Marisa Pavan: “When you get a part and finally you are recognized, it is the most joyful moment you can have as an actress”

Marisa Pavan, born in Cagliari, Sardinia, as Marisa Luisa Pierangeli on June 19, 1932, was a celebrated screen actress in leading and supporting roles during the 1950s, who made a very successful transition to television in the 1960s. She was also the twin sister of actress Pier Angeli (real name Anna Maria Pierangeli, 1932-1971), and for many years, she was married to French-born actor and international screen star Jean-Pierre Aumont (1911-2001). All three of them made a lasting contribution to the film industry.

The Midnight Story
Tony Curtis and Marisa Pavan in a publicity still of “The Midnight Story” (1958) | Marvin Paige Motion Picture and Television Archive

It was a bright and mild Saturday afternoon in December 2001 when I had the honor of meeting Miss Pavan at her residence in Southern France, close to the Mediterranean Sea, where she welcomed me very warmly and graciously. She still had the youthful, sparkling and charming looks she had when she appeared in films as John Ford’s “What Price Glory?” (1952), “Drum Beat” (1954) opposite Alan Ladd, “The Rose Tattoo” (1955, which earned her an Academy Award nomination), “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” (1956) with Gregory Peck, “Diane” (1956) with Lana Turner, followed by films such as “The Midnight Story” (1957) opposite Tony Curtis, “John Paul Jones” (1959) with Bette Davis as her co-star, and King Vidor’s “Solomon and Sheba” (1959).

Although she had been out of the spotlight for quite some time by then, there are still all of those magnificent performances which will be out there forever, making her a star in her own right. Yet, it was merely a coincidence that she became a screen actress; her sister had played the leading role in “Domani é Troppo Tardi” (1949), and on the strength of this performance, she was offered a seven-year contract at MGM. So the Pierangelis left Rome and moved to Los Angeles.

Ms. Pavan, when both of you arrived in Los Angeles, what happened from there?

When we arrived in America, my sister did not have much experience as an actress; the Italian film she had made before, went to the Venice Film Festival and won a prize. Because of this one picture, she was destined for stardom. The head of MGM came to the Festival, saw the film, saw her, and said, ‘This is a girl we have to grab. Put her under contract, and bring her to Hollywood.’ That’s how she got the leading role in “Teresa” [1951], directed by Fred Zinnemann. After this film was completed, she returned to Italy and made another film there; by that time, my father passed away. My mother found herself alone with her three daughters; we also had another, younger sister—sixteen years younger than we were—a tiny little baby of three at that time. Because my mother accompanied my sister back to Los Angeles, her two other daughters came along; she couldn’t leave us behind in Rome. So we all went to Los Angeles. I stopped my schooling, and I didn’t know what would happen once we got there. I didn’t speak any English, but I wouldn’t just sit there and wait, so I went to UCLA and took a semester for foreign students to learn English.

How did you get involved in film?

I got my break in films by circumstances. We had friends that were in the business, and we met some agents. One of them, Cubby [Albert R.] Broccoli, became a big producer afterwards and made all of the James Bond films. We had met him through some gathering at a consulate or something; I don’t remember exactly. He became a close friend of my mother; he adored Italian food, and she cooked very well. We invited him often to come by. My sister was already under contract to Metro, and Cubby once asked me, ‘What are you doing? Why don’t you become an actress yourself?’ But I didn’t know anything about acting. I really didn’t know what he was talking about. So I told him, ‘But you don’t improvise yourself an actress without any training?!’ That seemed to be the end of the conversation. But coming from Italy, I wanted to know what the American way of shooting a film was. So I tried to go to different studios and see for myself how a film was shot, how it was made. Later on, Cubby called me and said, ‘Well, you are so interested in looking at a film being shot, why don’t I take you to Fox. They’re shooting a film there, and I think you might be interested.’ So I went along with it. I was fascinated. There he had everything prepared without my knowing. He took me to the office of a producer and told me he’d be right back. So I waited until he came out with a gentleman by the name of Sol Siegel, a very important producer then. Siegel asked, ‘Do you know how to sing a French song? Why don’t you sing one for me. I love French music.’ Well, I said, ‘All right… Je suis seule ce soir…’ I sang a song of Jacqueline François. He then looked… ‘You’re going to test tomorrow! We’re shooting a film, and we’re looking for a girl. She has to sing in French, and it will be directed by John Ford.’ I didn’t know who John Ford was, and I told him, ‘I don’t know what you are talking about, I am not an actress!’ ‘Leave it to me, leave it to me,’ he then told me.

Marisa Pavan in the 1950s | Marvin Paige Motion Picture and Television Archive

So things all went very fast from then on?

