon nanny while young actress Mary Marilyn Mouser (CBS’ “Navy NCIS”) plays the little girl herself.

The lighthearted show is one of the few things on TV this fall that’s strictly for the small-fry set. New episodes of “Eloise” will air on Starz Kids & Family each Sunday at 6 p.m. through November.

Mel’s now TV fodder

“Law & Order” often has plots ripped from the headlines and next month will put Mel Gibson’s recent legal woes front and center.

In an episode slated for the November sweeps, actor-comedian Chevy Chase will portray a celebrity who’s pulled over for drunken driving and then delivers an anti-Semitic rant at the arresting officers, Reuters news agency reports.

But the TV story goes further: Mr. Chase’s character turns out to have blood on his shirt belonging to a Jewish woman who had been the producer of his failed sitcom. The episode is scheduled to air Nov. 3.

In real life, Mr. Gibson pleaded no contest to drunken driving charges and was placed on probation.

“Law & Order” just began its 17th season in a new Friday time slot. In an interview with Reuters, show creator Dick Wolf said he hoped to keep the program on the air for four more years. That would beat the record for TV’s longest-running scripted series set by the Western “Gunsmoke,” which lasted 20 years.

Compiled by Kelly Jane Torrance from staff and wire reports.

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