Saludos Amiga!—Debbie Reynolds
“Pinch me, Debbie,” I said. “I cannot believe I am awake!”
“Look, Pier!” Debbie shouted. “They’re throwing us real orchids! Isn’t it romantic!”
And for thirty-two days that was how our South American trip was! Debbie kept saying, “Pier, I can’t believe this can be happening to two Hollywood kids like us!” I remind her that we are not really from Hollywood. Debbie, she is from Texas, and I am from Italy. That is what made it seem even more like a fairy tale!
Take the orchid throwing. How did it happen? Debbie, Carleton Carpenter and I came down in the plane at Medellin where 20,000 people waited at the airport to greet us. It was amazing! But that is not all. We rode in a convertible car to the hotel and through the streets there were 150,000 more people waiting to welcome us—with real orchids! And they called our tour work!
I could not believe it! This was not South America; this was a fairyland. When the wonderful, smiling people start throwing the orchids, it was like a purple and yellow rain. The air was filled with them like clouds. We had them up to our knees and in our hair. We were swimming in orchids! At the hotel, Debbie said, “Pier, we look like orchid trees—there’re so many of them you’d think they were growing right out of us!”
There I was, nervous and excited, and there sits Debbie, acting just like she always does at home in Hollywood. How I envied her! I know Debbie very well for a long time now, but it was not until some nights later, on one of those dates she calls “double,” that I learn something more about the real Debbie.
We were in Rio and we were invited to a society ball at the Gloria Hotel. I had met an old friend. Debbie was with Carleton and I went with my friend. His name was Francesco and he was the first boy I ever knew in the United States! What a coincidence! Francesco, he treated us like visiting royalty. What charm those South American boys have. They are like Galahads. It would be easy for a girl to have her head turned!
“Not me,” said Debbie firmly. “I’m strictly the feet-on-the-ground gal, not a head-in-the-clouds kid. Don’t forget. nothing bothers me! But . . . it is nice!”
After the party at the Hotel (as if we had not had enough dancing), Francesco took Debbie and Carleton and me to some of the clubs in Rio where we danced. That night, Debbie and I learned our lesson about South American dancing.
They do the Mambo, you know how, so wonderful! They are smooth like silk on the floor. But . . . they don’t move their bodies around like we do. It’s all rhythm. However, they forgive us. When they saw Debbie they all shout; “Debbie, Carleton! Come jitterbug for us.” So Debbie and Carleton got up and danced half the night for the people in the club.
After we came back to the hotel and were in our rooms, I found myself looking out over the city. Rio de Janeiro, such a beautiful city, with the night sky like a blue glass bowl of cheery stars. It was like Venice with canals and little boats . . . so romantic! I was so happy, that all of a sudden, without being on the stage, I began to cry, because I am so emotional.
Then I wondered how Debbie felt. She is so like a sister to me. So I tiptoe to the door between our rooms and peek in. And what do you know! There was Debbie sitting in the window looking out at the beautiful night—with soft tears in her eyes as big as the moon! So, I thought, here is the one who never gets emotional. “Ah ha,” I say. “Nothing bothers you! Not the people, not the stage—but, oh, these Rio nights!”
“Oh!” said Debbie. “It’s so beautiful. Isn’t it romantic? But, Pier, please don’t tell anyone about this?” She put her fingers to her rainy eyes. “Promise?”
“Of course, I won’t tell anyone, silly!”
And I never will!
We were in South America on a personal-appearance tour and we hoped when we got up on the stage we could repay their welcome with our performance.
But the very first night we were to appear, I was worried. I remembered how I felt before we even left Hollywood. “Debbie,” I had said, “what will I do? You and Carleton can sing and dance—and besides you’ve been on the stage. I never have!”
“Don’t worry, Pier,” Debbie calmed me, “we’ll work out something. You won’t be left with nothing to do.”
