What Are Angels Made Of?
At Pier Angeli’s beautiful and impressive wedding ceremony to Vic Damone last November at St. Timothy’s Church, many of her friends wondered why Marisa, her maid of honor, carried two bouquets down the aisle to the altar. They watched as Pier took one of them from Marisa and placed it at the feet of the Virgin Mary. Pier later explained, “That was to ask her to bless our marriage and to make it fruitful.”
It was with great concern that Pier’s family, friends and fans learned that after a turbulent plane trip from Los Angeles she was hospitalized in Palm Springs, suffering from a broken pelvis, shock and a cut above the eye which required stitches, after being thrown against the walls of the powder room on the plane.
What heightened everyone’s concern was that Pier and Vic were expecting a baby in September. In a telephone message, Vic broke the bad news; the X-rays disclosed much more severe injuries than were first thought. “Pier will be hospitalized for a month and the doctors cannot be sure until later whether she will lose the baby,” he explained, distraught. “I pray that all goes well. It’s hard to think straight at a time like this. I’ve been trying to keep up Pier’s spirits, but when I enter her room and see her lying there so tiny and still, my heart sinks and she looks at my face and it’s she that begins to comfort me! Pier has such courage. ‘You must not worry,’ she keeps saying. ‘You must go to Milwaukee for your engagement. Everything will be all right.’ She’s an angel.
“But how could I go? I’m cancelling the show. I just can’t leave Anna now. (Vic calls Pier by her given name, which he pronounces Ah-nah). We’re trying to get somebody to substitute for me. I’ve done it for other people in the past and I hope they will come to my aid now.” But even if a temporary replacement could be found for this one engagement, Vic, heavy heartedly admitted he could not remain by his wife’s side very long for he was booked solid until May. Luckily, Mrs. Pier Angeli and Marisa could be with her. All filmdom who hoped and prayed with the grieving young crooner shared in his joy when doctors reported later the baby was saved.
A few days before the tragic accident, Pier drove up from Palm Springs (where she and her mother had taken a house for a month while Vic was to be away on tour) and Pier was delighted as she talked about the two who are closest to her heart—handsome, curly-haired Vic Damone and the anticipated baby. Pier, a creature of moods, was vivacious and charming, bubbling with talk and plans and sheer happiness. Not even morning sickness or a slight automobile accident on the way dimmed her gaiety. “A little white MG came right in front of me; I couldn’t see it— so bang! But the driver is all right and I am all right; only the cars suffered. It is nothing.
“What I am thinking about now is our house. Vic and I drove for days and days before we were married to look at houses—we wanted to be so sure—but it is not perfect. When we decided to marry so soon after we announced our engagement, everybody said we were so impulsive. Now the marriage is three months old and it is perfect. But the hilltop house we spent so much time finding is not. And I thought we were following Mama’s advice: ‘Before you do anything, think it over three times.’ ”
The rented house, ultra modern, of glass and stone, is circular in construction and perched, like a boat, in a sea of clouds, high up in a lonely section of Beverly Glen canyon. It would seem to be a perfect setting for Pier, who’s one of the few authentic beauties in the motion-picture colony. In her charming Italian accent, Pier talks at times with the touching wistfulness of a small child; at other times, with the mature wisdom of a woman. Her English has improved; no more does she call a hotdog “a sandwich with the fingers on top” or speak of “hombuggers and smashed potatoes” or massacre the bebop phrases which Debbie Reynolds has painstakingly taught her. As she moves around the room, she has the look of a little gazelle in motion.
The house occupied Pier’s attention. “The rooms are on different floors. Now I cannot walk up steps and steps. Even our maid—she gets exhausted carrying the—how you say?—vacuum cleaner up and down.
“But even worse is the aloneness. No houses are near. When Vic and I saw it, we fell in love with it; we thought, How wonderful it is for two lovers to be hidden away where no eyes can see. At night the view from the terrace is divine—the whole city, a blaze of colored lights like a lovely necklace. But Vic must be out singing and rehearsing and recording at night and I haven’t been feeling too well so Vic thinks it better for me no longer to go with him so some nights I stay alone. Many wives do not mind being alone. But for me, I have never been alone at night before. In the windows I see eyes shining, like tiny electric lights. Bobcats, Vic jokes. And owls go ‘whooo’ till your heart feels it will explode! And the thump-thump-thump I hear—I don’t know what it is, but Vic says it is just the branches of trees in the wind.
