The Damones’ Design For Living: The den-with a house around it
“Say, Vic, you sure you want to go home at this hour?” asked the cab driver who had just picked Vic Damone up at the airport. He’d recognized his famous fare and already he had Vic’s best interests at heart. “Four A.M. is an ungodly time for a man to be arriving home. My old lady would murder me if I barged in at this hour.”
“Singers and traveling salesmen keep strange hours,” Vic commented sleepily. “I’ll risk it.”
The risk wasn’t too great. Pier expected him home some time that night. Vic had called her that morning from New York, as he always does when they are in separate cities. He’d told her how much he loved her, how he missed her, and that after he wound up the recording date he’d be on the next flight out. He promised he’d catch something going west, if he had to charter a private plane.
Pier had laughed at his recklessness, but she half believed him. Vie had done crazier things than that out of impatience to reach her in a hurry. Last year he had cancelled dates in Florida, Detroit and Chicago so that he could fly to London, where she was working in Port Afrique. The clubs threatened to sue, but Vic simply couldn’t stand the, separation. He threw caution to the winds and got his agent to book him into the London Palladium, where he could work and be near his wife. He still felt the same way.
“Don’t try to meet me,” he shouted across the long-distance connection, “but I’ll make it as soon as I can.”
“I’ll be waiting, darling,” she promised before she hung up.
And now it was well into the small hours of the morning. Vie had caught a non-stop plane, but it had run into headwinds and arrived five hours late. He was dead tired and now, to top it off, a kindly cab driver was trying to discourage him from going straight home!
“You’d be smart to try that new airport hotel,” continued the cabby. “A lot of business men come in late and go right over there to sleep.”
“Yeah, I suppose they do,” Vic agreed, “but let’s try my place tonight, okay?”
“You’re the boss,” said the man cheerfully, and he drove away whistling, “Lost In A Dream,” off-key.
As they headed for west Los Angeles and the Bel Air section in particular, a cold mist blew in from the ocean. It enveloped the taxi and slowed them down to a crawl. Vic dozed in the back seat.
“You sure this is the right way?” muttered the confused driver. “I’ve never been up in these hills before.”
“Just keep going,” directed Vic sleepily. “We live at the very top. It’s the last house on the right—has white columns in front and the dogs bark.”
“Oh yeah, I can see it up ahead,” said the cabby with obvious relief. “I hope you make out O.K. with the missus. I see she covered your car over. Good idea to protect it from the salt air.”
“Covered what?” Vic sat bolt upright. His eyes were wide open and straining to penetrate the fog. By the glare of the headlights he, too, could see a strange shape in the circular driveway. It was covered with some shiny plastic material.
Before the cab had stopped, Vie had the door open and he was running to investigate. There stood a silver-grey Thunderbird, completely covered with cellophane and tied with a huge ribbon. The card attached said, “Welcome home, darling, from Anna Maria.”
Pier Angeli and Vic Damone have been married just over one year. They’ve known near-tragedy and unbelievable happiness. And none of the newness has worked off their marriage. If possible, they are happier, handsomer, wiser and wealthier than they’ve ever been.
They are happier because of many things, but the A-number-one reason for feeling so blessed is ten-month-old Perry Damone. This husky, smiling son is remarkable in himself, but he seems miraculous to Pier and Vic, because the events preceding his birth were so harrowing.
As the story goes—Pier had her doctor’s permission to fly to the desert for sun and rest while Vic finished up some singing engagements in the east. A few minutes out of Ontario, Pier went to the powder room to brush her hair and freshen her make-up. She stood there, day-dreaming and running a comb through her long, thick hair. The next thing she remembers she was thrown against the top of the cabin and back to the floor. The hostess had neglected to tell her the plane was about to land and to take her seat.
After this freakish accident, the doctors feared that Pier would surely lose the baby. Later they held out some small hope. However, if he were born, there were grave doubts that he would be unaffected by the rough fall.
But Perry proved to be indestructible. He was born on September 21st and he hasn’t had a day of serious illness to date. Right away he started conforming to his parents’ idea of what a little angel should be. He developed tight, curly hair, a toothless grin, and a love for people and dogs.
“He’s so much like Vic,” marvels Pier happily. “I only have to look at him to know what Vic must have been as a baby. And every day they grow more alike in disposition, looks and sense of humor. Perry even has a gold identification bracelet like his father’s. It just kills me to see the same type of gold link band that I’m used to seeing on Vic’s wrist on that chubby arm.
“Marisa gave him the bracelet when he was christened. She’s his godmother and when she asked me what to buy for the baby I said, anything so long as it’s something Vic has, too. Well, the bracelet was the perfect choice.”
Little Perry is also a traveling man like his father. When he was hardly four months old Pier had to go to England. She hated to leave him behind, because the pediatrician had cautioned her to be on the alert for any possible after-effects of the accident. So she got him a passport. He flew to London with his wonderful nurse, Marta. They weren’t in England very long before Marta begged to take her little charge to the Netherlands to visit her sister. Pier could see no danger in one more short hop so she gave her consent. All told, Perry has logged about 18,000 air miles, and he’s not yet a year old.
Their second biggest delight is the home they return to after their travels.
“We’ll always spend some part of every year in Europe,” says Pier, “but a family needs a home base, and I hope this will always be ours.”
The house that Pier and Vic bought, after renting a few smaller homes, is at the top of Bel Air. It’s at the absolute end of one of those winding mountain roads that makes Bel Air so spectacular and so expensive. Pier saw the house first and completely succumbed to it. The view of the hills and the distant ocean reminded her so much of Italy.
Vic was a little more practical in his approach. He liked the American Colonial architecture of the house with its velvety green lawn, but he didn’t want to be stampeded into a quick sale. He wanted to be sure that they bought a house whose real estate value would increase, if anything. He wanted a house that was large and well-built, so that it would take care of their family needs for a long, long time. And he wanted a house that wouldn’t look dated in a few years.