I took all of this as a joke—why not?! Sol Siegel gave me the scene, I read it at home, I learned my lines, and the next morning, I was supposed to be at make-up, at wardrobe, and then they told me to go to the set [laughs]. ‘You learned your scene?’ ‘Yes, I learned my scene.’ ‘Well, this is Mister John Ford.’ I thought, ‘Well, there he is.’ ‘He is going to direct this test.’ I learned only afterwards that he was a very famous director. But at the same time, I saw another girl dressed exactly like me, with the same French uniform. ‘What is she doing, dressed like me?’ I asked. They said, ‘Well, you’re not the only one to be tested, she is under contract to Fox, and she has to test, even though she maybe doesn’t get the part.’ Anyway, I did my test, and John Ford directed it. I still took it as a joke. I then went home—thank you very much, nice meeting you, etc—and at night they called me, and said, ‘You got the part.’ Afterwards, I heard Anne Bancroft was the other girl. So that is how I got started in the movie business.

Is that how you got your studio contract?

Darryl F. Zanuck was the head of 20th Century Fox then and he gave me a contract for seven years. I thought, ‘My God, seven years, that’s an eternity. I’m stuck. I’m like a slave in a studio. What am I going to do?’ So I called Fred Zinnemann. He was a friend, he was like a father to us, and I told him, ‘Fred, I got this part, I’m doing this film. John Ford is directing, and this is all wonderful. But what am I going to do with my contract? Seven years! What do you suggest?’ He said, ‘Marisa, go home. Knit, take care of your house, don’t get involved in this business’ [laughs]. But I liked it; it was fun, so I said yes and I signed. Then CinemaScope, Cinerama, and all that came around, and I hoped they would get rid of me, which eventually happened. They were getting rid of all the new, young ones who were under contract because the process of CinemaScope and Cinerama was so costly, it was so expensive that they couldn’t keep these young actors under contract for many years. That was all right with me because I could breath again, I could do anything I wanted, and from then on, I started working at different studios like Universal, Metro, and Warners, while my sister, under contract for seven years at Metro, was really stuck. She was given roles that were really no good, and instead of her career going up, it was going down. They built her up as a big star, but the films they gave her were not of quality, while I could choose what I wanted to do. I did maybe one or two films I didn’t like, but there was no producer or studio head who told me, ‘You do this because you are under contract.’ It was terrible for my sister, and it was a God blessing for me because I was free. Thank God I was free.

Solomon and ShebaDid you also turn down roles that they offered you?

I remember I once refused to do a film for Hal Wallis; I had to pay him off because I had an agreement at Paramount after “The Rose Tattoo”—he had produced the film. He said, ‘I give you this role.’ It was a costume film, but I said, ‘Why me? Why don’t you get Debra Paget?’ [Laughs.] She would have been wonderful for this film. But he wanted me to pay off the contract, and that’s exactly what I did. I enjoyed everything I did, and I don’t regret any film I did, except one, “Solomon and Sheba” [1959]. That was the only one I regretted. I think, down deep within myself, there must have been something, whether you believe in spirituality or whatever, I felt this film would not do any good for me. Tyrone Power died during filming; we had to do the film almost twice because when he died, we had done a quarter of the film, so we had a lot of scenes and a lot of work to do. For me, it was misery because I didn’t want to do the film. But my lawyer said that everyone does one costume film. ‘Don’t be stubborn,’ he said, ‘or it will ruin your reputation.’ Through him, I was forced to do it. When I arrived in Madrid, I opened the script, and I told the producer, ‘This is not the script you sent me, this is not the part that was written for me. You’ve cut down my part. I’m not going to do it, I’m leaving.’ So I called my lawyer, and he said, ‘Stay put, don’t leave.’ The producer said, ‘If you dare leave this film, you’ll never work in this town again. I promise you, you’ll see what happens.’ And that’s what happened. So I should not have listened to my lawyer because this film was doomed for me. It was a bad omen. Also, Yul Brynner didn’t have the softness, the kindness that I knew with Tyrone Power; it disturbed me. I thought, ‘What am I doing here? I’m prostituting myself, I don’t believe in this.’ I loved Tyrone Power; his death destroyed me. It was like losing a brother.

What happened then?

I finished the film, and that was it. My film career was over. I went into television, and I did a lot of television, often live television with the most wonderful directors in New York who became film directors. It was the period of people like Sidney Lumet. I was able to do some wonderful things that I would never have been able to do in film, like ‘Dominique’ and ‘Mayerling’. That was a very exciting period for me. I even did something with Johnny Carson; it was called “The Girl in the Gold Bathtub.” I don’t wish any actor or actress to face a man like Johnny Carson as an actor [laughs] because this was live television; you can’t cut anything, it’s like doing a play. He was improvising, and he wouldn’t give me the line, so I couldn’t respond. It was mad, and I thought, after this experience I’m prepared for anything [laughs]. In the 1950s, I was able to continue and do some good work, but not as a star. I believed in what I was doing because I was able to choose it on my own. When you believe in something, and you have a tiny bit of talent, you can achieve something. But unfortunately, “Solomon and Sheba” did it. It gave me the hatch. I felt let down, but I was comforted by the idea that others had gone through the same thing, like Luise Rainer. She had been an individual like me—you know, they wanted to change my nose, they wanted to do this and that, and I said, ‘Either you take me as I am, or you don’t take me at all, all right?’ [laughs]. When I arrived in Hollywood, I was a little bit of a rebel because I believed that what I had to offer, they had to take, without changing my hair or my nose. It was not in my nature to compromise. They did change my sister; they made her up like a pin-up girl. I could wear a wig to play a certain part, but they could not change me in life.

