Ready For Love—Pier Angeli
Pier Angeli came swinging onto the set of “The Flame and the Flesh” very early, as she does every morning. Pier does not walk; she swings along, as if she can’t contain the bouncing spirit that bubbles right out of her heels’ and seems to leave a little trail of silent laughter behind her.
This morning, there was a special vibrancy about Pier. She sang out at everyone, “Good morning, good morning.” This was Pier’s very special morning! It was her twenty-first birthday, that extra-special birthday when a girl knows she has left childhood behind her and that all of life is waiting is ahead. And in answer there came a big shout, “Happy Birthday, Pier! Happy Birthday, Anna!” (Pier does not like the “acting” name to be used personally . . . she still prefers to be called by her real name, Anna Maria, or just Anna. Those who knew, shouted “Anna,” others “Pier.”)
Everyone crowded around her with hugs and kisses and gifts. Lana Turner, producer Joe Pasternak, Carlos Thompson, the electrician, the grips. They all had remembered their little pet, Anna. There were many gold folder with pictures of London, so she would remember this special occasion; beautifully painted ceramics; so many lovely things for Pier to cherish.
Pier, who can get highly emotional over a bird or a puppy, cried all morning—she was happy, happy to be twenty-one, happy to be remembered, just so happy! And in between the happy tears there would be laughter, because someone was always coming up behind her to sing a snatch of “Happy Birthday.”
But the day wasn’t over yet. In England, everything stops for tea at four o’clock. Sure enough, along came the tea in due course. But with it came a huge cake—ablaze with twenty-one candles! “Oh, Anna, Anna,” Pier said to herself, “you are a lucky girl!”
Although she had been between tears and laughter all day, Pier’s birthday celebration didn’t really start on the set. The best thing of all, the secret that she brought out to think about during the day, had really happened at the best time, the very start of the day, when she first awoke and realized that today she was twenty-one. Kirk Douglas was actually the first to speak to her that morning. He had phoned from Rome, where he is making a picture himself, to wish Pier a happy birthday.
What a wonderful, happy day to remember was Pier’s thought as she tucked herself into her bed that night at the Savoy Hotel. And as she drifted into sleep Pier didn’t know the best was yet to come!
The next morning was a Saturday; no reporting to the set that day at Elstree. When the phone rang that morning, Pier didn’t know it was still a continuation of her birthday. Not only a continuation, but so much better! It was Kirk Douglas again, but this time he wasn’t calling from Rome. He had Jet Cometed in to London, and what he said was, “I couldn’t make it yesterday. But let’s pretend it’s still yesterday, and your twenty-first birthday, because I have come in to spend it with you.”
Pier shrieked with delight. Kirk hurried over to the Savoy, and before they knew it, it was lunchtime. So Kirk took Pier and her mama to lunch, still celebrating.
That night was theirs, too. At the Caprice, an Italian restaurant. Kirk and Pier dined; they laughed between mouthfuls of scampi (Italian fried shrimp) and antipasto. Later, Kirk had to fly back to Rome for his picture, “Ulysses.” But before he eft, Kirk gave Pier a beautiful ring as a birthday gift.
Seeing the two of them that night emphasized the contrast between the worldly-wise, handsome man of thirty-six and the delicate little girl who still looks a very unworldly eighteen.
Pier tells a story that points up the contrast perfectly. “We were in a night club when we were in Rome,” she says, “and there was a table of people we knew. To us they said things like, ‘Oh, Kirk, you’re wonderful.’ . . . ‘Oh, Pier, you look so sweet.’ But while we were dancing, Kirk said to me, ‘You know what they really say, as soon as we leave?’ . . . ‘Oh, look at that Kirk Douglas, so old, with that sweet little angel!’ ”
Pier knows what they are saying about her friendship with Kirk Douglas. And she has some thoughts on the subject.
“They have been mean to Kirk in America. What do they say? ‘Pier should open her eyes; he is a man of experience!’ This ‘man of experience’ business, it makes me laugh! Many girls have fallen in love with a man of experience; some of it has been good, some bad. I pray it is all for the best. You can never know how things work out.”
Pier will not say that she thinks she is in love with Kirk Douglas. But what she has just said, “Many girls have fallen in love—” shows how she is thinking.
Pier goes on, “He has been wonderful to me. He is kind, polite, thoughtful; that is what I like in a man. There are so many things, little things that are big things—attention to me, am I comfortable, am I happy, is everything all right? So many young people today, they are interested only in themselves and how they look. Kirk knows I am not like that. Whatever happens to me, or to him, we write each other. Once in a while, we talk together on the phone. It is wonderful to have such understanding. This is the thing that people cannot see. And if you have to listen to people talk you can kill yourself!
