“Our Marriage Was A Sin Against God!”
“I know you love each other,” the priest said softly. “I know you’re trying to save your marriage. But I can’t help you. In the eyes of the Church, you are not married at all. You have never been married. And, Luciana,” he turned to the pale, frightened girl who sat trembling before him, “as long as you live with this man, you are living in sin.”
For Luciana Paluzzi and Brett Halsey, it was the end. Officially, their marriage limped on for a few more months. They struggled hopelessly to find some way to make their life together possible. But as they struggled, and failed, their love lived on to torment them. Their story is more than a Hollywood tragedy—their story is a tragedy of life itself.
At the beginning, they were the living proof that the old romantic dream called “love at first sight” had not vanished from the world. They met one Sunday morning at the home of a mutual friend, Gardner McKay. Luciana, summoned from Italy for a role in a television series, had been in this country only two weeks. Brett, lonely and depressed, was just learning to live alone after separating from his first wife. Fresh and glowing after Mass, Luciana held out a hand. Brett took it. That was it. Two weeks later they announced their engagement.
All the world, they say, loves a lover. And yet, in Luciana and Brett’s case, it seemed as if everyone wanted to make them feel guilty.
Luciana took the first blow. It came, strangely, from the eligible young men of Hollywood. They let it be known that she had made a terrible mistake. Didn’t she know how beautiful she was? Didn’t she know how many men—with bigger names titan Brett Halsey’s—wanted to date her? How could she have thrown herself at the first handsome actor she had met?
The next blow came from the columnists —and it fell squarely on Brett’s shoulders. How, they demanded, could Brett Halsey have fallen in love when his divorce was not yet final? How could he and Luciana have announced a wedding date—no matter how far in the future—when his marriage was not officially ended?
And from Luciana’s mother in Italy came a veritable torrent of mail protesting the marriage. Brett saw one letter and came away appalled—he’d read that his future mother-in-law considered him neither rich enough nor successful enough for her daughter.
Luciana and Brett were bewildered. Why should such wrath be vent upon them? They were bewildered, but they weren’t frightened. They didn’t read into their present troubles omens of worse things to come. And, more important, they were in love, and their love gwe them the strength to fight back.
They told the Hollywood wolf pack to take its business elsewhere. They pointed out that two of the most eligible men in town—Gardner, Luciana’s first friend, and Dave Hedison, her TV co-star—were on their side and had become their friends.
They explained patiently that they had planned their wedding date to fail immediately after Brett’s divorce became final. They said they were pleased to have to wait ten months—it would give them a chance to know each other better. They told polite lies to the press explaining how Mrs. Paluzzi felt about their engagement: “She thinks it is a little fast. . . .”
But for the two of them there was an unspoken hope: Luciana’s mother would come to the wedding, and as soon as she met Brett all her objections would vanish.
Love would conquer all.
But perhaps love could not fight successfully on so many fronts at once.
They plunged from one trouble to another—even their wedding was ill-fated.
Outwardly, it was as perfect a fairy tale as their meeting had been. The bride, speaking her vows in delightfully-accented English, was radiant. The bride’s mother, seemingly reconciled, smiled at the proper times. The staff of the Las Vegas hotel in which the wedding took place out-did itself to provide a sumptuous reception. Photographers were there, snapping pictures for the papers, forty friends of the bride and groom were there drinking champagne and offering congratulations. The civil ceremony was dignified and moving. It appeared that the long wait had come to a joyful conclusion. But, in truth, Luciana and Brett were at the brink of tragedy.
It struck on their honeymoon—they learned that their marriage was not legal. In the eager marking off of days, in the excitement of wedding preparations, Brett had forgotten to perform the simple, necessary act of picking up the papers that made his divorce final. Without them, his marriage to Luciana was not valid.
Frantically, he telephoned for help. A studio representative picked up the papers for him. Brett and Luciana flew back to Las Vegas. Someone directed them to a small inter-faith chapel where they could be married quickly and quietly. This time there were no friends, no photographers, no party. And sadly, the glow and wonder of their honeymoon disappeared.
But they were in love. They were able to go on. They set about picking up the pieces of their marriage cheerfully and, they thought, thoroughly. They went about the business of finding a home. In short order they discovered a house that seemed just right—a small place with a big view. They paid a month’s rent and moved in.