You refer to Luise Rainer…

She did the same thing. I don’t know the exact circumstances, but she refused to do something and they told her, ‘All right, out you go.’ And she didn’t work in Hollywood anymore. There were other examples; when Ingrid Bergman’s sentimental life was not what Hollywood had in mind, she was dismissed by Hollywood and returned to Europe. But when she left Roberto Rossellini, America welcomed her with open arms. They were very hard on foreign actresses. I think that if an American actress would have said, ‘No, I’m not going to do this film,’ they would have been kinder because she belonged to their business, she belonged to the States. We were strangers arriving in the movie business, and we had to be thankful to them to have been chosen to do the work. That was the attitude. Don’t fool around with us, who do you think you are? That sort of thing. You were used as a ‘product’ instead of being treated as a human being with feelings and ideas. Take such wonderful actors like James Dean, Marlon Brando, or Montgomery Clift. Sometimes they did some mad things, but they were accepted, they were American ‘products.’ They were very talented, of course, that is the most important thing. But if they were difficult, they’d say, ‘All right, calm down. We’ll take care of you.’

The Rose Tattoo“The Rose Tattoo,” based on Tennessee Williams’ 1951 hugely successful Broadway play, tells the poignant story of a Sicilian widow [Anna Magnani], with you playing her young daughter, still is a wonderful film, isn’t it?

Well, it was very painful to make. It was the most difficult film I ever made. The whole atmosphere was absolutely awful. When the film came out, it was immediately accepted by the audience and by the peers. Anna Magnani won an Academy Award, I was nominated [as Best Supporting Actress, Academy Award went to Jo Van Fleet for her role in “East of Eden”]. That was an immense joy, very rewarding for all of us who worked on that film. But we really had to go through hell to get this recognition. It was hell, first of all, because Anna Magnani didn’t speak a word of English. So she had a coach on the set who learned her her lines phonetically. But you know the film, don’t you? Did you see how natural she was, even though she didn’t know what she was saying. I think she deserved an extra award for playing a role in a language she didn’t know. But that caused tension already because we didn’t know which way she would go. The entire crew was nervous; Anna, Burt Lancaster, the cameraman, they all were nervous. She told the cameraman how to shoot her—you don’t tell a cameraman like James Wong Howe where he has to put the camera and how he has to do his job. So one day, he told her, ‘Look, who is the cameraman here: you or me?’ On another occasion, after a discussion with Anna, he even said, ‘I’m going!’ And he left the set! We stopped working. We didn’t have an cameraman anymore. She also gave me a hard time. She once took me aside before rehearsing a scene, and told me, ‘Now, we have to do this scene, and you have to behave this way and answer me that way.’ Okay, I did the scene the way she suggested me to do it. Then the director [Daniel Mann] came along, he ran to me, and said, ‘What the hell are you doing, Marisa?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m trying something with Anna.’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘you do it that way’—which was the opposite of what Anna had told me to do. So we rehearsed again, I did it that way, and she came along to me again, without the director, ‘Why do you do that? Why don’t you do it my way?’ So I really got very mad, and said, ‘Anna, you know what? You have to tell me now, and in front of the director, who is directing this film. It’s you or Danny Mann.’ She took me aside where Danny couldn’t see us, and she said, ‘You are really something. You, a young girl without any experience who doesn’t listen to me, how dare you?!’ I said, ‘Anna, it’s not that I don’t respect you, I’m just confused, and I can’t tell you what the director doesn’t like me to do. You have an idea, he has another idea, so first you talk to each other, and then decide what you want to do in this film.’ She didn’t like that, she didn’t like that at all.

How did Daniel Mann react?