I wasn’t! Before we left Hollywood we all learned little speeches in Spanish and Debbie and Carleton and I practiced a soft-shoe dance until it came out our ears. There was only one thing wrong. In the dance I could never remember my break—you know, a spot in the routine where I do a few steps alone. So they began counting for me, “One, two, three; one, two, three; now!”
So there we were the night of the first performance. It really was a first performance for me because I had never been on a stage before. I did not know whether to be nervous or not. Watching Debbie and Carleton was no help. Carleton was nervous like a jiggly cup of water; but Debbie was calm outside like a smooth piece of glass. Poor Carleton. He stood by the fountain and gulped cup after cup of water. I was afraid we would have to pour him on and off.
But Debbie, she was cool as cucumbers. I felt filled with pride watching her. “A real trouper,” as you say. When I said this to her she laughed so gaily, “Why, Pier, there’s nothing to it. Can’t you see, nothing bothers me—so nothing should bother you!”
I began feeling funny anyhow. I peeked through.the curtain and saw the house was full; people were standing! “Look,” I said to Debbie. “Can you believe this is happening? All those people came just to see us! Oh, Debbie, is it not wonderful! I love these people. I am going to go back to Hollywood and work so hard to make good pictures for them!”
Debbie looked at me. For a minute, she was solemn. “Golly, yes, that’s right!” Then I saw she was feeling just what I was feeling, too. I began wondering, “Is this Debbie really one which nothing bothers? Or is she the Debbie I see the other night?”
Suddenly the emcee introduced me—and there I was in front of that warm ocean of people. Then I am not nervous—but felt like I was back in my own Italy. They were so much like my Italian people—all heart. They shout up to me, “Hello, Pier, hello—tell us about Hollywood,” or “Pier, how’s your sister Marisa?”
Of course they spoke in Spanish, but I understood everything they said because it is so much like my own Italian. Then I would start to answer them in English, but they shout, “No, speak to us in Italian!” and so I would chatter away in Italian.
When Debbie and I did our dance with Carleton it was so funny because we are such shorties and he is a beanpole. He just seems to go on and on like the Eiffel Tower. It got more funny when Debbie started counting for my break, “One, two, three, one, two, three—now!” And I just stood there! The house roared.
Every night it was the same thing, though we were always in a different city. Debbie said I was going to be “the best good will ambassadress” South America ever had. She said, “Pier, you’re real gone on this place and they’re real gone on you! These torrid South Americans think you’re pretty cool!”
I was so pleased by Debbie’s calling me a “good will ambassadress” I forgot to ask her what is this “real gone.” And “cool”!
But we did not spend all of the time on the trip working. No, not at all. Our friends in the American Embassy and in the Italian Embassy gave us parties and receptions. We had many double dates. We were very fortunate because wherever we went we ran into old friends. In Uruguay I saw an old friend whose father is a big lawyer there. He took us dancing and shopping into the heart of the city.
He and the shopkeepers must have thought we were “gone,” as Debbie says. You see Debbie collects little monkeys and I collect dolls. So wherever we went we’d only buy monkeys and dolls! Debbie went, as she says, “overboard.” “Come on, Pier,” she’d say every day, “let’s shop.”
“All right,” I’d reply, “providing you shop on one side of the street and leave me on the other—I can’t be looking all day for monkeys!”
Of course she agreed. But you know what happened? She ended up with forty-four monkeys and I have only a handful of dolls. That’s right. I think she went back at night and shopped both sides of the street and around the corner, too.
When we weren’t working, shopping, or at parties, we were playing. In Havana, we took time off to go sailing in the Bay. It was there one of the funniest things on the trip happened. Debbie met a real live monkey!
When we came in from sailing the monkey was sitting on the bow of one of the boats. He belonged to the boatman, who must have thought we were crazy. When Debbie sees the monkey her eyes almost came out of the head. “Look! Look! Pier . . .” she shouted. “A real live monkey!”