Luciana’s mother came to see it. Proudly they showed her their little home cozily tucked away in Laurel Canyon. When the tour was over, she turned to Luciana and poured out a long stream of excited-sounding Italian. Brett tried to follow it, but he couldn’t. When his mother-in-law left, he turned to Luciana. “What did she say?”
Luciana turned scarlet. Her English was good, but this time words nearly failed her.
“She says . . . she says she wants me to live in Bel-Air.”
Bel-Air. The home of millionaires, studio owners, top stars. Brett was speechless. But still not stricken. His mother-in-law’s presence at their wedding had not, as he had hoped, meant that she was reconciled to their marriage. (Later he was to say bitterly, “Yes, she came to the wedding—but we got married anyway!”) still, the situation was not hopeless. Surely, sooner or later, she would modify her demands. She would change her mind about him when she saw how happy he was making Luciana. Or, if not, perhaps she would go home to Italy.
But none of those things happened. To Luciana’s mixed joy and apprehension and to Brett’s shocked surprise, Mama Paluzzi moved into Laurel Canyon and made her daughter’s house her second home.
Luciana’s series had been dropped. Brett was doing well at the studio, but on the days he wasn’t on call he stayed in the house with Luciana. Life was almost dream-like in its perfection, except for one factor—on the days Brett worked, Luciana’s mother came over. At night Brett would return home to find his wife confused and depressed. What was wrong?
“Mama says I should not be under a contract to the studio. She says I would do better if I were a . . . a free-lance.”
“Luciana, I’ve told you that’s not true. Maybe when you’re established. But not now. A beginner needs a studio behind her, to build her up, guide her career. . . .”
“Mama says they aren’t doing much now.”
“They’ve given you parts. You don’t want to work all the time, do you?” He took up a familiar tack. “You know I’d rather you didn’t work at all. How about it, honey? Why not quit? You like keeping house, don’t you?”
“Yes, but. . .”
“And you love me and you know I can take care of us both.”
“Yes, but Mama says . . .”
Sooner or later he would explode. “Your mama doesn’t know everything!”
Luciana had a temper of her own. “You don’t respect my mother!”
“Respect has to be earned!”
For a while they would rage at each other. Then Luciana would dissolve in tears. Instantly, Brett would be contrite.
In the course of their reconciliation. Luciana would say over and over that she knew everything would be all right, that it was just a matter of time before Brett and Mama came to understand one another. Brett, by now strongly doubting this. would nod in silence and tell himself that be and Luciana would have to try to work it out.
But they didn’t work it out. The quarrels became more frequent. Now, when Luciana wept, Brett would storm out of the house. Sometimes be stayed away a few hours, sometimes a few days. But be would always come back resolved to do better.
He hoped, be tried. But the quarrels went on. once be shouted at Luciana. “You’re not married to your mother, you’re married to me!”
And she answered. “My mother devoted her whole life to me. She has no one else. You can’t expect me to desert her just because I got married.”
The next day, alone in the house. he puzzled over their dilemma. It made sense —and yet—there was something wrong. Before their marriage Luciana had said to reporters, “I wonder if American women really want a man . . . they ignore the most important point . . . they will not be domesticated. In Europe, we women think a man is to be waited on. to be catered to—even to be obeyed.”
Luciana had slipped a long way down from the pinnacle of that remark.
And Brett had slipped, too, into a morass of despair and frustration. He sensed, of course, that something was terribly wrong with their marriage. Something that he couldn’t quite put his finger on, some cine that he couldn’t isolate.
“Dear God,” he murmured. “What’s happened to us?”
Suddenly he stopped dead.
He realized he had prayed.
And with that prayer, the light broke.
He knew what was wrong with their marriage. He knew why Luciana had been unable to give him her undivided loyalty.
Their marriage had not been blessed by Luciana’s Church. To her, unconsciously, it was not a marriage at all.
Why hadn’t be thought of this before? After all, Luciana was a Catholic, brought up in a Catholic home in a Catholic country. The first time they’d met she had just come from church. Remembering the glow she had had that day, he couldn’t understand how he had ever let her agree to be married in a civil ceremony. Why hadn’t he seen that she had been too much in love to be aware of her deepest needs? How could he have so casually allowed her to go off to church on Sundays, on Easter, on the Holy Days of Obligation without thinking that she was barred from Communion so long as her marriage was unsanctified?
