Willy Rizzo was born in Naples, Italy. After he moved to France with his mother in the 1930s, his passion for photography began very early. From the age of twelve, in the Italian college at Sédillot Street, Paris, he began shooting portraits of his schoolmates with the Agfa Box given to him by his mother. Following World War II and the occupation of France, Rizzo was hired by Point de Vue and travelled to Tunisia to photograph the aftermath of the conflict in North Africa. Capturing the burned out husks of tanks set against low sunsets aroused the attention of Life, who bought his report.

Following this period, Willy Rizzo was recruited by France Dimanche, a publication that covered the private life of celebrities, an arena Rizzo would come to know very well. Willy was sent to Cannes with unlimited funds to cover the first Film Festival. Due to his skill, charm and flair, he managed to capture images of princes, princesses, playboys and starlets in a manner unlike any other

Attracted by the allure of the United States and the then still mythical world of the Californian celebrity, Rizzo travelled to New York to work with the Black Star Agency in the developing America of the post-war years. During this time, he succeeded in capturing and reporting on Hollywood legends, such as Gregory Peck and Gary Cooper.