Fiorello LaGuardia is back.
After more than 45 years, a series of "fireside chats" from the ebullient New York mayor to wartime Italy have returned to the airwaves.Tapes of LaGuardia's impassioned anti-fascist appeals were found by an Italian researcher several years ago in the Library of Congress in Washington.
Now they are being replayed on state-run radio. Mixed in are excerpts from more than 1,000 letters Italians wrote to the beacon of democracy.
"This is your `amico' LaGuardia speaking," begin the talks, which were taped by NBC and transmitted to Italy on Sunday nights from 1942-45.
LaGuardia, the son of Italian-Jewish immigrants, fought with U.S. forces in Italy during World War I, served as a U.S. congressman and as mayor of New York from 1934-1945.
He was a charismatic populist and a fierce anti-fascist who once gave a visiting Nazi delegation an escort of Jewish police.
The five-part program - broadcast last week and scheduled to run again - has returned many Italians to a time far removed from the security and prosperity of their modern-day society.
But some of his words, like his praise of decentralization and a small government, still sound rather revolutionary in Italy.
In subsequent talks, he told listeners in simple, fatherly tones about the merits of democracy, the promise of American aid and the need to help war orphans.
Other times, he would attack fascism and the Nazis, briskly chopping the Italian phrases into staccato syllables hurled with an American accent.
"We see a scandalous spectacle in Rome, where a gang of scoundrels called Fascists have held a meeting," he said in a 1943 broadcast.
"Screams, accusations, threats, blasphemies were the order of the day. The meeting was a true example of the depths of fascism: always rotten and always dishonest," added LaGuardia, who died in 1947.
Fascist newspapers railed against the talks and people found listening to them were sometimes sent to jail, said Sandro Gerbi, a journalist and historian who brought copies of the tapes from Washington.
Gerbi came upon the letters and tapes by accident five years ago when he went looking for information on his uncle, who worked for the Voice of America during World War II.
Giuseppe De Luna, a professor of modern history at the University of Turin who helped organize the program, said many Italians listened to Radio London for news bulletins during World War II.
LaGuardia's appeal seemed to be as broad as his belief in the American dream.
In the New York Municipal Archives, Gerbi found four boxes of letters sent from Italians to LaGuardia in the last years of the war.
De Luna, who plans to present the letters at a history conference in December, said they are also important because of the detailed picture they present of the period, particularly southern Italian life.