It was particularly strange that be hadn’t thought about this before, because as a boy he had wanted to become a Catholic, be had learned his catechism and had been stopped from converting only when his father decided be was too young.
He made his decision. He would contact a priest as soon as be got home. He would take instruction, become a Catholic as he had meant to do so many years before. Then be and Luciana would be married again, in the Church. They would be blessed by God, their marriage would be truly sanctified. And when it was, nothing in the whole world could do them harm.
The words were pouring out almost before he closed the door of their home. Before he was half finished he saw Luciana’s eyes light up in excitement. “Oh, Brett,” she said. “How wonderful.”
They stayed up late that night talking about it. There were a few problems. Brett was incapable of half-hearted religion. If he became a Catholic, be would have to adhere strictly to church doctrine. Life would be more difficult in some ways. And, of course, there could be no divorce for them. But, starry-eyed, they knew they would never consider divorce. They would never have cause to separate.
The next day Brett phoned Rocky Cooper to ask her to recommend a priest. She knew just the man. Brett called him immediately and made an appointment.
On a sunny afternoon they walked into the priest’s office in the church rectory. At once they felt they had come to the right place. The priest stood. tall and rugged-looking in his black robe, welcoming them with a smile.
They didn’t waste any time. Brett told the priest their whole story, leaving out nothing—the fiasco of their first wedding; the aloneness of their second; their being deserted by nearly everyone who could have helped; their problems with Luciana’s mother; his own sudden realization of what was deeply, secretly wrong with their marriage. When he finally paused for breath, he scarcely noticed how grave the priest’s voice was, asking. “And why have you come to me?”
“I want to become a Catholic, Father. Luciana and I want to be married once more—for the last time—in the Church.”
It was all over
“I see,” the priest said. He looked at the two glowing faces before him. “There is no easy way to tell you this, but it must be said. You cannot marry Luciana in the Church. As far as the Church is concerned, your former marriage was, and is, and always will be valid. You are not really married to Luciana at all. You are still married to the woman you refer to as your former wife.”
The words of doom.
For a moment there was silence. Then Brett moistened his lips.
“Father. you don’t understand. Neither my former wife nor I was a Catholic . . . we weren’t married in a Catholic ceremony. . . .”
“Exactly. Since neither of you was Catholic. the Church regards your marriage as being joined under natural law. It doesn’t matter what religion either of you held, it doesn’t matter whether you were married by a minister or a Justice of the Peace or a ship’s Captain at sea. The Church regards your marriage as valid—and irrevocable.”
“But that marriage is over.” Brett cried. “No matter how you look at it. I’m married to Luciana how. We’ve come to you for help. . . .”
He got no further. It was then that the priest, with infinite sorrow, repeated what he had already said—and added the final, staggering blow: “Luciana, as long as you live with this man, you are an adulteress.”
Is there anything stronger than love when two people love truly? For Luciana and Brett, being in love had always been a struggle. But somehow, their love had survived. Now. reeling under the burden of the priest’s words, that love made one last attempt.
“Father, there must be a way out.”
The priest sighed. “You could appeal to the Ecclesiastic Court of the College of Cardinals. It is a very difficult, complicated process. It could be expensive. It could take years to obtain an answer. And there is no guarantee that the answer would be favorable.”
Brett looked at him squarely. “If we were to try it . . . could we live together in the meantime?”
“You could share the same house . . . as brother and sister.” The priest looked at them, at the faces that had been so bright with hope and were now white with anguish. “I understand your problem,” he said. “I wish I could help. But my hands are tied. You came to me for a solution and I must tell you that there is only one solution. You must separate—at once.”
All the way home, they sat in silence. As Brett parked the car, Luciana spoke once. “Adultery,” she whispered. Then the silence fell again.
It was perhaps the most ironic twist of all. Brett thought that he had discovered what was wrong with their marriage. And in so doing, he had committed them both to end that marriage. For if, to make their marriage work, it was necessary for them to have the blessing of the Church . . . and if the Church refused them that blessing . . . then what was left?
“We still love each other,” they said, and clung together. But a barrier stood between them now. They could not speak of love loudly enough to drown out the whispering of their stricken souls:
You must separate—at once.
