Franco Zeffirelli is an Italian film director born on February 12, 1923. His real name is Gianfranco Corsi, but Anglicised his name slightly for publicity purposes. His ties to the English-speaking world are well-known, and in 2004 he was awarded an OBE by Her Majesty the Queen in the UK.
Zeffirelli grew up in Florence around British ExPats, and learned English quickly. During the Second World War he worked as an interpreter for the 1st Scots Guards. After the war he studied arts, and worked with a series of Italian directors and theatre producers.
In the 1960s, Zeffirelli made a series of plays around the world - particularly in London and New York. Before long, he started working in cinema as well, rapidly building a reputation as a highly talented director.
Zeffrelli's style is very extrapolated and ornate, and frequently is based on or is inspired by classical works of art. The visuals and music are invariably grand in Zeffrelli's productions. In his major film-directing début The Taming of the Shrew, released in 1967, he set the pace for a prolific film career. The film resulted in an academy award nomination for Best Director.
From 1996 he was a member of the Italian senate as a member of the Forza Italia party.
*) This rendition of Romeo and Juliet is known as one of the best (despite the heavy editing to accomodate for a 14-year-old Juliette), and would be a good place to start an introduction to Zeffrelli.