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Vincenzo Labella, an Emmy-winning producer behind the epic miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, Marco Polo and Moses the Lawgiver, has died. He was 93.
Labella died peacefully on July 28 at his home in Los Angeles, his daughter, Jennifer De Maio, announced.
Born in 1925 in Vatican City, where his father was the dean of the Pontifical Halls in the service of six popes, Labella began his professional career as an historian, journalist and documentarian. Early on, he had free access to the Apostolic Library of the Vatican where, he said, “I learned to dream back across history.”
Chosen by famed producer Dino De Laurentiis to serve as an adviser on the Anthony Quinn religious epic Barabbas (1961), Labella drew on his deep knowledge of history as he began his steady ascent in the film and television business.
His 1977 NBC miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring Robert Powell, Laurence Olivier, Anne Bancroft and Christopher Plummer, was nominated for an Emmy for outstanding special drama in 1978.
Moses the Lawgiver, co-written by A Clockwork Orange novelist Anthony Burgess and starring Burt Lancaster, was trimmed from its six-hour length for CBS in 1974 and released internationally as a feature film.
Two of his greatest successes were Marco Polo in 1982 and A.D. in 1985, each 10 hours long for NBC.
Marco Polo, the first Western production allowed to film in the Forbidden City and the Ming Tombs of the People’s Republic of China, featured Lancaster, John Gielgud, John Houseman and, as the legendary explorer and merchant, Ken Marshall.
Labella won his Emmy for outstanding miniseries for producing Marco Polo, and he co-wrote the eight episodes with director Giuliano Montaldo and David Butler.
A Man Named John (1965), a film about Pope John XXIII that Labella wrote with Ermanno Olmi, won the Golden Rudder at the Venice Film Festival. He also co-produced From a Far Country (1981), on the life of Pope John Paul II, another festival winner.
Labella authored A Season of Giants, a biography of Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael that he adapted into a four-hour TNT special in 1990.
His final project was The Wonders of the Vatican Library, a 2004 series of documentaries.
In recent years, Labella and his family divided their time between homes in L.A. and Umbria, Italy.
Survivors include his wife, Sue; daughters Monica, Kerstin and Jennifer; and grandchildren Monica, Martin, Simone, Michele, Jacob, Giulia, Benjamin, Julian and Matteo.
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