“When Vic left to go on a recording session one evening not long ago, I asked him to lock me in the bedroom.” Pier shrugs. “Then I started to read. But in the window are the eyes shining, the thump-thump, the whoooo sounds. Our darling little parkakeets suddenly answer and the sound in the still house is like bullets. ‘Anna,’ I say to myself like a stern father, ‘you are not a child any more. You are a grown up married lady. You are going to be a mother.’ But I do not feel at all grown-up. Just then the phone rings. And it is like a scene in a mystery movie before the murder. I jump. It is a friend of Vic’s coming to return his dinner jacket. When he arrives, I make him take me to the recording studio way downtown. I sit on a chair. And I get tired as it is two o’clock, then three. So I stretch out on the floor and sleep a little. When it is six o’clock we go home—Vic and I—and we eat breakfast and the sun is shining and we are together and the view is so wonderful from the terrace that I flip. Debbie Reynolds taught me the word ‘flip.’ It is expressive, no?
“Then I say to myself, how can I be so silly and worry Vic so much. But when the blackness comes and I am alone, then it is not silly. So—we must find someone to rent the wonderful honeymoon house. And move where there are neighbors and no steep steps for me to have to climb.”
As Pier talked it was easy to see that all this was but a small cloud on her horizon. Nothing could take from her the miraculous sense of fulfillment which she experiences in her approaching motherhood. She cannot talk of babies without feeling “a little tightness in my throat. I love babies,” Pier tells you, her eyes shining with warmth, “I’ve loved them since I was little more than a baby myself in Rome. Every baby I saw I wanted to feed and bathe and cuddle in my arms. ‘You will make a good mother,’ Mama would say. And later, she would laugh because always when I see a so-beautiful little baby, fat and laughing in a magazine photograph, I’d cut it out. And I’d put it under the glass on my bedroom lamp table.
“I know how to take care of babies. My little sister Patrizia is six. And when she was born my mother was not well and I used to take care of the baby, feeding her and changing her and being so careful to hold her head and not to stick the pins in her fat little bottom. And when she would cry, I would cry in sympathy.”
When Pier was interned for a month in the hospital in Palm Springs, surrounded by the bouquets of flowers and messages from well-wishers, yet unsure of what was to happen to her and Vic’s future she found strength and peace of mind through prayer. For the young star is, by nature, deeply religious. A devout Catholic, each morning before she headed for the studio, she stopped at her church to attend Mass. Her goodbye to those she loves is invariably “God bless you.” And when, after her marriage, a reporter asked her about children, she said simply, “I want as many children as the Lord will send me.”
This is not alone the feeling of Pier. Vic, who comes from a large, happy family, loves children and believes that babies cement a marriage. As Pier tells it, acting out the pantomime, “Our friends think Vic has lost his mind when they suddenly see him take a bundle of air and sit it in a chair while we’re all at dinner. Then he says, ‘So you won’t eat your spinach, eh? You want Daddy to feed you? Is that it? No? You want to feed yourself? Okay. Look, you’re getting the spinach all over the rug.’ Then Vic cleans up an imaginary spot. And he wipes an imaginary face. Or he will turn to me and say, ‘Anna, you will have to teach this bambino of ours some manners. He’s making mud pies in the living room. And you know what? He prefers Eddie Fisher’s records to mine.’ He is mad, that husband of mine, really mad.
“But then, I’m mad, too. And maybe that’s why we’ve had three wonderful, wonderful months together. Always I write little notes to Vic. Under the pillow I put them saying, ‘I love you. Anna.’ Or on a little bottle of champagne to celebrate a month of marriage I tie a little note saying, ‘You go to my head.’ Or pinned on the draperies, a little note. Even in his pocket he finds them. And once I put one by his soup plate and it fell in and the ink came off in the soup! When we were away on tour sometimes, I’d call him up from the hotel lobby and say, ‘A telegram for Mr. Vic Damone. Will you have a date with me? I will be waiting at the cigarette counter in the lobby. Signed Anna.’ ”
These shenanigans have made the hours gay for the youthful pair and have helped Pier forget the discomforts of pregnancy. For Pier hasn’t felt entirely well during her pregnancy. Tired from picture-making, from the demands of a large wedding, furnishing a house and much travel, the doll-like beauty realizes she needs rest. Her doctor advised her not to travel with Vic but to rest. He’s also advised her not to gain more than eighteen pounds. Since Pier is five-feet-one and weighs but one hundred pounds she will continue to look trim. It’s unthinkable that Pier will ever need to diet. She doesn’t walk, she swings along always in a hurry, full of bounce and vitality.
“Friends,” explains Pier, “are worried that Vic and I must be apart so much. But we aren’t worried because we knew this from the start. I’d like to go with Vic, but he’ll be doing six shows a day and I’d be by myself in a hotel room most of the time. That’s not good for me. It worries Vic when he has to sing and knows I’m not well. He’s so sweet, so kind, and I don’t want to add to the strain he’s under. As an actress, I know any performer is filled with butterflies when he has to go on-stage. Even Tony Martin, after all these years, admitted to me how he feels before each performance. In this life we cannot have everything. This we know, even though the partings are hard to take. But Vic cannot stay in Hollywood all the time; he must move around the country. He’s going to Australia, too. But we hope he’ll be here soon making a picture. And when I can, I’ll go with him.”
