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Reunion—Jean Pierre Aumont & Maria Montez

The woman stood lithe and slender before the mirror over the mantelpiece, trying on a procession of fabulously chic hats. The man, clad in austere British battle dress with the Cross of Lorraine on his left sleeve, paced back and forth in a New York hotel suite through a wilderness of tissue paper, hat boxes and some thirty strictly feminine chapeaux.

As each new hat was fitted over the tawny-colored hair, the woman’s flashing dark eyes would seek his anxiously as she said, “Jean Pierre, do not tell me if you like it or do not like it. Just tell me would you be seen with me in it.”

The answers from the attractive young Frenchman would vary anywhere from, “With pleasure, darling,” to a decisive “Non!” And when they were “With pleasure,” the hats were put on one pile and when the verdict was “Non,” they were tossed onto another. Thus did Maria Montez fulfill the Continental woman’s first law—to dress for her husband!

But finally the inevitable happened; he tangled with a large hat box which all but threw him. With his feet spread and his arms akimbo, Jean Pierre Aumont, late of the Italian, French and German campaigns, cried in a loud and terrible voice, “This is the real battlefield!” Yet behind his mock dramatics, you could see he was laughing and loving all the frou-frou femininity.

War dealt kindly with this young idealist from the land of Jeanne d’Arc who came into American hearts with just two pictures, “Assignment In Brittany” and “The Cross Of Lorraine.” There were no signs of fatigue in his face or in his walk as he swung across the room in his close-fitting English uniform which, with its Free French Army insignia, reflected his latest job of liaison officer with the British. Even that ruthless democrat, the Army barber, hadn’t mangled the wavy blond hair with a G.I. job.

“Never in my life have I seen anything like this,” Jean Pierre exploded delightedly, “or, for that matter, felt anything so wonderful as the softness of the living here . . . hot water for showers, the luxury of breakfast in bed, the sight of cars on the street, private cars, which you do not see in France, in Italy or even in England . . . all the things of civilian life the war makes us appreciate as never before. . . .”

Presently Maria, in her chic plain black, and Pierre, stretched out on the floor like a man who has been used to sitting on the ground, began to talk singly or in unison of this wonderful reunion . . . “After,” Jean Pierre said gravely, “eighteen months, day for day.”

Maria said, “I had known there was the possibility of Jean Pierre’ coming to this country on a military mission two weeks before he came. Of the mission, he cannot speak very much, even to me. But the part he can say is that he goes to the San Francisco Conference to organize the photographs of the French in the war, with the documentaries, including the way the French used American materiel, which will be shown there.

“So, as soon as I had the word he was possibly on his way, I dropped everything in Hollywood and rushed to New York to meet him because I knew his mission might not be very long and I must have with him every minute.”

As she talked, Maria looked at Jean Pierre. Her eyes stayed with him. “I won’t let him out of my sight, not for a minute. My eyes are so hungry for him.”

Then her mind returned to the story she was telling. “So, then I get on the train and come to New York. And all the time on the train, I am worried. All the way I keep thinking. Am I going to love him as I think I love him? Will he be the same? Will it be, between us, after eighteen months, the same? Like wheels inside my head the thoughts go until I think I am crazy.

“Then I get to the hotel. He is not, of course, here. Then I begin to worry whether he will love me as he did. I forget about whether I love him Now I think only, will he love me? My looks how will they look to him? I am now so thin. . . .”

Pierre, who was still sitting cross-legged on the floor, said simply, “Maria is more beautiful than she was when I left. But I knew she was getting more and more beautiful from the photographs that came often. She wrote every day. Every day Letters full of news and of tenderness, the kind men overseas so badly need. She was an angel!” he said almost reverently.

Maria’s hand touched his hair in brief and fond acknowledgment before she continued. “So I am here at the hotel For the first five days I just sit. Moving only when I go from telephone to telephone thinking, each time one rings, this may be Jean Pierre! Each day I dress in something I think he will like. Each day I do my hair low, in a chignon, the way he likes it. When friends ask me to lunch, to cocktails, to the theater, I will not go—Jean Pierre, I say. might get here this very noon, this very night.

“On the sixth day,” Maria laughed, “I give up! I put my hair up the way he doesn’t like. That night when I go to bed, I wash my hair but do not curl it. Instead of my best, I put on only a fairly nice nightgown. I think, maybe if I don’t dress up so much, he will come. . . .

“In the morning, I was waked by a phone call from Alexandre de Menziarly, the head of the French Military Mission here. He said, ‘Your man has arrived. But he may be a couple of hours delayed.’

“So, with hands that tremble I get dressed, I put on my most elegant tweeds, for Jean Pierre likes me in the things that are elegant, but very simple. I put my hair again in the chignon. I put on the perfume he loves the most. I then sit by the door of our suite. One half hour later—and may Eternity,” Maria said, devoutly, “be not so long—the phone rings. I answer it. A voice says, ‘Hello, darling.’ I say, ‘Where are you?’ ‘Downstairs,’ he says. Incredulous, I scream into the phone, ‘For the love of heaven—why don’t you come up?’ ”

“At this point,” Jean Pierre interrupted the proceedings, laughing, “I feel called upon to explain that I was dazed. I had to punch myself to believe that I am here, that Maria is here. On the ship coming over, I was not sure that Maria would be in New York. When the people from the military mission came out to pick us up, the first question I asked was, ‘Is my wife there?’ When they said, ‘She is there, waiting for you,’ I felt so much, it went beyond feeling and was numbness.”

