Shelley Winters and Anthony Franciosa
Here is the story of Shelley and Tony’s love . . .
It was the spring of 1955 and Shelley Winters was fed to the teeth with Hollywood. She’d been in pictures for seven years—“I was suspended so many times I only got paid for five years. Big deal!”—and she’d been satisfied with only three of the dozens of roles given her. She decided it was time for a change. “I’m heading East,” she told a producer one afternoon over lunch. “Going shopping?” the producer asked. “Yeah,” said Shelley, “for a whole new life!”
That’s what she got.
By East, Shelley meant Broadway, the stage.
“Get me a play,” she told her agent.
The agent got her a nice little play called Wedding Breakfast, in a summer stock company. The man Shelley was to love on stage for two and a half hours every evening and twice on Wednesdays and Saturdays was a young actor named Anthony Franciosa. He’d done very little theater work, she was told, but he was tall and good-looking and he had a velvet speaking voice—
“How old is he?” Shelley asked.
“Twenty-six,” she was told.
“Mmm,” said Shelley, thirty-two at the time, “you don’t think that’s just a little bit too young?”
“You’ll look fine together,” she was assured, “just fine.”
Shelley couldn’t have agreed more the next day when she saw Tony for the first time. The place, she remembers, was a small rehearsal hall on Manhattan’s West Forty-ninth Street. The time, she remembers, was 10:45 a.m. “And Tony,” she remembers, “was a dream of a man come true—and a darn good actor, too.”
Neither of them. remembers exactly when they felt that this was it. It could have been about 11:45 that same morning. At any rate, they had lunch together that afternoon at a tiny pastrami-and-pickle place near the rehearsal hall. And they continued to have lunch and dinner together every day for the next few months—in Illinois, where the play opened, and then down in Pennsylvania and up in Connecticut and all along the summer stock route.
It was a wonderful summer—right up until the last few weeks of the tour. That’s when Shelley and Tony discovered that this was really it, that they were really in love; that they were not only really in love but that they were hopelessly in love, with the accent on the hopeless.
Before that, everything had been strictly for laughs. They used to swim together, play tennis together, hold hands together and tell all sorts of stories about themselves, like two young people who’d just met at a mountain resort and who figured that, while this was all very nice, come September and who’ll remember? Shelley would break Tony up with her story about the first big fight with her ex-husband Vittorio Gassman . . .
“And we’re in Rome at the time and he’s appearing as Hamlet on the stage and it was in Italian and who could understand? So when I went backstage after it was all over I was dead tired and Vittorio asks me ‘How did you like it?’ and I just happened to yawn and so he slugged me—and I slugged him right back!”
. . . Or when she recalled what made her decide to enter show business . . .
“I forget if I was in seventh grade or eighth. Anyway, this girl says to me one morning, ‘You should see the new boy who’s captain of the basketball team.’ I said, I’m not only going to see him, I’m going to get a date with him!’ So I head for the gym and while I’m walking, I pass the auditorium where they’re having a try-out for THE MIKADO. A girl is singing, singing terrible. I knew I could do better. So I walked in and tried for the part. I got it too. That was the end of my basketball hero.”
Tony’s portable radio
And Tony—who was born on New York’s crowded West 116th Street—would tell her about things he remembered, too. Like about the summers when he was a kid. . . .
“Everyone used to have a portable radio to bring to the beach. And your portable had to be better-looking than anybody else’s. I remember we used to go swimming at Orchard Beach. That’s not exactly a beautiful beach; it’s up in the Bronx. We used to leave our neighborhood, a whole gang of us, and walk to the subway up on Lexington Avenue, all of us carrying a towel over one shoulder and our portables on the other. The portables were all blaring away at different stations—ball games, music. They were a mess. But you had to have one.”
. . . Or about the jobs he had before he decided to become an actor . . .
“I used to rivet. I used to dig ditches. I used to drive a delivery truck. And then I decided to live dangerously and go to sea for a couple of years. I got a job on a passenger liner. I was a waiter. The only waiter on board who could handle eight dishes of hot stuff at once. And that’s good!”
Yes, it was a wonderful summer—right up until that night near the end of the tour when Tony took Shelley in his arms and told her he loved her and they kissed and what should have been the most wonderful glow on earth wasn’t.
The laughs were over
Tony realized that he was married—to a nice young woman named Beatrice whom he didn’t love any longer, but to whom he was nonetheless married. Shelley suddenly realized that she had been married twice before and had a little daughter to think about whose happiness should come before anything else.
The laughs were over; tension took over.
An old friend of Shelley’s, who traveled with her on part of the tour, puts it like this:
“It was just awful towards the end. They began to fight every minute they were together.
“Tony would start one fight and then he’d go back the next day and say he was sorry. Then Shelley would start one, and then she’d go back to be forgiven. It was awful. I knew that Tony had had a nervous breakdown about a year earlier and his falling in love with Shelley had thrown him. And Shelley was nervous and jittery and when the explosion hit, it hit her hard.”