Your marriage is a sin.
The days dragged by, gray and terrible. They talked of separating. They could not. They talked about forgetting the Church . . . after all, they had forgotten it before. But they knew that now they could never forget.
A month passed. Finally Brett said to Luciana, “We’ll try the Ecclesiastical Court. It can’t he hopeless. No matter how long it takes . . .”
She looked up at him with eyes that were worn with weeping. “It does matter how long it takes, Brett. I have just learned . . . I am going to have a baby.”
Through Brett surged a sudden joy, a sudden hope. And then—realization. Their baby would be born of a marriage that had been branded no marriage at all. Their baby would be illegitimate.
He had a sudden sick memory. His own mother had been a Catholic, his father had not. Their marriage had not been sanctified by the Church. He could still remember the night his mother had been told that her children were illegitimate. He could still remember the sound of her weeping. In t his echo from his past, Brett beheld a vision of the future.
“There is only one solution” the priest had said. “You must separate—at once.”
Brett did what he thought was right—he left Luciana.
For weeks he lived in a daze. Two thoughts struggled in his mind. We love each other—we cannot live together—we love each other—we cannot live together. He pitted them against each other until he was ill with confusion, misery and love. Love that would not, could not die. Love that didn’t seem to care about marriage, about sin, about problems, a love that said only: My wife and child belong to me. I want to go home.
At last he went back. He walked in— and found Luciana’s mother living in his home. Luciana wasn’t there. He said, “I’ve come back to stay. Luciana and I love each other. We’ll work things out. But you’ll have to leave if we’re to have a chance. I’ll give you a couple of hours to get your things together and go. Then I’ll be back.”
He left, got in his car and drove around for a long, long time. Then he went home again.
His mother-in-law had gone. And so had his wife!
In all the time that they had loved, neither Brett nor Luciana had needed words to express their feelings; each had always known what the other was thinking.
And now, once more, Brett knew.
His wife had fled without seeing him because their love was too strong to die—and too hopeless to renew.
The battle was over. Love had lost.
But the last act of the tragedy was still to be played, from two sides of the Atlantic.
In Hollywood, Brett wrote to Luciana that he wanted to fly to Italy to be near her when their baby was born.
From Italy, a frightened, lonely Luciana wrote back that he must not come. She bore their son alone and named him Christian.
In Hollywood, Brett learned of the birth, passed out cigars and offered a champagne toast to the baby he had never seen.
From Italy, after many months, Luciana wrote that she was coming back to California—to seek a legal separation.
In Hollywood, Brett decided to sue for a divorce instead and to apply for custody of their son.
And then one night in a Hollywood restaurant, they met again. Brett had come there with a friend. They walked in the door and across the room he saw a girl with dark eyes and auburn hair. For a moment he felt his heart stop beating. He walked toward Luciana and saw that she was with Dave Hedison. Without being asked, Dave and Brett’s friend faded away. Or perhaps they remained, Brett was never quite sure. He and Luciana were, for that one evening, blind and deaf to everyone and everything around them. For hours they talked of their child and of each other. When the evening was over they knew that despite the anguished past, despite the bitterness and misunderstandings of the past and the court hearings already scheduled at which each expected to inflict new cruelties on the other, they were still in love.
That is the tragedy—past, present and future—of Luciana Paluzzi and Brett Halsey.
Whose fault is it? No one’s. It’s surely not the fault of the Church whose laws, not to be taken lightly, were laid down thousands of years ago. It’s not the fault of those in Hollywood who seemed, instinctively, to recognize a love that was doomed. And it’s not even truly the fault of Luciana’s mother. She wanted what she felt was best for her daughter. She acted out of love, though, sadly, strange things are often done in the name of love.
Luciana and Brett? Certainly, what came to pass cannot be blamed on two young lovers who wanted only to spend their lives together in peace and fulfillment.
Shakespeare long ago wrote of two “star-crossed” lovers whose tragedy lay in events and circumstances far beyond their control. Perhaps that is the explanation for this modern tragedy, the tragedy of Luciana and Brett.
The fault was in their stars.
Brett stars in ABC-TV’s “Follow the Sun,” every Sunday from 7:30-8:30 P.M. EST.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE APRIL 1962