“You see, I look very young; eighteen or nineteen at the most. I am not grown up the same way an American girl is. I have been through a war; for six years we suffered. I know what it is to be without eating for three or four days. I know now that suffering is sometimes good for you. But it made me not want to grow up; I was afraid. In one way I wanted to, in another I didn’t.”
That is the reason why, to Pier, her twenty-first birthday meant even more than to most girls. Because it was the preceding year that had helped little Pier, or little Anna, grow up. Eight months before, she had worked in a picture called “The Story of Three Loves” with an actor named Kirk Douglas. Kirk became fascinated with this little girl who is such a study in contrasts. She is all the sunshine and light of the Italian temperament that even childhood suffering has not dimmed. And underneath all the color, there is the shade of great mood and emotion shining in her grey eyes. No, she is not like American girls, this Pier Angeli; so much younger in some ways, so eternally older in others.
Kirk Douglas saw what was wrong with this part-child, part-woman. He saw, and understood that she had been hurt and was afraid. Pier tells it herself, “One day Kirk told me, ‘Anna, you should grow up. It is good for a girl to grow up, at twenty-one. You should go out, talk to people. You have a big mountain in front of you, but if you reach the top, the other side will be beautiful.’ ”
That is what has happened to Pier this past year; she reached the top, she has found the other side beautiful. And she believes this is so because of Kirk Douglas.
Pier says, “I was always mixed up. A boy tells you he loves you, but how can you know if he means it? You are like a little girl who has no way of judging these things! For six months, I was crying. It was very hard to take. Mama used to say, ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that,’ because she wanted me to be safe and protected. And I was saying, ‘Yes, Mama, yes, Mama, whatever you say.’ But then I said, ‘Mama, a girl should be allowed to go out by herself. I am old enough to be entitled to ask if I may go out for tonight. I wouldn’t do anything bad. If you will give me the key, I will be home at eleven-thirty.’ ”
This may come as a shock to some American teenagers; but it is true that Pier never went out alone—without Mama, that is—until she was almost twenty-one. And to stay out until eleven-thirty, even then, was a great privilege. Pier says, “Mama did this. she gave me the key. And it gave me confidence in myself, and in the people I was going with.”
It isn’t, of course, that Mama was keeping Pier under lock and key, or doing her an injustice. Mama herself would tell you that she wants for Pier only what will make her happy. It’s just that Pier was raised by European standards; and Pier did not question her mother’s wisdom.
What does Mama think, then, of Kirk? “Mama,” says Pier, “doesn’t think he’s right for me. She likes him as a person, but for me she thinks there should be a younger boy, not a man who was married before and has two children. She also says, ‘He is a man of lots of experience.’ ”
Pier doesn’t grin at this; there is a serious look on her face when she adds, “Mama finally said, ‘You are on your own. If you have to think of anything, at least think it over three times!’ ”
And to this, the grown-up Pier adds, “All mothers who love their children are a little jealous when they start to live for themselves. But she is good and she will get used to it. She understands it is not good to stay tied forever to your mother.”
Not that Pier Angeli plans to jump into a marriage that practically everyone feels would not be right. Pier is more levelheaded. She is willing to give herself a chance, to see what time brings.
She says, “Everything takes time. I will not say, ‘I will never get married so soon!’ But I think of my career first; there is lots of study. When I was a little girl and wanted only to be a ballet dancer, would I have dreamed that today I would be in London, making a picture? So many things can happen, but not at the moment. Everything is so immature yet!
“In this life, if you have everything to start with, sometimes you don’t appreciate what you have. Things have come to me little by little; I have the house in California, and the car. But sometimes I even get nervous, when I want everything and it’s not there. Then I realize this is no way to be.”
In Pier’s dressing room at Elstree there is a picture of Kirk on the dressing table, and a snapshot of the two of them in Rome.
Pier looks at the picture and says, “I was always dreaming; now I can see those dreams become a little of reality. Every Sunday I go to church and pray that everything should come out all right. I don’t want just marriage; I want the kind of love that should go with it, that keeps you not only loving, but liking and respecting each other. If I get married, I’ll be married only once!
“I can wait. Time will tell. I feel just wonderful, very happy and relaxed.” And that’s Pier Angeli today.
But there is a sequel to Pier’s story, and what has happened to her in less than a year. Something has happened to Kirk Douglas, too! She explains it, “When Mr. Pasternak saw him in Rome, he looked at Kirk and said, ‘How you’ve changed!’ You see, Kirk was confused, too; he was searching for something. Before he was all tightened up. Now he is calm and relaxed. Others have said this, not only I. I am very happy about this!”
Evidently Pier believes she is not the only one who reached the top of the mountain and found the other side beautiful. And, as she herself says, time will tell!
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE OCTOBER 1953