Rome Closed City
Anna Maria and Maria Luisa
“Anna and I have always been very different, but we were sisters after all, and we cared for each other as two sisters normally do, without exaggeration, because our personalities would soon tell us even more apart.”Marisa Pavan Aumont
Soumoy, Margaux. “Drop the Baby; Put a Veil on the Broad!” – Marisa Pavan’s Story, FriesenPress, 2021, p. 9
Maria Luisa “Marisa” Pierangeli saw the light of day on June 19, 1932 in Cagliari, Sardinia shortly after her fraternal twin Anna Maria “Anna”.
Marisa’s architect father Luigi Pierangeli, born in 1906, was the only child of a middle-class Catholic family of Frontone on the Adriatic coast. Luigi lost his father at an early age and was raised by his bourgeois mother and powerful clerical uncle who educated him under traditional religious conventions.
Marisa’s stay-at-home mother Enrichetta “Enrica” Romiti shared a similar background with Luigi. Born in 1908, she was the only child of an influential middle-class Catholic family of Fossombrone on the Adriatic coast and was raised by her powerful, bourgeois mother and grandmother since her father had died during World War I.
Luigi and Enrica fell in love and married when they were still young students, in spite of Enrica’s family’s reluctance for her to get married that young and with a boy who, they claimed, did not fit their standards.
In 1935, when Luigi’s three-year contract to drain mosquito-infested swamps in Sardinia was over, the family moved back to Rome where Luigi’s independent architecture company was located, and the family settled on the third floor of an apartment built and owned by Luigi himself on Via Nemorense.
Luigi and Enrica revealed themselves to be strict parents who wanted to give their daughters the traditional and conservative education they had both received.
As for Marisa and Anna who already did not look alike physically in spite of Enrica’s determination to always dress her twins alike, their psychological differences would soon tell them even more apart. Moon versus sun; cat versus dog; sour versus sweet… you name it! Marisa was a rebellious, introvert personality who favored more her mother in terms of looks and mentality and wasn’t that close to her father, while Anna was a docile, extrovert personality who favored her father in addition to being a daddy’s girl. No particular bond was ever noticed between the twins though they always had much consideration and respect for each other.
World War II
“Having lived during the war, we, as a generation of young war witnesses, grew up faster in the soul, matured earlier and became down-to-earth personalities wanting to be kind and generous towards our neighbor. We felt the need to give and protect. It is unexplainable.”Marisa Pavan Aumont
Soumoy, Margaux. “Drop the Baby; Put a Veil on the Broad!” – Marisa Pavan’s Story, FriesenPress, 2021, p. 19
In June 1940, Fascist Italy entered World War II as an ally of Nazi Germany, and the horrors of the war soon impacted the Pierangeli family, just like so many other families across Europe. Rome became occupied by the German army, and the frontiers were watched closely.
Food was severely lacking in the capital, and lines of starving civilians began to form in front of grocery stores. Unable to bear the situation any longer, Enrica decided to leave her family for a couple of months to go get food outside the capital by dressing like a man and hiding in trucks to reach the lands of her native Adriatic coast. Luigi and his daughters seemed to have lost all hope to see her alive again when Enrica surprised her loved ones coming back home one day with bags full of food.
During the war, the Pierangeli family took another risk: that of hiding in their cellar General Pavan, a Jewish friend of theirs who was wanted by the Nazis and the Fascists. One of the family’s uncles from Enrica’s side had also been an officer under the commandments of the General in the past. Little Marisa would grow particularly fond of him during the war years.
From June 1944, the German army was chased from Rome by the Americans, and the war came to an end shortly after Mussolini’s death on April 28, 1945, the monster who scared Marisa for life, thus allowing her to become both an acute observer of the world and a rebellious soul from a very young age.