She first tries to get the monkey’s attention by singing to him; but he just looked past her. Then she tries dancing. . . nothing happened with the monkey, but the boatman moved to the other side of a dinghy. She was so desperate to play with the monkey she starts singing and dancing—and almost fell in the water! The monkey only continued to swing back and forth on his perch and paid no attention to poor Debbie!
Debbie was not the only clown on the trip. I’m sure I must have looked like one. And without Deb, I’d probably look like one still. I had to go on the stage and that meant I had to wear make-up. But I hate make-up and had never worn any excepting when I was in front of the cameras. So I had never learned how to put on make-up. But Debbie knows. What would I do without Debbie? The first time she came into the dressing room and saw how I was applying the face, she bent over with laughs. “Oh, Pier! Ringling Brothers Circus went thataway!”
I looked in the mirror—I was almost scared! The make-up was all blotchy and white. Like big patches of snow. The mascara was too thick and running into my eyes. And the lines are so heavy they made me look like a sad basset hound. I couldn’t make my eyebrow pencil draw up!
“Oh, Debbie,” I cried, “I give up!”
“Not yet, Pier. I’ll show you how and you’ll be a smash.”
I don’t know how “smash” I was, but, thanks to Debbie, I did learn how to put on the stage make-up.
And the hair! In South America it was very hot, even though it was already beginning winter down there. When the temperature went up, the hair came down. Even if it had just been put up, down it came again like a lame window shade. Debbie and I looked out through those limp strands like those funny English sheepdogs do.
The first day Debbie looked at me joking and said, “I feel like barking . . .” But it didn’t last long. Debbie came to the rescue with bobby pins.
Lucky for me that Debbie showed me how to manage those bobby pins. For on what I am sure was the hottest day of the year, we were invited to visit the President of Chile!
The President! Can you imagine? What a wonderful experience that was! Debbie and I were as excited as school girls on our way to the President’s palace. “Debbie,” I asked, “what do we call him? Your Honor or Mr. President . . . ?”
“I’m not sure,” said Debbie. “I don’t even know what we’ll say to him!”
But we should not have worried. He was charming. Just like your father. So kind and gentle and easy to talk to. I spoke to him in Italian and he understood. But he spoke English, too. Nearly everyone in South America does.
After we left, Debbie was the first to catch her breath. “Do you realize how lucky we were! An interview with the President of Chile! And Pier, did you see what a beautiful room it was? And the gold chair he sat upon—wasn’t it just like a throne! I call that ‘real gone’!”
But I had been so impressed by the President that I had hardly seen the room and its elegant furniture.
The whole trip was so magic it is almost too much to believe. The only trouble, it all went so quick. Debbie and I agreed on our thirty-second and last day that we had not seen nearly enough of the exciting South American moon or nights, or danced enough of their romantic Mambo.
We wanted more, and flying back on the plane, Debbie said, “We must go back again, Pier. I feel as if I’ve left something of me there. Isn’t that silly . . .”
“No, that is not silly,” I said. And I was thinking that Miss Debbie “Nothing Bothers Me” Reynolds was giving her soft heart away again. “That’s not silly because I admit I am emotional and I know what you left behind. It was some of the sentiment you say you don’t have.”
“Oh, go on . . .”
“Yes. We both saw it in their eyes. We felt it in our hearts—and that makes it big. So, we will go back in 1954 to the Film Festival. We have an invitation!”
Debbie’s eyes lit up like searchlights at a premiere. “The Film Festival! Of course, why didn’t I think of that? I can learn Spanish in six months easily. Oh, isn’t it wonderful. I can’t wait to get back!”
We’ll be busy girls between now and then learning Spanish and preparing ourselves for the trip back to see everything we missed, to see our friends again, to have more double dates. If I should be called a good-will ambassadress, I think Debbie should be, too. Now, she can do nothing but talk about this fairyland that is South America.
We are both, how she said, “real gone” on the place!
—BY PIER ANGELI
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 1953