“When I heard his voice, knew he was here,” Maria resumed, “I could not, of course, delay the first sight of him by waiting inside the door. I rushed out into the corridor and there, eighteen months to the day since he left, we met again.

“. . . what happened after that is a story of those hours that make you know the kingdom of heaven is,” Maria touched her heart, “here. I have now,” she added, “wings on my feet, wings in my brain, wings in my heart. . . .

“But since that first day there have been always people, telephones ringing, Jean Pierre working. When you are married to Jean Pierre Aumont you must realize, I have found, that you have to share him with the world He is a cyclone, this Jean Pierre. I have never in my life seen such vitality. I thought,” Maria laughed, “that I had a monopoly. I have not. He has—this one who can take both, the best and the worst, with such an air. . . .”

“I hate war,” Jean Pierre said thoughtfully. “Yet it was thrilling to have been in North Africa, in Italy preparing for the French, campaign. It was great fuck for me to have made the first landing with the Third Infantry Division. Thrilling to have first entered Toulon and other cities. Thrilling, also, to find that men, at war, show themselves less selfish, less narrow-minded than in peacetime.

“The Americans, I want to say here, are doing a wonderful job, wonderful. Independent of their courage, which needs no comment from me, the fact that they are there, fighting so far from their country, is magnificent. We were fighting to put the Germans out of our country which they had ruined. The English were bombed out of their homes. But the American boy—his wife had not been raped in Nebraska nor his farm bombed in New Hampshire . . . he is fighting, objectively, shall I say, for the freedom of the world. I have more admiration for people who fight only for their ideals. The Americans,” the young Frenchman said, with a moving sincerity, “are the Sir Galahads of the world.

“War,” Jean Pierre concluded, “makes men awaken to the deep values of home. Far from being reluctant to raise a family in a world where there can be such turmoil, I am anxious to have children for I feel that what we are fighting for will bear fruit for them. And about making pictures, I am as keen as before, and even more so, since I have been two years now without making one. . . . So war, too, has its compensations.”

Her eyes on the wound stripe sewn to his battle dress, on the ribbon bearing the twin Croix de Guerres, Maria said, “War without fear of death, war without wounds, yes, but . . .”

“War without fear of death, without wounds would not,” Jean Pierre said, smiling at her, “be war. The fear of death,” he added, “is, to me, in a way, similar to stage fright. I am, personally, covered with fear much more before entering the stage than I am during the performance. And the wound was a slight one. A fragment of shell in the right knee during an engagement of street fighting in Marseilles.”

“But you were operated,” Maria reminded him. “You were in the hospital in Hyéres, on the French Riviera.”

“That was on account of the bridge accident.”

A look of excitement crossed Maria’s face. “Tell about the letter you had from me that 21st of November. . . .”

“On the 20th of November,” Jean Pierre said, “my General, Diego Brosset, and I had an awful accident. In the Vosges sector. crossing a bridge over a turbulent river we fell in our jeep ten feet into the river We were caught under the water and under the jeep. My General was killed. His body was found two days later. It was by a miracle that the driver and I escaped with our lives. On the 21st, the next day, Maria wrote me asking me, please, to let her hear from me as quickly as possible because she had had a premonition of danger. . . .”

“I had felt it in my bones,” Maria interrupted. “I could’ not eat, I could not sleep. I was like a hunted animal—until after the 20th. . . .

“I have not,” Maria continued, “talked to Jean Pierre about the war. I have not asked him a question, not one. He has had enough of war. I want him, while he is with me, to have only fun, only laughing. But there are things I know. I know that he is called,” she teased him, “ ‘the favorite of the Generals and the idol of the G.I.’s. I know that he was awarded his first Croix de Guerre on May, 1940, for a delaying action during a retreat in the Ardennes Forest. I know he was awarded the second one in June, ’44, for an action with an American tank battalion in Italy. But wait, please, a moment. . . .” Maria rose, went into the next room, came back with an official appearing paper in her hands. She said, “Here is the text of the second citation, an exact translation from the French, which I shall read to you:

“ ‘Jean Pierre Aumont, always cheerfully volunteering for dangerous mission. After the break-through of the Gustave line west of Pontecorvo, then during the pursuit of the enemy north of Rome, his missions have been an important help in the liaison between American tanks and one of our French infantry battalions.

“ ‘The 21st of June, 1944, at Radicofani, at the entrance to the province of Toscania, he volunteered to remain on duty for an additional twenty-four hours after the dismissal of his battalion. He took command of a platoon of American tanks whose commanding officer had just been wounded.

“ ‘He went on with the progression, manning the machine guns himself in which action he destroyed several nests of enemy resistance, and secured a number of prisoners.’ ”

There was, as Maria stopped reading, a moment of silence in that room which suddenly for all its gay trifles of hats, flowering plants, books, boxes of bon-bons, did not seem so far away from enemy nests and machine guns. The silence was broken by Jean Pierre saying, quietly, “Receiving the award is wonderful, of course. However, the greatest compensating factor is the sense of internal satisfaction and, yes, pride, of feeling I had been able to do something useful for my country. . . .”

And then Maria, her dark eyes still on his blue ones, “I don’t know how I shall feel when—when he leaves again. I don’t know whether it will be easier, or more difficult. But I do know that I am grateful to God for allowing me to share with him a few more moments. . . .”





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