The Debut of Anna Maria Pierangeli
“All our friends had come to wave us goodbye at the airport, and they had made it sensational! It really did touch me. I was crying like a baby behind the plane’s window. I couldn’t stop.”Marisa Pavan Aumont
Soumoy, Margaux. “Drop the Baby; Put a Veil on the Broad!” – Marisa Pavan’s Story, FriesenPress, 2021, p. 45
On November 15, 1947, the Pierangeli family celebrated the unexpected birth of a new member: an adorable, third baby girl named Patrizia, much favored by Luigi, who would grow up to become as beautiful and talented as her older sisters. She would also have a particular connection to Marisa who would spend the golden years of her youth raising her and taking care of her.
Even though the war had greatly impacted Anna and Marisa’s psyche, the twins were now young, beautiful teens who both had to go on with their lives. While Anna’s interests moved towards the manual arts, as a teenager, Marisa began developing an obsessive passion for dancing, and her dream was to become a ballerina. A dream that was somehow influenced by Enrica’s own early obsession for show business, yet a dream that also remained unreachable due to Luigi’s passionate hatred of the performing arts as a serious profession.
Both twins were average students and had attended the same elementary school. While Anna was sent to an art school after spending two years doing her schooling at home because of the pleurisy she had caught during the war, Marisa was sent to the strictest high school in Rome, the Torquato Tasso high school, where she studied History, literature, Greek, and Latin, and where she developed a strong taste for classicism that would later define her unique personality. Marisa also had the opportunity during her teenage years to spend some time in the luxurious house (now a museum) of her maternal great uncle Giuseppe Cesarini, notary of Fossombrone, who educated her on History and art just like a pygmalion and whose connection with his grandniece made the latter grow extremely fond of him and consider him a second father.
The big twist of fate of the Pierangeli family’s life occurred in the spring of 1948. One day, Luigi visited silent Italian actress Elena Caterina “Rina” Catardi (known as Rina De Liguoro) in her apartment, which he had built himself, as she was experiencing water issues. Anna, who only had eyes for her father, accompanied him. As soon as she entered the apartment, the innocent 15-year-old girl with the angelic face immediately caught the attention of Russian-born French director Leonid Moguilevsky (Léonide Moguy), friend of De Liguoro, who was spending time in Rome with his wife and daughter.
“After nine years of looking for a young leading actress for a film I have written with Marcel Achard…! That’s her! That’s her!”, Moguy said right in front of Anna and her father.
Disoriented by the situation, Anna didn’t say a word, and Luigi, jealous and unwilling to get involved in anything related to show-business, grabbed his daughter and went back home.
Yet, the craziest was to come. A week later, Anna was walking down Veneto Street with her friend Maria after they were sent back home from art school because of their professor’s illness. Maria invited Anna to stop by an art gallery to admire some Picasso paintings when Italian neorealist director Vittorio De Sica, who was having a cup of coffee nearby, caught a sudden glimpse of the frail and beautiful creature. Maria alerted Anna that De Sica was right behind them.
“May I have a look at you?”, De Sica asked after touching Anna’s shoulder. Once again, Anna’s eyes could barely stare at the intimidating figure, and no sound came out of her mouth.
“A friend of mine coming from Paris named Léonide Moguy is looking for a young leading actress for his film, and I do think you are the only one who can play that part!”, he continued.
Everyone including Marisa admitted that the circumstances of Anna’s debut in film were unbelievable as two directors had spotted by pure chance the same girl in Rome in the space of only a few days. Both knew instantly she was the one, even though hundreds of young girls had previously auditioned for the part. Anna was offered the leading part of Mirella in Moguy’s film Tomorrow Is Too Late, but Luigi was yet to be convinced. Anna being underage, Luigi accepted to sign the contract at one condition.
“I will let you make this film only if you become the very best of them all… Otherwise it’s over for you.”, Luigi told his daughter.
Written by Moguy and Alfred Machard with the collaboration of Paola Ojetti, Oreste Biancoli, and Giuseppe Berto for Rizzoli and Giuseppe Amato, Tomorrow Is Too Late tells the dramatic though happy-ending story of teenage schoolgirl Mirella Giusti (Anna) who discovers love and desire with her boyfriend Franco Berardi (Gino Leurini) while being enrolled in a very strict and conservative Catholic school. Arguments between the older and younger generations of professors (one of them played by De Sica himself) do serve the purpose of Moguy’s neorealist film of post-war Italy to promote a more down-to-earth and sincere education for youngsters, while giving them joy and hope for the future after the trauma of such a tough historical and social past.