He was very frustrated because he was intimidated by her—she was intimidating everybody. He couldn’t deal with her, so he would use all his frustrations against me. Once when we were shooting an exterior scene. He did something I didn’t like at all, I’d have to go from here to a door; I’d meet Ben Cooper and then goodbye and he would go, something like that. We rehearsed, we shot it, and then he came up to me, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing. What are you doing today, Marisa?’ I said, ‘Well, Danny, I’m doing exactly what you told me to do, but you never explain to me what you really want me to do. You only say, let’s do it again. So if you’ll tell me exactly what you want me to do, I’ll do it.’ So we did the scene over and over again—five, six, seven times. I said, ‘Danny, you’re exhausting me. What do you really want?’ When rehearsing again, all of a sudden, I felt someone coming up from behind my back, he grabbed me and kissed me. It was Burt Lancaster. I said, ‘How dare you!’ He said, ‘I’m sorry, Danny Mann told me to come and kiss you so that you would relax.’ So I said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what he said? All right, Danny, come here. I don’t know what kind of actresses you’re used to, but you don’t do that with me. You don’t do such thing to make me relaxed because what you’ll get, is the opposite. Don’t ever do that sort of thing with me again.’ I said it in front of the whole crew. I was very humiliated, as an actress and as a human being. So he said, ‘All right, let’s stop! Wrap it up, everybody go home, we’ll take it back tomorrow!’ Then I told him, ‘Danny, I want to have a word with you.’ We went into the hotel—I stayed there with a companion, a black girl, he didn’t like that either. That was not appreciated in Hollywood. So there he said, ‘What the hell do you want?’ I said to him, ‘First of all, you don’t talk to me like that. It’s an expression you should not use with me. You behave like a bastard, you are a man without any education, and you treat me as if I am nothing. From now on, if you dare behave like you did today, I stop this film right now, and you can tell [producer] Hal Wallis.’ And I felt pretty strong, we had shot nearly the entire film, we had just a tiny bit to shoot. Finally I said, ‘You can replace me anytime you want!’ [Laughs.] Of course, they couldn’t replace me anymore, but I had my word and then he started to go into religion, and use it for a reason that had nothing to do with it. He was Jewish, and I am a Catholic, and he told me that I was introverted, I was not free, etc. [laughs]. This was ridiculous; after all he had chosen me. They had tested two hundred girls for this role in “The Rose Tattoo,” even my sister was up for the part too, but they had decided she was too beautiful for it. They needed someone more looking like Anna Magnani, more with her strength. So that was the end of it, and from that time, he behaved like a gentleman, or what I would call a gentleman for him. He did not use foul language anymore, he was very nice, and there were no problems anymore. So, in the end, I had my revenge and my victory [laughs]. When everybody talks about this film and the recognition it got, they forget what all of us went through, the technicians, Burt, Anna, etc.

Ms. Pavan during our interview in St Tropez, France, late 2001 | Leo/Film Talk

What gave you the most joy in your career?

A lot of the films I made gave me great joy—I met Tennessee Williams when shooting “The Rose Tattoo,” that was very interesting too. “Diane” [1956], in which I played Catherine de Medici, was perhaps my most rewarding role. To be chosen for that part, I had to be tested. Nobody believed in me as Catherine de Medici, and I still believe I was the only one rightfully cast because I was Italian. Lana Turner was an American and played the part of Diane, a French woman; Roger Moore, an Englishman, played a Frenchman; Pedro Armendariz, a Mexican, played the King of France. They were all miscast. But what was important to me was the struggle to get the part. When you get a part, and finally you are recognized, it is the most joyful moment you can have as an actress. So I have a wonderful souvenir of this film, also because it was a characterization, I had to work on her and did my own research in the library. I met Christopher Isherwood, who had a wonderful script and who was one of the most delicious, beautiful, and adorable men. We talked about the part, we worked together. Unfortunately, because of changes made in the script, a lot of the beautiful things were gone. “Diane” also gave me the pleasure of working with this fabulous costume designer Walter Plunkett, who did “Gone With the Wind” [1939]. He was magnificent. We all took time to work on this film, also with David Miller, the director, with the hairdresser, with everybody, so the character I played became a woman with true feelings who could behave at times very mean, but there were reasons for it. Those reasons were used; it was shown why she behaved like that. I did not only want to give a performance of a mean woman, she had to be a character with sentiment and feelings, betrayed by her husband, Henri II, who was living with his mistress in the palace. This woman had to accept that, I don’t think any woman could accept that. I’m proud of that role because I feel I did some constructive work, I worked on it, and it’s rare in Hollywood that you get the opportunity to build. Usually it is something like, ‘I have written this and it has to be done this way.’ Another film I like very much is “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” [1956]; I didn’t have a big part, but I liked it, I liked the theme. I had read the book, which was very good, and when adapted for the screen, it often loses its qualities; it lacks something. But this film didn’t. Gregory Peck was absolutely an angel, a wonderful man.

You also did a TV show called “Bird and Snake” [1963], with Robert Redford in one of his early TV roles, didn’t you?

Yes, he would very kindly go to the director and let him understand that this scene should be shot differently [laughs], I would be watching him, and I always thought, ‘My God, that young actor, he’s incredible. He’s all over the place.’ And he was right about everything he said and suggested, about the camera, where the lights should be, when he or she should say that. That was a very unique experience; I also played with Robert Loggia in “Come Back to Sorrento,” with Richard Basehart, Rock Hudson, etc. It was a period I liked very much because I was able to play roles I would never have been able to play in films.

Sun and Shadow
The cover of Jean-Pierre. Aumont’s autobiography “Sun and Shadow” (1977), with a foreword by François Truffaut. Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company

How do you remember your husband, Jean-Pierre Aumont? He was a wonderful and legendary screen actor, wasn’t he?

