Modern explorer produces historical memoir of Galileo

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Tony Fantozzi opens "Galileo's Daughter" in Bath this summer.

The memoir details the relationship between the famed Italian astronomer and physicist and his oldest, illegitimate daughter.

By Lindsay Kuhn/Special to The Malibu Times

Wearing a pressed beige safari suit, tailored and oddly stylish, Malibuite Tony Fantozzi, former vice president of the William Morris talent agency, is in the midst of exploring the jungles of theater production. Working with acclaimed director Sir Peter Hall, Fantozzi intends to open his new play, “Galileo’s Daughter,” in summer of 2004 in Bath, England.

Fantozzi discovered the book, “Galileo’s Daughter,” by Dava Sobel, almost three years ago when a friend of his told him to read it. It became Fantozzi’s New World. He soon optioned the stage rights and gave it to writer Timberlake Wertenbaker in England to cultivate a play out of it.

“I gave her [Wertenbaker] the book to read and she loved it,” Fantozzi said.

“Galileo’s Daughter” is a historical memoir of Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo through the eyes of his oldest, illegitimate daughter, S. Maria Celeste.

“It’s a love story between a father, daughter and God,” Fantozzi said.

Sobel, a science writer for the New York Times, wrote the biography based on a large collection of letters she found in Rome from S. Maria Celeste to her father.

S. Maria Celeste, christened Virginia by her father, was deemed unmarriageable because Galileo never married her mother. So after her thirteenth birthday, she was placed at the Convent of San Matteo in Arcetri, where she lived out the rest of her life. Limited by the walls of a convent, Celeste communicated to her father through these letters, revealing a steadfast devotion to him, even when he was seen as one of the greatest enemies of the Catholic Church for refuting Ptolemy’s earth-centered system of the world.

These letters have never been published in translation and bring vibrancy to the life of Galileo.

“They recolor the personality and conflict of a mythic figure, whose 17th-century clash with Catholic doctrine continues to define the schism between science and religion,” Sobel said.

While the book has been coined “a historical memoir of science, faith and love,” Fantozzi emphasizes the love story. “The love story is unbelievable,” he said.

Fantozzi plans to start rehearsing in April or May, and will soon be in England assisting the casting process. If the play is a success in Bath, it will then go into production in the West End of London. Fantozzi chose to start it in England because he said it was “easier”and would be indicative of how it would fare in other areas.

“If you’re a hit in London, you’re a hit anywhere,” he said.

This isn’t Fantozzi’s first adventure in theater, but it may be one of his last.

The former talent manager and agent previously produced and toured the show “Tallulah”

by Malibu playwright Sandra Heyward, starring Kathleen Turner.

“It’s probably the last thing I’m going to do for years,” he said.

The drawn out process to get a play up on stage is one reason why Fantozzi said “Galileo’s Daughter” would be his last for awhile.

“It takes time to get it up on stage,”said Fantozzi, who said he wants to enjoy his retirement.

Indeed, after almost 40 years with the William Morris agency, and before that, working in the Windy City, beginning in 1958, booking acts for nightclubs, Fantozzi has done more than a lifetime of work in the entertainment business.

And, he needs to move over for wife, Patty Clark, a singer who he met in his Chicago days. Clark, who stopped singing to raise their two children, just finished recording a second CD, and on Feb. 13 she opens the Coconut Grove in Florida.

“She was a big star,” Fantozzi said of Patty when they met. “She was terrific [then], and still is now.”

Fantozzi has made many eye-opening discoveries in his life, from finding the love of his life onstage

in Chicago to the love story in “Galileo’s Daughter.”

“Galileo’s Daughter” is to Fantozzi what the telescope was to Galileo.

“I render infinite thanks to God for being so kind as to make me alone the first observer of marvels kept hidden in obscurity for all previous centuries.” -Galileo Galilei.