Released in 1950 through Ente Nazionale Industrie Cinematografiche (ENIC) and RKO Radio Films SpA, Tomorrow Is Too Late was an immediate success in Italy and was rewarded with six awards, including Best Actress for Anna who also won the Silver Ribbon from the 1951 Sindacato Nazionale Giornalisti Cinematografici Italiani.
Marisa was not at all interested in acting, though she was curious enough to show up on the set of Tomorrow Is Too Late to observe how a film was being made. The boring filming process as well as the constant yelling and unhealthy atmosphere emerging from the set did comfort her in her decision not to be an actress, especially after she noticed the hypocrisy and fake closeness of the same cast and crew that kept embracing and praising one another during the ceremony of the 1951 Venice Film Festival where Tomorrow Is Too Late was widely acclaimed. The unexpected success of his daughter, who was now on the front page of all the newspapers, brought Luigi to reconsider the situation and allow Anna to pursue an acting career.
Anna didn’t have to wait very long before she was contacted by Italian drama theorist and critic Silvio D’Amico, founder of the Accademia Nazionale d’Arte Drammatica Silvio D’Amico, who had been mesmerized by her performance in Tomorrow Is Too Late and who wanted her to audition for the title role in American director Fred Zinnemann’s MGM-produced film Teresa. D’Amico had been previously contacted by Zinnemann and the film’s screenwriters Stewart Stern and Alfred Hayes, who had both been looking for a young Italian girl to play the part of hungry civilian Teresa Russo who falls in love with insecure American soldier Philip Cass (John Ericson) in Nazi-occupied Italy during World War II and marries him before moving to New York. Knowing Anna would be perfect for the part, D’Amico’s words echoed Moguy and De Sica’s the first time he met her: “This is my girl! This is Teresa!” Anna’s screen test was sent to Zinnemann and Arthur M. Loew in New York who immediately offered Anna a ten-year contract with MGM, which was reduced to a seven-year contract on Luigi’s demand. For two weeks Anna was sent 45 miles away from Rome surrounded only by American girls to learn English for the part. Released in 1951, the film was rewarded with two nominations and was another great success for young Anna who had won a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer at the 1952 Golden Globes, and who was now beginning to build a reputation overseas as well. The reputation of a brilliant dramatic actress with an angel face and the innocence of a little girl. Considering her name too long and not marketable enough, MGM cut Anna’s last name in half. Pier Angeli was born.
Shortly after Teresa, Anna was then offered the part of Luisa in Moguy’s sequel of Tomorrow Is Too Late entitled Tomorrow Is Another Day. Directed and written by Moguy with the collaboration of Domenico Meccoli, Oreste Biancoli, Sara Gasco, and Giorgio Prosperi for Excelsa Film, Tomorrow Is Another Day is a three-part dark drama built in flashbacks that focuses on the tragic life stories of Giulia (Anna Maria Ferrero), an old widow (Rina De Liguoro), and Luisa (Anna) that pushed all three of them to attempt suicide, the old widow being the only one whose suicide attempt ended up being ‘successful’. These stories aim at preventing the film’s main opening and closing character Linda (Linda Gore) from committing suicide, and the film is also Moguy’s personal way of telling the world that life is worth living, especially after the recent horrors of the war. Shot in Rome, the film was released in 1951 through Minerva Film.
For the Pierangeli family, the year 1950 ended with the unfortunate passing of Luigi whose health had progressively deteriorated over the years after he was bitten by a mosquito during the interlude of his three years working in the Sardinian swamps, and the year 1951 opened on an exciting note for Anna who was now awaited on the other side of the Atlantic ocean to pursue her Hollywood film career. Marisa, though, remained heartbroken for a while at the idea of leaving her beloved Italy, friends, and entire life behind.