I will always remember him as a very gentle and very sensitive man, both as a person and as an actor, and what he gave, either on the stage or on the screen, was true because of the baggage he had with him. He also was a shy man, an introvert like me, and through acting, he was able to express himself. He would be totally at ease when playing a character. For all of us, all actors, it is wonderful to express yourself, to be able and say things through another person. He often gave me scripts and plays to read that he was cast for, to have my opinion, but we never discussed acting. Not too many French actors were able to make it in America, there were only a handful of others, like Maurice Chevalier, Charles Boyer and Louis Jourdan. Most French actresses didn’t become stars over there, like Michèle Morgan, Danielle Darrieux, and Annabella. Claudette Colbert and Leslie Caron made it. In the 1940s and 1950s, it was a fashion in America to use foreign actors. For a long time, it was very fashionable to have German actors in films. Then you had a French period, then Italian, Mexican, Spanish, Swedish, etc. When my sister arrived in Hollywood, she was described as the new Garbo, but they always do that. And every young, new actor who looks like a rebel is the new Jimmy Dean. This is absolutely ridiculous. My sister had her own quality; they also said she looked like an Italian Ava Gardner. They have to come up with something; someone always has to look like someone else, I don’t know why. She had her own personality, her own quality, as everybody has. I wouldn’t compare a young actor to Jimmy Dean. I knew Jimmy Dean—he had his own personality, his own identity. Nobody can be compared to Jimmy Dean. Maybe in some ways, in behavior, maybe, but not like an actor.

James Dean | Marvin Paige Motion Picture and Television Archive

What was he like?

He was an introvert, always on guard, always on the defense, like who’s coming now, who’s after me, you know. He always had a sort of a persecution complex. When he came to our house, he was not very sociable, not very sympathico; he would hardly say hello to my mother and me. He’d put on the records he wanted to hear, put his feet on the table, and just listen to the music in our living room [laughs], without saying anything. He’d go to the refrigerator and take what he needed. There was no real communication between him and my mother or I. He didn’t like my sister to have a family [laughs]. He would have liked her to be alone, you know. But I had seen him in other circumstances at parties—once I had a fight with him. We were invited to this dinner party with producers and directors where he had a little too much to drink. Everybody was talking about “East of Eden” [1954]. They all thought the film was wonderful and about his performance, they said things like, ‘Ah, he is so talented,’ and all that. But I didn’t agree [laughs], and he asked me why. ’Well,’ I said, ‘in some scenes, I was very conscious of Mr. Kazan’s camerawork, and it upset me a lot because it was very mechanical. I could see the camera coming along here and there.’ Everybody had his opinion, and I wanted to give mine. He started to insult me, saying things like, ‘You think you know everything, don’t you?’ He stood up, left, and shut the door [laughs]. He left the party! So I stood there, not being aware I had created a tension. Anyway, after a while, ring ring, someone at the door. There was Jimmy Dean who came back. He said, ‘I’m sorry, Marisa. I was not very nice, and said bad things to you.’ That was the first time we really talked to each other because at home he hardly said a word to me. My mother and I were transparent [laughs]. My mother once told him, ‘I think you are very rude, Mr. Dean. You just come in and go out, and don’t say a word.’ He said, ‘What do you want from me, Mrs. Pierangeli?’ ‘I only want you to behave like a gentleman in my house, that’s all,’ she said. ‘This is not your house. This is your daughter’s house.’ So my mother said, ‘Oh yeah? Well, now you get out of my daughter’s house!’ [Laughs]. On the other hand, friendship in movies is very close; you’re like a family. When you’re shooting a film, when you’re working, you’re all very close, it’s always my dear, my love, my this, my that. But when the film is finished, everybody goes his own way. I can’t say we had very close friends in the movie industry. We knew Fred Zinnemann very well, but we would not see each other every day. There was also Stefanie Powers, and I saw Richard Basehart a lot because he was married to Valentina Cortese.

What about John Ford, who is considered to be one of the best filmmakers ever? How did he work with his actors on the set?

When he was shooting “What Price Glory?” [1952], Darryl F. Zanuck came on the set one day with the script. He said to Ford, ‘John, look, you’re… one, two, three… ten pages behind schedule, what are we going to do about that?’ John Ford said, ‘Oh really, ten pages you said? This one, and this one…’ and he took those pages in his hand and ripped them out! ‘Now we are back on schedule!’ he told Zanuck [laughs]. It was typical for John Ford: don’t fool around with an Irishman! Ford was a free man, an independent man of talent, an individualist, a master—you didn’t go to him to tell him he was ten pages behind schedule [laughs]. I admired his qualities as a director very much. He was very tough and very demanding with men, but very kind and a gentleman with women, particularly with me: he was like a father to me, very protective. Although I was a beginner in my first film, he didn’t treat me as such. He was very precise and had done all his work ahead of time, so he knew exactly what he wanted. He didn’t improvise: he knew where the camera had to be, and he knew what he wanted from the actors. He was very professional.

