Oreste Francesco Pucciani was born in Cleveland on April 7, 1916, the son of a candy manufacturer. He attended the Cleveland public schools and graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Adelbert College, Western Reserve University (now Case Western University) in 1939. He took his doctorate in Romance languages from Harvard in 1943. In 1946-47, Pucciani studied in France and Italy on a Sheldon Traveling Fellowship, meeting Sartre and his companion Simone de Beauvoir. Returning to the United States in 1947, Pucciani lectured at Harvard, before joining the faculty of the University of California Los Angeles as an Assistant Professor of French in 1948. He was became an Associate Professor in 1954, and a full Professor in 1960. He was chairman of the French department from 1961 to 1966, and became emeritus in 1979.
Pucciani's scholarly interests were diverse. His doctoral dissertation was devoted to the reception of Walt Whitman in France. The French Theater since 1930 (1954) remains a useful anthology of French theater in the years between the world wars. He also published a well regarded translation of Racine's masterpiece Phédre in 1961. But Pucciani is best known as an interpreter of the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre, and pioneered in teaching courses on Sartre at UCLA before the philosopher's works were translated into English.
In addition to his work on Sartre, Pucciani was well known as a theorist on methods of language acquisition. He had studied with Emile B. de Sauzé at Western Reserve in the 1930s, and was an ardent champion of Sauzé's "direct method" of language teaching, in which all instruction, including explanations of grammar and vocabulary, is given in the target language. In the late 1950s, Pucciani pioneered in adapting the direct method (still little known outside the Cleveland public schools) to the UCLA French Department's language program. The highly successful and influential textbook, Langue et Langage, published by Pucciani and Jacqueline Hamel in 1967, described the department's experience with the direct method, and revealed the advantages of immediate and total immersion in a foreign tongue.
For his services to French language and culture, Pucciani was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Legion of Honor by the French government in 1965.
Pucciani was the long-time lover of fashion designer Rudi Gernreich. In 1988, after Gernreich's death, he established the ACLU Rudi Gernreich-Oreste Pucciani Endowment Fund to support the fight for GLBT rights.
He died in Los Angeles on April 28, 1999.
1999, University of California: In Memoriam, http://content.cdlib.org/xtf/view?docId=hb267nb0r3&brand=calisphere (accessed November 2, 2008).