Just a Joke
“I was not nervous at all because everything was just a game to me. I was not impressed by John Ford because I didn’t know who he was. I had accepted to do that test as it was not a big deal, but I really did not give a damn about it. I couldn’t care less about it because I never believed it was something serious.”Marisa Pavan Aumont
Soumoy, Margaux. “Drop the Baby; Put a Veil on the Broad!” – Marisa Pavan’s Story, FriesenPress, 2021, p. 57
In February 1951 Marisa and her family set a foot on the North American ‘dream’ land for the first time and stayed in the Westwood Manor Hotel in Los Angeles for a week before they moved into their first home on West Sunset Boulevard in Brentwood. For young Marisa, both the amazement and culture shock were instantaneous.
As she couldn’t speak a word of English and soon felt embarrassed at whatever event she would attend with Anna – or even terrified at the idea of simply answering the phone at home – Marisa enrolled for a semester at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) to learn English before Scottish-born voice and acting coach Helena Sorell, who was already working with Anna at MGM, became her private coach in the art of mastering the English language for several years. With Anna being under contract to MGM and Enrica working full-time for MGM as Anna’s manager, Marisa had to think about the kind of career she wanted to pursue. She knew two things. First; she’d always liked literature. And second; she could now master three languages: Italian, French (learned during her school years), and English. For a brief period of time the twin left in the dark thought she was destined to become a translator or interpreter. Little did she know…
The moment Marisa’s fate took an unexpected and ever-lasting turn occurred on the day Mario Ungaro, Consul at the Consulate General of Italy in Los Angeles, invited the Pierangeli family to attend the regular friendly meetings of the Italian community living in Hollywood. One day Marisa ran into a friendly middle-aged man with Italian roots with whom she had a particularly pleasant conversation. The man happened to be famous American agent Albert Romolo “Cubby” Broccoli from the Famous Artists talent agency run by Charles K. Feldman. Too late now! Shy Marisa could not hide anymore… She had just been spotted and the rest would be history.
Marisa was getting closer and closer to her new confidant when the obvious question Agent Cubby had been keeping in mind for Marisa was finally asked.
– Marisa, don’t you want to become an actress? You do have all the attributes and skills for it.
Yet, Marisa answered in the negative. Working in the film industry was of no interest to her. At least, that is what she tried to convince herself. With her next question, Marisa unconsciously threw a log on the already burning fire of Cubby’s secret ambitions for his young Italian lady friend.
– But… I am curious to see how a film is being made in Hollywood and how the process of making films here differs from that of making films in Italy. Can I go with you on movie sets?
Cubby was delighted to respond to Marisa’s favor and agreed to bring her with him on several movie sets for a couple of weeks. Even though Marisa did enjoy the spectacular mechanism of Hollywood filmmaking she had the privilege of witnessing from a first class spot, once her curiosity was satisfied, Marisa quickly got bored by the repetitive process of making movies and asked Cubby to go home. Little did she know he did not plan on letting her flee.
That day, Cubby took Marisa to an unknown and empty office.
– Wait for me there Marisa. I need to see a producer and talk to him about a project.
When Cubby reappeared in the office, he was accompanied by a man who became instantly fascinated with Marisa’s accent and asked her to sing a little French song for him.
Thinking Cubby and the man with the imposing stature probably wanted to have fun, Marisa agreed to play along for a little while and sang the first French song that came to her mind: Je Suis Seule Ce Soir by Léo Marjane.
– I would like you to do a screen test for me., the man told Marisa when her singing was over.
– I don’t know… What for? I’m not an actress. I’ve never acted anyway and I don’t want to be an actress., Marisa replied.
– No, it’s just a test. Don’t worry. We are simply looking for a young girl. Please, do me that favor. You won’t be forced to do anything in the end. Let’s just see what happens.
Without much enthusiasm, Marisa nonetheless agreed to please Cubby and his friend and accepted the proposition. The man, who happened to be producer Sol C. Siegel, handed her a text and asked her to learn it and come back on the next day.