And how do you remember King Vidor, who directed you in “Solomon and Sheba”?

King Vidor was a different personality, also very quiet, very understanding, but much more of a technician than an actor’s director. In a way, the technique was most important. We were aware of that, so all you have to do as an actor is do your job. You prepare your work, you learn your lines, and you know where you are going, so if there is a kind of hesitation as far as directing an actor is concerned, you can cope with it because you have prepared your work.

You worked at various studios and, therefore, under various studio regimes. What were the studio heads like?

I don’t think any of them were very simpathico. It was better if they stayed in their office and minded their own business. They were kind of dictators, but maybe it was good because in the 1950s they made a lot of wonderful films. It was a very interesting period because we had very good writers who wrote wonderful scripts. I think they need now somebody who would say, ‘You listen to me, and you do this and that.’ There was unity back then, everybody was doing something together; there was a collaboration with people who all knew the business. Today you have an industrialist who takes over. He has a lot of money, and puts it up for a film while he knows nothing about filmmaking. There should be one person on top of it, and at times, you need a certain direction. The studio heads back then did their job, they knew their business, and they knew very well what they were doing.

John Ericson and Pier Ageli, Miss Pavan’s twin sisiter, in her Hollywood debut “Teresa” (1951), dirceted by Fred Zinnemann | Marvin Paige Motion Picture and Television Archive

Your screen career started about fifty years ago, yet you’re still in great shape and on top of the world. You’re a survivor, aren’t you?

You know, my mother, my sisters and I arrived in New York in 1950. It was terrifying—our father had passed away at age forty-two. We didn’t speak a word of English. MGM had put us up in a hotel, and when the phone started ringing, I was trembling like a leave; what would I say? [Laughs.] Then we arrived in Hollywood, people were inviting my sister and I to a lot of parties, but I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t speak English. Then I decided to do something about it; I got a dictionary and looked up the most difficult words, which I would use at the parties we went to. So I was sitting there, quite stupidly, not knowing what to say or what they were talking about, and then I’d say, ‘Oh yes, very maudlin.’ [Laughs.] ‘What? What did you say??’ [Laughs.] And then I’d say, ‘Yes, very gregarious!’ So at least I had some fun because otherwise, I would just sit there, everybody was talking. Sometimes somebody came along who spoke a little bit of French or Italian; then I could be part of a conversation. It was terrifying. America… my God, I was seventeen when I went to America. I was crying like a baby when I left Rome and left all my friends behind. I didn’t know where I was going, what would happen to me, or what would become of me. But I overcame all that when I learned English. If you want to express yourself, if you want to understand others, and if you want people to understand you, the least of a courtesy you can do, is learn the language of the country you’re in. Our parents were very strong people, so we had the genes of the two of our parents, both great personalities of great strength. My twin sister and my mother were survivors, and I feel I am too. I’m grateful for my past, for what I went through during the war, the experience and the baggage I had with me when I went to America, and that made us become what we eventually have become. I’d say we were strong, definitely not weak. We knew how to cope with things because of what we had seen and done. Back then, the eighteen-year-old girls in America had not gone through what we had gone through because of the war. We had experienced many painful things, not only because there were times when we were bombed, but we also saw children getting killed in the streets, and, at times, we didn’t have any food. But we had a wonderful mother; when she saw we didn’t have enough to eat, she dressed as a man and took off to some land she had in the North of Italy while we remained in Rome, to ask the peasants there for bread, eggs, things like that. It was very brave of her; she could easily have been killed. After two months, she finally was able to make it back to Rome, loaded with ham, bread, and fruit she had brought back from the land in the north. Those experiences build a character and a personality. You also learn to defend yourself, not to be around people who humiliate you or take advantage of you. So yes, I guess we were survivors, my mother most of all as she took care of her two twins and a little girl of three in this unknown world for her and for us. And she overcame all the difficulties by herself. She was a very open, delightful, amusing, and wonderful lady. But people in Hollywood didn’t like her too much—producers and directors didn’t like a mother around—when you are in the movie business, you have to be all by yourself [laughs]. When my sister died in 1971, it was just awful and unfair. She was my twin, so it’s like half of me that goes. It was also very unfortunate that it happened when we were not there. That made it even more painful; we lived in France, and she was with friends in Los Angeles. She passed away when she was thirty-nine, that’s a wonderful age. She had the knowledge, the maturity, the experience, she would have had a wonderful life and career, and I’m sure she could have done some very good work. God decided otherwise. What can you do when death comes along? But is was very unfair; she had many more and wonderful years to live that she would have liked to live. It was not her choice to die.

Meanwhile, another acting talent in the family is following in your footsteps, isn’t it?