Vic asked Paul Trusdale, a friend and real estate developer, to look at the house with him. The expert checked the construction, the taxes and the future of the neighborhood. He pronounced it a “find.” Vic not only bought the ten-room, two-story house, but also the lot next door for a future pool and guest house.
Once Vic agreed to buy the house, nothing could stop Pier. She plunged into the job of decorating as though her life depended on it. She drew floor plans. She made scale models. She worked out her color combinations, and she bought a lot of fine paintings by a young Frenchman named Jean Tabead.
“It’s a wonderful way to make the months speed by,” Pier confided to her sister not long ago. “You start measuring, budgeting, ordering and reordering and by the time the house is half-furnished the baby is here.”
And that’s about what happened to Pier. She chose all her paint colors and wallpaper before they moved into the house, so they wouldn’t have to live with that topsy-turvy mess. As soon as the painting was done, she and Vic moved into an empty house, and for months they ate off a borrowed card table and sat on borrowed chairs, while the Herman Schlorman Co. made their furniture.
Den of Damones
Pier went to just one decorating firm (owned by friends of Vic’s), because her obstetrician didn’t want her traipsing from store to store, hunting for just the right piece of furniture. She outlined her ideas of how she expected to use each room and then she and the professional decorators went to work assembling a whole house. She explained to them that the den would be the family’s room. She and Vic eat breakfast in this sun-filled room and have a snack here at night. They watch television and scatter the evening papers around in here. As Perry grows up, he can drag in his toys and books, if he wants to be near his parents. Anything goes in the den.
Trying to fit all these needs into one room took a little thinking, but Pier managed. She put a dainty wrought iron table and chairs at one end of the room. The glass top table with the pale blue frame seems to disappear into the background when no one is sitting around it. But when the Damones are having their usual morning meal of two raw eggs, fruit and coffee, it is very much there.
At the opposite end of the room is the fireplace and a television set. A contoured couch and coffee table face this side of the room, and separate the eating area from the den part.
“We only expected to use the den when we were alone,” says Vic, “but it has such an easy, informal air that we can never get our friends to move into the regular living room. The den gets all the company and our pink and black living room is used mostly as my rehearsal studio.
“The boys—Johnnie Williams, Ian Bernard, Sid Bulkin and I—go in there where the piano is, to rehearse my new numbers. We work out night-club routines and figure out my whole act. I’m away so much that it’s darned nice to be able to work at home some of the time.”
The chair fixation
Vic also transacts a lot of business in his second floor office. He had a huge, custom-built desk and floor-to-ceiling cabinets and shelves put in the extra bedroom. It makes a handsome and useful office. Vic selected his own wallpaper and all the fabrics. And he was particularly fussy about the chairs.
“I have a fixation about chairs,” Vic admits jokingly. “Most of. them really aren’t comfortable. I believe that you’ve got to feel a chair the moment you sit down, or it’s not the right chair for you.”
He tested all the chairs and couches Pier was considering buying. Before he’d let her keep any of them he tried them out. He insists that guests in his house test, too, and he’s right. Sitting at the Damones’ is exceptionally comfortable.
The master bedroom was Pier’s special delight. She spent weeks picking out the right shade of delicate pink for her sheer curtains and bedspread. She selected only the most fragile-looking French furniture. And it was worth all the effort, because the room is like a pink cloud, Just brushing her hair in this room gives Pier a happy glow.
Being married has wrought a subtle change in both the young Damones. They have more assurance, more confidence. Having the baby and a home of her own has been responsible for Pier’s changing from a sweetly obedient daughter to a poised and provocative woman.
“And does she have self-confidence,” laughs her husband. “In her last picture she was supposed to sing a French song and then do one half of it in English and one half in Spanish. The studio expected to dub in a professional singer’s voice, but no. My wife said she would do her own recording, so the director called for a full orchestra, a musical conductor—the works. And my shy little bride, who’d never even watched a recording session, stepped up to the microphone and did the sound track on the first take. Now RCA Victor wants her to sign a record contract!”
Pier is wise in wifely ways, too. She adores her handsome husband and she shows it by always looking her best, being cheerful—and just a little demanding.
“It’s good to tell a husband you’re in love with him,” says Pier. “Girls should do this more often. But then you must also make him appreciate you, too.
“To show what I mean. Before we were married Vic had a bad habit of always being late with me. Finally I told him that if he really loved me, he’d think of me an hour before our date and then he would be on time. He liked my reasoning, and he’s never been late since.”
Vic has matured in other ways as well. When he first hit Hollywood he was so caught up in the excitement of show business and his own success that he couldn’t stop anyone or anything. He didn’t have time to catch his breath, much less plan for the future. But having a wife and a son has changed Vic’s values. He’s no longer self-centered. In fact, he’s always thinking of others. He thinks of ways to make their work lighter—for Marta the nurse, and Adriane, the Italian-speaking cook. He’s forever bringing Pier flowers or a sweater or a piece of jewelry, and he’s on wonderful terms with his mother-in-law, Mrs. Pierangeli.
These character changes are beginning to be reflected in Vic’s singing, too. It has gained new depth and richness. His friends have noticed this for some time. His fans are responding, too, and his latest Columbia record, “The Street Where You Live,” looks like a million-seller. But that’s not what Vic Damone counts as his ‘greatest blessing.
“I’ve got my wife, I’ve got my son, I’ve got a beautiful home,” says Vic humbly, “I can’t ask for anything more. I’m the most happy fella.”
—BY MARVA PETERSON
Pier can currently be seen in Somebody Up There Likes Me (MGM) and will soon appear in Columbia’s Port Afrique.
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 1956