ITALY: Last of the Big Four

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Woodrow Wilson went first, in 1924. Five years later it was Clemenceau; then Lloyd George in 1945. Last week the last and least of the Big Four who hammered out the Versailles Treaty died of a cerebral hemorrhage, in his villa near Rome.

Stumpy and stubborn, with a pompadour of snowy hair and the operatic manner of a political Toscanini, Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, Prime Minister of Italy (1917-19), stamped out of the Versailles Conference because the "other three" would not give him the port of Fiume. Clemenceau dubbed him "The Weeper," and Orlando himself recalled proudly: "When ... I knew they would not give us what we were entitled to ... I writhed on the floor. I knocked my head against the wall. I cried. I wanted to die."

Premier of Victory. Orlando was born in Sicily a year before the U.S. Civil War began. His father, a landed gentleman of Palermo, delayed venturing out to register his son's birth on May 19, 1860, for fear of Garibaldi's 1,000 patriots who had just stormed into Sicily on the first leg of their march to build an Italian nation. All his life Orlando lived and labored as an Italian Nationalist, long after his kind of nationalism—and Orlando himself—had become an anachronism. He took over as Premier on that bleak October day in 1917 when the Austro-German armies burst through the Alps at Caporetto. The fact that Italy recovered and ended up on the winning side in 1918 earned for Orlando the title, "Premier of Victory." He never forgot it.

When Mussolini seized power in 1922, Orlando supported him, but broke with Il Duce over the Matteotti murder in 1924. After that he abandoned politics, until in 1935 Mussolini's march into Ethiopia stirred Orlando's nationalism. He reappeared briefly in the political spotlight when he wrote Mussolini a fan letter. Otherwise, as he explained grandly: "The profound oblivion . . . descended on my name [is] the rational necessity of a historical situation imposed by destiny." In 1943, in his eighties, he presented himself to war-battered Sicily as a "heroic symbol" of Italian patriotism.

Little Tricks. A paunchy, sarcastic bon vivant, Orlando outlived his wife by about 20 years, but his mistress, a Sicilian princess, grew old with him and died only last year at 85. His hearty enjoyment of life showed through even in his speeches. "Oratory," he once explained, "is just like prostitution: you must have little tricks. One of my favorite tricks is to start a sentence and leave it unfinished. Everyone racks his brains and wonders what I was going to say ..."

The postwar debates showed that he had lost none of his vitality or oratorical abandon. He made 29 speeches against the Italian peace treaty, warning Premier De Gasperi: "You will be held responsible for those humiliations, this cupidity, this servility." The old Nationalist never got used to the idea that Italy needed or could trust allies. He passionately opposed Italian membership in the Atlantic Pact.

A year ago, aged 91, the old man retired from politics for the second time to his lovely villa near Rome. There last week, his daughter and four sons heard his lifelong friend, Right-Wing Socialist Senator Giuseppe Romita, announce with elaborate simplicity: "The Honorable Orlando has just died."