My grandson is also an actor now. His name is Adrien Aumont. He’s seventeen; for the moment, he’s the only one who’s following that kind of chemin, and so far he’s doing well. He has a lot of projects, and he was given an award as one of the young promising actors. He recently finished “Le divin enfant” [2001], a film he made with Lambert Wilson, and he got a lot of good reviews. I don’t know where Jean-Pierre is right now; if only he were able to see what Ardien is doing now, he would be so proud of our grandchild. And if he would continue to be good… c’est gagné! [laughs]. As long as he has the constancy, he’ll be doing fine. He has great aggression for the work; he acts, writes, directs, and puts the money together. When he was younger and told us he wanted to be an actor, we always told him, ‘All right, but watch Adrien, you’ll have ups and downs. Don’t think everything comes along and that you’ll be a star.’ So I think he has assimilated that, and now he thinks, ‘If it doesn’t work out as an actor, at least I will have something else that I can grab and work with.’ That’s why he’s doing all these things, which is not bad; he’s clever, and he’s very constant with what he does. He doesn’t let go. I hope he’ll continue, that’s all. He’s the only one, the others haven’t shown any feeling for acting. We have two children, one of them has a growing feeling for antiques and has a beautiful antique store in Santa Barbara, California; the other one is a lighting director in America, very much in demand. I am very proud because they have done all that by themselves—it was never something like I am the son of… Never. When they were asked, ‘Your name is Aumont, you’re not the son of Jean-Pierre Aumont, are you,’ they would ignore that question. They wouldn’t stay on that subject too long, and didn’t want to be associated with their father’s name. So they are their own individuals. It happened a lot that children of actors or stars had many problems, you know, like with drugs or alcohol. They are dispersed, and they don’t know where they stand. We were afraid of that too, and I prayed so hard and said, ‘Please keep them sane and on the right track.’ But Jean-Pierre and I never brought them in contact with show business; it’s no good for young children to have them present all the time and say things like, ‘Come and say hello to Gary Cooper.’ Then they’d be impressed and all that—we preferred them to have their own life. You never know as a parent that what you do is right or wrong. You can’t say Gregory Peck or Paul Newman didn’t do this or that right or wrong because their sons committed suicide; we don’t know. We only try to do our best and we pray, I’ve become very religious at times [laughs]. Youngsters are confronted with violence every day, and it is just awful for young children now who have to grow up with so much violence in this world. I may have a few years to live and—bon—I don’t think I will see it, but they will see what the future has in store.

St. Tropez, France
December 1, 2001

“The Rose Tattoo” (1955, trailer)


WHAT PRICE GLORY? (20th Century Fox, 1952) DIR John Ford PROD Sol C. Siegel SCR Phoebe Ephron, Henry Ephron (play by Maxwell Anderson, Laurence Stallings) CAM Joseph MacDonald ED Dorothy Spencer MUS Alfred Newman CAST James Cagney (Captain Flagg), Corinne Calvet (Charmaine), Dan Dailey (Sgt Quirt), William Demarest (Cpl Kiper), Craig Hill (Lt Aldrich), Robert Wagner (Lewisohn), Marisa Pavan (Nicole Bouchard)

HO SCELTO L’AMORE, a.k.a I CHOSE LOVE (1953) DIR Mario Zampi SCR Mario Zampi, Vittorio Calvino, Giorgio Prosperi, Campanile Veltrino (story by Vittorio Calvino) CAM Mario Albertelli, Rodolfo Lombardi ED Giulio Zampi MUS Román Vlad CAST Renato Rascel (Boris Popovitch), Marisa Pavan (Maria), Lia De Leo (Paola), Margherita Bagni, Cesco Baseggio, Paolo Panelli

DOWN THREE DARK STREETS (United Artists, 1954) DIR Arnold Laven PROD Arthur Gardner, Jules V. Levy SCR Gordon Gordon, Mildred Gordon, Bernard C. Schoenfeld (novel “Case File, F.B.I.” by The Gordons [Gordon and Mildred Gordon]) CAM Joseph Biroc ED Grant Whytock MUS Paul Sawtell CAST Broderick Crawford (Ripley), Ruth Roman (Kate Martel), Martha Hyer (Connie Anderson), Marisa Pavan (Julie Angelino), Casey Adams (Dave Millson), Kenneth Tobey (Zack Stewart)

DRUM BEAT (Warner Bros., 1954) DIR – SCR Delmer Daves Cam J Peverell Marley ED Clarence Kolster MUS Victor Young CAST Alan Ladd (Johnny MacKay), Audrey Dalton (Nancy Meek), Marisa Pavan (Toby), Robert Keith (Bill Satterwhite), Rodolfo Acosta (Scarface Charlie), Charles Bronson (Captain Jack)

THE ROSE TATTOO (Paramount, 1955) DIR Daniel Mann PROD Hal Wallis SCR Tennessee Williams (play by Tennessee Williams, adapted by Hal Kanter) CAM James Wong Howe ED Warren Low MUS Alex North CAST Anna Magnani (Serafina Delle Rose), Burt Lancaster (Alvaro Margiacavallo), Marisa Pavan (Rosa Delle Rose), Ben Cooper (Jack Hunter), Virginia Grey (Estelle Hohengarten), Jo Van Fleet (Bessie)

THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT (20th Century Fox, 1956) DIR Nunnally Johnson PROD Darryl F. Zanuck SCR Nunnally Johnson (novel by Sloan Wilson) CAM Charles G. Clarke ED Dorothy Spencer MUS Bernard Herrmann CAST Gregory Peck (Tom Rath), Jennifer Jones (Betsy), Fredric March (Hopkins), Marisa Pavan (Maria), Lee J Cobb (Judge Bernstein), Ann Harding (Mrs Hopkins)

DIANE (MGM, 1956) DIR David Miller PROD Edwin H. Knopf SCR Christopher Isherwood (story by John Erskine) CAM Robert Planck ED John McSweeney, Jr. MUS Miklos Rozsa CAST Lana Turner (Diane), Pedro Armendariz (King Francis I), Roger Moore (Prince Henri), Marisa Pavan (Catherine de Medici), Sir Cedric Hardwicke (Ruggieri), Torin Thatcher (Count de Breze)

THE MIDNIGHT STORY, a.k.a APPOINTMENT WITH A SHADOW (Universal, 1957) DIR Joseph Pevney PROD Robert Arthur SCR John Robinson, Edwin Blum (story by Edwin Blum) CAM Russell Metty ED Ted J. Kent MUS Joseph Gershenson CAST Tony Curtis (Joe Martini), Marisa Pavan (Anna Malatesta), Gilbert Roland (Sylvio Malatesta), Jay C. Flippen (Sgt. Jack Gillen), Argentina Brunetti (Mama Malatesta)

JOHN PAUL JONES (Warner Bros., 1959) DIR John Farrow PROD Samuel Bronston SCR John Farrow, Jesse L. Lasky, Jr. CAM Michel Kelber ED Eda Warren MUS Max Steiner CAST Robert Stack (John Paul Jones), Bette Davis (Catherine the Great), Marisa Pavan (Aimee de Tellison), Charles Coburn (Benjamin Franklin), Erin O’Brien (Dorothea Danders), Jean-Pierre Aumont (King Louis XVI)

SOLOMON AND SHEBA (United Artists, 1959) DIR King Vidor PROD Ted Richmond SCR Anthony Veillier, Paul Dudley, George Bruce (story by Crane Wilbur) CAM Freddie Young ED John Ludwig MUS Mario Nascimbene CAST Yul Brynner (Solomon), Gina Lollobrigida (Sheba), George Sanders (Adonijah), Marisa Pavan (Abishag), David Farrar (Pharaoh), John Crawford (Joab)

L’ÉVÉNEMENT LE PLUS IMPORTANT DEPUIS QUE L’HOMME A MARCHÉ SUR LA LUNE, a.k.a A SLIGHTLY PREGNANT MAN (1973) DIR – SCR Jacques Demy CAM Andreas Winding MUS Michel Legrand CAST Cathérine Deneuve (Irène), Marcello Mastroianni (Marco), Micheline Presle (Delavigne), Raymond Gérôme (Gérard Chaumont de Latour), Marisa Pavan (Maria Mazetti), Mireille Matthieu (Herself)

ANTOINE ET SÉBASTIEN, a.k.a ANTOINE AND SEBASTIAN (1973) DIR Jean-Marie Périer SCR Jean-Marie Périer, Fernand Pluot, Monique Lange CAM Yves Lafaye ED Claude Barrois MUS Jacques Dutronc CAST François Perrier (Antoine), Jacques Dutronc (Sébastien), Ottavia Piccolo (Nathalie), Keith Carradine (John), Marisa Pavan (Mathilde), Marie Dubois (Corinne)


THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (1967) DIR Alex Segal CAST Diana Davila, Max Von Sydow, Lilli Palmer, Marisa Pavan, Donald Pleasence, Theodore Bikel

CUTTER’S TRAIL (1969) DIR Vincent McEveety CAST John Gavin, Manuel Padilla, Jr., Marisa Pavan (Angelita Avila), Beverly Garland, Joseph Cotten, Nehemiah Persoff

THE TRIAL OF LEE HARVEY OSWALD (1977) DIR Gordon Davidson, David Greene CAST Ben Gazzara, Lorne Greene, Lee McCain, Lawrence Pressman, Marisa Pavan (Evita Alesio)

JOHNNY MONROE (1987) DIR Renaud Saint-Pierre CAST Jean-Luc Orofino, Philippe Caroit, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Marisa Pavan (Philippe Caroit’s mother)

ADIEU MARIN (1992) DIR Alain Schwartzstein CAST Pierre Vaneck, Jessica Forde , Jean-Philippe Ecoffey, Cathérine Alcover, Marisa Pavan


THE MONEYCHANGERS (1976) DIR Boris Sagal CAST Kirk Douglas, Christopher Plummer, Anne Baxter, Joan Collins, Ralph Bellamy, Marisa Pavan (Celia Vandervoort)