Dressed and made up as a 1918 French schoolgirl, Marisa was asked to audition on the following day in front of John Ford, who was nothing more than a random stranger in her eyes then. The other young lady that was going to be Marisa’s competitor on that day was Anne Bancroft. Marisa acted with the exact same overly-relaxed behavior, still convinced that this whole auditioning process was a game orchestrated by Cubby and his friends. Her indifferent behavior was about to become the best thing that would ever happen to her…
The phone rang at the Pierangeli’s on the next day. Marisa recognized Cubby of course, though it took her a minute to realize she had been chosen by Ford to play the secondary part of 17-year-old French schoolgirl Nicole Bouchard opposite a young Robert Wagner as 22-year-old Private Lewisohn in his upcoming musical comedy-drama What Price Glory, starring James Cagney, Dan Dailey, and Corinne Calvet as the leading trio. Marisa signed a seven-year contract with Twentieth Century Fox and chose a stage name using the patronym of the Jewish General her family had hidden during the war. Actress Marisa Pavan was born.
Secondary parts here and there but a full-time enjoyment of the Hollywood lifestyle
“Can you believe that? They chose me, an Italian girl, to play a Native American! How funny is that?”Marisa Pavan Aumont
Soumoy, Margaux. “Drop the Baby; Put a Veil on the Broad!” – Marisa Pavan’s Story, FriesenPress, 2021, p. 89
Shortly after What Price Glory, Fox agreed to rent Marisa to Film Costellazione as she was offered an important part opposite renowned comedian Renato Rascel in Mario Zampi’s anti-Stalin burlesque comedy I Chose Love. Overjoyed at the idea of shooting in Venice, Marisa also made use of her time in Italy to visit some old friends and relatives, including her beloved maternal great uncle Giuseppe Cesarini, notary of Fossombrone, who had welcomed her numerous times in his luxurious villa (now a museum) when she was a teenager and who had educated her on art and classicism.
Back in Hollywood, Marisa learned that Fox had been cost-cutting to invest more in the newest technologies for the big screen. She was part of a bunch of other newcomers who all saw their contract being broken. Marisa was delighted at the news though! She would now be free to work for any studio and do anything she wanted, unlike Anna who had to accept the parts that were proposed to her by MGM and strictly supervised by Enrica. At that time, Anna’s career was going rather well, though all the parts she played had a similar pattern: that of a young, naive, and beautiful lady falling in love with a much older man that would sometimes abuse her.
Marisa used her spare time to engage in several activities. She took some dance lessons at MGM, played tennis, and did horseback riding. She would also continue to take care of little Patrizia who was raised by the family’s nanny Mrs. Agraz and sent to a private Italian-American school.
Soon, two new secondary parts would be available for her: that of Julie Angelino, the blind wife of a man accused of car theft in Arnold Laven’s film noir Down Three Dark Streets where she would play alongside none other than Broderick Crawford, and that of Native American peace promoter Toby opposite Alan Ladd and Charles Bronson in Delmer Daves’s western Drum Beat.
On a nearby Warner Bros. lot, while Marisa was shooting Drum Beat, Anna was working on Victor Saville’s biblical drama The Silver Chalice opposite Paul Newman where she also met James Dean for the first time between takes. The two young actors would end up dating each other during the summer of 1954 and becoming an iconic couple whose ill-fated romance continues to raise controversy and debate to this very day. Somehow influenced by Enrica who did not see in Dean the secure, good-mannered Catholic man she wanted for her daughter, Anna broke up with Dean and married Italian-American crooner Vic Damone just a couple of months later that same year with whom she would have a son named Perry. Marisa never got along with Dean whom she found self-entitled, ill-mannered, and aggressive, and she would go on saying in a somewhat humorous way that the hatred was mutual. Following Anna’s marriage, the family’s house on Sunset Boulevard was sold, and Marisa bought her own house on Miller Drive in West Hollywood.
The Big Break
Marisa’s big break in movies occurred on the day she was cast as Rosa Delle Rose, Anna Magnani’s onscreen daughter for Daniel Mann’s upcoming adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ 1950 play The Rose Tattoo.