When the tour ended, Shelley and Tony said good-by like two people who’d barely known one another.
Reunited by Hatful
For about a month, they stayed miserably apart. Tony asked mutual friends about Shelley—but he never called her, never tried to get in touch with her. Shelley asked friends about Tony and how he was—and she spent lots of her time telling producers how great he was.
Then late one afternoon Shelley’s agent dropped by her New York apartment, where she was living with her mother and her daughter, and asked her if she’d finished reading the stage script he’d sent her. It was called Hatful Of Rain.
“I’d like to do it,” Shelley said.
“Great,” said the agent.
“Who do they have in mind for the male parts?” Shelley asked.
“Ben Gazzara for your husband,” said the agent, “and Tony for his brother.”
Shelley blinked. “Tony who?” she asked.
“Franciosa,” said the agent, surprised, “don’t tell me you’ve forgotten who. . . .”
“I remember,” Shelley said, as she walked out of the room. She walked straight to the telephone in her bedroom. She stared at the receiver for a few minutes, then picked it up. She started to dial, then put the receiver down. She went through this routine a few more times. She was about to pick up the receiver again when the phone rang. She stood, staring at it, knowing who it was calling her. The phone rang again. And then it rang again and Shelley picked up the receiver. “Hello?” she said. “Tony? . . . Yes, Tony, isn’t it wonderful? . . . Yes, Tony, yes . . . Well, why—I mean, if you want to—why don’t you come over and we can have a drink to it . . .”
Hatful Of Rain opened and Shelley gave a brilliant performance and Tony was signed to a fat Hollywood contract between the first and second acts of the third performance.
A happy year until . . .
And for about a year Shelley and Tony were deliriously happy. Tony was still married, but it was no secret to anyone who knew him and Shelley that he’d asked his wife for a long-overdue divorce, that Shelley had agreed to marry him when the divorce became final.
When their contracts were up, Tony was notified that he had to fly to the coast—immediately—to make his first picture, This Could Be The Night, with Jean Simmons. He asked Shelley to go along.
“Not right now, Tony,” Shelley told him. “I’ve just read a new play, Girls Of Summer and I’d like to do it here in New York. Look, you go to Hollywood and make the picture and I’ll do the play. They’ll give you Hatful next, for sure, and it’ll be like this all over again, us acting in it together and being together. . . .”
A few months later, Tony was completing the Jean Simmons movie and it was Shelley’s opening night in New York.
Backstage, there was the typical bedlam of tight nerves and strained smiles and earnest good luck cries all around and Shelley, like a nurse in a battle hospital, went around patting the backs of the shaky and trying to give everyone a boost. That’s when she noticed one of the show’s publicists standing with a frown on his face.
“Buck up, Fred,” Shelley smiled, “the reviews’ll be terrific!”
“It’s not that,’ he answered, “it’s just that I can’t help feeling bad for you. About Hatful, I mean.”
“What about Hatful?” Shelley asked.
“I thought for sure they’d use you in it,” the man said.
“Me?” Shelley asked, like she knew all along someone else was going to play the role, her role.
“Silly boy,” Shelley said, as if she meant to say it funny. But the words came out all wrong, and all mixed up with tears.
One thing that mattered
Girls Of Summer lasted for only fifty-six performances. There was only one thing in life that mattered now, aside from the little girl, and that was a fellow named Tony; Shelley flew to Hollywood.
Tony was at the airport to meet them. He kissed Shelley, kissed little Tordy—Vittoria Gina’s nickname—then kissed Shelley again.
“When can we get married?” Shelley whispered to him.
“Beatrice is in Reno now,” Tony said, smiling. “It’s going slow, I know. But she is giving me the divorce.”
“How long is this all going to take?”
“I don’t know for sure,” Tony said, “but just to make the time go a little faster, why don’t you and I get engaged?” Tony reached into his pocket for a ring, a beautiful six-carat marquis diamond. “Like with this,” he said, “and with a little party at my place tomorrow night.”
Shelley describes the engagement party this way:
“We had it at Tony’s hotel, the CHATEAU MARMONT. I decided to make spaghetti with clams for dinner. We had about twelve people there and I was all nervous to begin with. So instead of letting the frozen clams thaw early enough—don’t think I’m a lazy cook; I just didn’t have time to get fresh clams—I left them in the icebox. Then, I suddenly realized everybody was so hungry they were chewing on lemon peels from the martinis Tony was making. I figured I’d better get busy. So I got so nervous I plopped the frozen clams into a china bowl and I plopped them so hard the bowl smashed into a million pieces and the clams went spilling in one lump against the wall. I broke into tears. When I finished crying, I made the spaghetti without clam sauce. It was pretty tasteless. But everybody said it was good just the same—the liars.
“And anyway, Tony and I were officially engaged now and that was what really mattered.”
“Ruining our lives”
For the next few months, everything went fine again. Tony was busy working in pictures, Shelley was getting excellent television offers—and the word from Reno was that the then-Mrs. Franciosa was getting ready to sign the final divorce papers and make her husband free to re-marry.