Even so, Pier maintains she could not have married anyone but an actor. For only an actor would understand the demands made on his actress wife, And, in turn, she understands his life. “I work hard,” she explains, “and I’m nervous when I’m working. At times I want to be alone. It’s the same with Vic. If he should go off by himself I understand and I don’t pout, as I might if I were a nonworking wife. As I told Vic, ‘You’re married to two people. I belong to you and to the studio.’
At twenty-two, Pier can’t understand why she is thought of as a child bride. She realizes that she looks about fifteen, but in her heart she knows that she is a woman. “It’s true,” she says, “that three years ago when I was making ‘Devil Makes Three’ with Gene Kelly, during our love scenes he’d say, ‘Stop looking at the floor, Anna. Look at me. Don’t you know what it is to be in love?’ And I’d shake my head. Three years is a long time in the life of a girl. Now I know how to express love. Because I am in love.”
In her pixie way, she’s drawn up a surprising list of ways by which a wife can maintain a husband’s interest. First off, she lists a change of moods, an unexpected quality, to keep a marriage from growing monotonous. “Who,” she asks reasonably, while wrinkling her pert little nose, “wants to eat spaghetti with tomato sauce over and over? But if you serve the pasta with clam sauce, with garlic and oil, with butter and cheese, it never grows tiresome. And when a wife changes her moods she’s treated differently. Sometimes Vic treats me like a baby (he even says I’m spoiled, but I don’t think so); other times he treats me like the woman I believe myself to be.
“And I try to please him. Now, I like my hair long, though the brushing and brushing makes me tired. But when Vic and I saw Doris Day in a movie with short hair, Vic said, ‘Why don’t you cut your hair?’ So, when most American actresses are giving up the Italian haircut, here is an Italian who just got one. And I like it very much for a change.”
And, indeed, Pier’s chestnut-bronze hair, curled about her face, is most becoming. The slim black toreador trousers, the Italian hand-fashioned turtle-neck sweater she wore made a distinctive costume with a huge greatcoat of tangerine and an oversize carryall purse of the same material.
“Maybe,” she smiled impishly, “I am so interested in the romance of marriage because in the kitchen, in the apron, I do not shine. I can cook—spaghetti, lasagna, chicken cacciatore—but the smell of the food while I am preparing it takes away my appetite and I can’t eat. So Vic is unhappy. But he is a wonderful cook—a great cook. And he loves to cook beautiful Italian dinners. Even my mother who is herself a great cook compliments Vic on his skill. Vic and I are a little wacky, too, on how we eat. In the middle of the night we go to Pepe De Lucia for a big dinner; at odd hours we simply must have a pizza from the Villa Capri. And Mama, knowing how important food is to a husband, trained our maid in Italian cooking while we were honeymooning at Las Vegas. But to run a house right I have a lot to learn. ‘Just keep out of the way of the maid,’ says Mama. She knows I haven’t had time to learn housekeeping.”
What Pier cannot understand is why her adoring bridegroom often insists on believing that she is unable to do the smallest thing. He likes to make jokes about this. “For instance, when friends ask where I am, he will answer. ‘Oh, she’s home, washing down the walls of the kitchen.’ Or ‘She’s busy in the garage giving my Thunderbird a Simonizing job.’ Pier looked down at her delicate, slender ballerina fingers and pouted, “I don’t know what is Simonizing. But I could learn to do it—if I had to.”
Not as easy, though, is the handling of finances. Vic, who is a thorough businessman, is helping to teach Pier the value of budgeting. Presents for others and clothes for herself are her downfall. “When I get money in my pockets—poof!—it’s gone,” Pier cheerfully admits. “But that’s changing now. It’s Vic’s money and I’m learning to be more careful in how I spend it.”
Still clothes and shoes—beautiful spiky heeled, handmade Italian and French shoes make her flip. “If your shoes are beautiful,” maintains Pier, “it doesn’t matter what else you wear. But I don’t think that designers would agree with me.” Pier dresses in exquisite taste and has closets of fabulous clothes from Marie Gromtseff of Paris, Fontana, and House of Antonelli of Rome. It’s true that beautiful clothes and shoes make her happy. But that is only a secondary happiness. The main ones come from her husband and the knowledge that children will bless this marriage.
Both Pier and Vic admit that “September Song” is their song. They played it in Germany when they first dated. And they played it again when they met unexpectedly at M-G-M. It’s a strange song for young lovers, instead is more suited to those at the twilight of life with its haunting words: “And these few precious hours I’ll spend with you.”
Laughing Pier has a solution. “Just take out the word ‘few’ and the line is just right for Mr. and Mrs. Vic Damone,” she says. “No matter what, we know, Vic and I, that ours will be a long lifetime of precious moments together.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JUNE 1955