She signed those final papers on Friday, April 19, in Nevada. As she was signing them, Tony—hundreds of miles away—was about to make headlines.
Tony and Shelley were leaving the Los Angeles City Hall. They had just made an unsuccessful bid on a house in Beverly Hills and were headed for their car when a photographer raced towards them and asked them to hold it for a picture.
“No pictures till my divorce is final,” Tony said, making a bee-line for the car.
The photographer asked them to hold it.
“Please,” Shelley said, “my hair’s a Mess and I haven’t got any lipstick on.”
The photographer cocked his camera.
“Hey,” Tony called out. “I said no!”
The photographer got ready to shoot.
“Hey,” Tony yelled. And then, suddenly, his face turned blood red and he rushed the photographer, kicked the camera out of his hand and began punching. “I said no pictures,” Tony said. “No pictures!”
Shelley tried to pull Tony away from the man, but she couldn’t. She screamed. “Stop it, both of you. Stop it!”
A minute later, three court officers rushed over, got a hard hold on Tony.
Shelley ran after them. “Don’t take him like that,” she begged, crying. “You’re ruining our lives. You’re ruining our lives!”
Sorry about everything
Shelley sat in the living room of her house that night, alone.
She’d been sitting there for about two hours, still staring and thinking when Tony came in. He told her that he was out on bail; that he’d phoned the newspaper and apologized for hitting the photographer and breaking his camera: that he’d explained he’d been under a great emotional strain what with his divorce coming through that day and with the house they’d chosen to live in going from under their noses. That he was sorry about everything that had happened.
“I’m sorry, honey. I’m sorry.”
“I know,” Shelley said, softly.
Shelley looked up at him. She couldn’t help smiling a little when she noticed how much he looked like a little boy now, a boy who’d done something wrong and who’d mustered his courage and sworn he’d never do it again, never.
“I realize this is very rough on you, Shelley,” Tony said.
“Tony. . . .” Shelley said, taking his hand.
“Tony,” Shelley said, “can we get married right away?”
Tony sat on the couch, beside Shelley, now. He didn’t answer her. He just sat there, staring into her eyes for a little while. Then he kissed her. Then, for the first time in many hours, he smiled.
And so they were married, last May, while Tony was on location in Nevada making Obsession with Anna Magnani.
An exclusive interview
A few days before they were married, MODERN SCREEN had an exclusive interview with Shelley. We asked her about Tony and herself, their plans for the future. This is what she told us:
“I can’t wait. Its just a few days from now, but I can’t wait. I love him so much. I love his honesty and his simplicity. Sure, we get angry sometimes. Doesn’t everyone? But with Tony, I always know where I stand because he’s honest and he tells me.
“We have a plan, Tony and I. We want to try to make enough money in a year or two so we can have security and do the things we want to do. Not a fortune, but enough so that we can keep on studying, and go to Europe for a while and live, just live. . . .
“And we want to keep in touch with the people we like. You know, it’s funny. Lots of people say I’m a slob because I don’t wear Christian Dior dresses all day, because I like to just throw something on and go out shopping and mingle with people, because this house I live in here is on a street just like any street in Brooklyn or the Bronx and not all fenced away from the rest of the world. To me it’s important to be with the kind of people I love and grew up with and am supposed to be enacting when I act. And as for this house, well what’s wrong with living on a street where there are other kids so they can come over and play with your daughter and so that she can run down whenever she feels like it and play with them? The house Tony and I were trying to bid for the afternoon of the fight, remember? Well, that was a pretty fancy place up on a hill with a pool and all that stuff. We liked it, yes, but now that I think of it, maybe it’s just as well we didn’t get to buy it. Maybe by getting to buy it we would have gotten away from it all—from people and everything, I mean—and I don’t think either of us would want that. . . .”
So in love
How do they want to live, Tony and Shelley?
“We’re going to want to entertain a lot after we’re married,” Shelley said. “Actually, I love to entertain. There are going to be plenty of nights when we’ll call up eight or twelve people and I’ll cook and well hide the tv and we’ll just sit and talk and have fun. Other nights? Well, well have a maid, yes—you need one in this business. But I want to do most of the cooking. So we figure that on Sundays well shift between dinner at my mother’s and Tony’s mother’s. On Monday through Friday nights we eat home. And on Saturday, that’s the night I want to go out to dinner, get all dressed and go with Tordy and Tony to some restaurant and celebrate, even if the only thing we’re celebrating is the fact that it’s a Saturday night. . . .
“I’m so happy at the way things are working out. Lots of things that look so bad at the time seem to end happily.
“And we’re in love. We’re so in love. . . .”
—BY D. E. LASO
Tony is currently in 20th’s A Hatful Of Rain and MGM’s This Could Be the Night. He’ll soon be seen in Paramount’s Obsession and Warmers’ A Face In the Crowd.
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE AUGUST 1957