I had never imagined that a plain, ridiculous joke would someday unleash my acting career…
Marisa promotional photo for the film The Rose Tattoo.
Made by American photographer Milton Greene.
Photo found on eBay by Margaux Soumoy.
Birth and infancy
Marisa Pavan was born Maria Luisa Pierangeli in Cagliari, Sardinia (Italy) on June 19th 1932, 20 minutes after her twin sister Anna Maria. Her father, Luigi Pierangeli was a renowned architect and her mother Enrica Romiti, who had always dreamed of breaking into show business as a teenager, was a housewife. When Marisa (diminutive for Maria Luisa) and her sister Anna were only three, the family moved to Rome.
Anna, a naturally dreamy and naive young girl became interested in studying arts and took some painting and sculpture lessons whereas Marisa, a brilliant, hard-working and ambitious student preferred foreign languages and translation. Having a very down-to-earth personality, she’s always been much more independent and stable in her life and work than her sister.
Their younger sibling Patrizia was born in Rome on November 15th 1947.
Marisa and Anna
Even if they were twins, Marisa and Anna didn’t look alike at all, had opposite personalities but both were extremely beautiful.
Anna’s face looked angelic and innocent, she had big beautiful green eyes and chestnut hair (which would become darker within the years). She was also very thin and a bit taller than her twin.
Marisa (right) and her twin sister Anna Maria, inseparable before fame.
Photo source : Magazine Screenland Plus TV-Land (around 1954).
As for Marisa, her unique beauty was quite different. She had a roundish short face with sparkling dark eyes and straight, dark hair. She’s been looking like a mature woman since she was about 13 years old.
Anna was much closer to their father Luigi (to whom she looked a lot alike) whereas Marisa had the looks and character of their mother Enrica. As for Patrizia, she was a joyful mix of her two older sisters.
The spring of 1948
In the spring of 1948, the twins’ fate suddenly changed when Vittorio De Sica (well-known Italian actor and director) discovered Anna walking alone after she had just finished one of her classes. He accosted her in the streets of Rome and invited her to meet one of his friends, Leonide Moguy (Russian-born French director), who was looking for a young girl to play the leading role in his film Domani è troppo tardi (Tomorrow Is Too Late).
Anna had previously met him and inspired him when both were visiting actress Rina De Liguoro in her apartment after phoning Anna’s father Luigi for his architect job.
After an unexpected meeting, Anna was hired and the film was a huge success. It won 5 prizes and Anna was given an Italian award for “Best Actress of the Year” at the Venice Festival. Her newly-discovered acting talent was then noticed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer who offered her a 7-year contract in Hollywood.
That is why in 1950 and without any expectation, Marisa left Italy with Anna, Patrizia and their mother Enrica to settle down in California. Their father Luigi had died of disease shortly before they moved.
Anna, now re-named “Pier Angeli” in Hollywood, was a successful actress who made great movies such as Teresa (1951), The Light Touch (1951) and The Devil Makes Three (1952), while Marisa continued her studies in foreign languages and journalism. She absolutely didn’t want to be an actress and had never imagined that a plain, ridiculous joke would someday unleash her acting career.
A simple joke
One day, American producer Albert Romolo Broccoli (better known as “Cubby Broccoli”) asked Marisa to act in front of an unknown audience just for fun, which she accepted. He brought her on a set at Twentieth-Century Fox and she was asked to sing in French, which she did once again, convinced that it was a plain joke. There she saw a young actress named Anne Bancroft dressed exactly like her and she freaked out.
It was too late! This “joke” turned into an unexpected audition in front of the great John Ford, who hired Marisa for his film What Price Glory (set for release in 1952) : “ I had never imagined that a plain, ridiculous joke would someday unleash my acting career… ” said Marisa.
Marisa at the age of 19 in her first film role :
French orphan Nicole Bouchard in What Price Glory, a John Ford film.
Here, singing for Lewisohn whom she’s in love with (played by Robert Wagner).
Source : DVD screenshot.
Time passed and Marisa became increasingly interested in acting. Refusing to be under contract with a particular studio, she hired an agent who was proposing her roles she would accept or refuse.
From Marisa Pierangeli to Marisa Pavan…
Immediately after becoming a Hollywood actress, Marisa had to come up with a new name to satisfy producers. She obviously couldn’t use “Pierangeli” (her twin sister was already known under that name) After much reflection she settled on the name “Pavan”, the name of a Jewish officer that her family accepted to hide in their home during WW2, and who positively fascinated her.
In 1953, Marisa caught her first glimpse of the man she would marry 3 years later. At that time, she was in Paris to escort her sister Anna, who was filming Mam’zelle Nitouche. One night, the two sisters decided to go out and watch the play “Les Pavés du ciel” with French performers Jean-Pierre Aumont and Micheline Presle. At the end of the representation, Marisa and Anna went into Jean-Pierre’s dressing room to congratulate him. Marisa, very shy, gazed at him without saying a word.
They met again by chance in Hollywood in 1956, fell in love and were married in Santa Barbara on March 27th 1956. Everything had been done so quickly. Marisa met for the first time the lovely Maria-Christina “Tina” Aumont, daughter of Jean-Pierre and Dominican actress María Montez, who had died in 1951.
With her husband Jean-Pierre, who said about her :
She has a depth of mind and a real maturity that no one had ever noticed.
Photo source : Modern Screen Magazine (1956).
Source of Jean-Pierre’s quote : Magazine Screenland Plus TV-Land.
She appeared in The Rose Tattoo with Anna Magnani, a movie adapted from a play by the talented playwright Tennessee Williams whose works Marisa was already familiar with. Filming this picture had not been very easy but Marisa ended up with a nomination for “Best Supporting Actress” at the 1956 Academy Awards. This role remained her favorite throughout her entire career.
On August 13th 1957 Marisa gave birth to a son, Jean-Claude. She continued making movies in Hollywood such as The Midnight Story with Tony Curtis, John Paul Jones (in which her husband Jean-Pierre also played) and Solomon and Sheba which was not a happy memory for her.
On February 10th 1960 she gave birth to a second son, Patrick.
Marisa surrounded by her family in August 1960.
She holds in her arms her son Jean-Claude.
Jean-Pierre and his daughter Tina look at the little Patrick.
Photo source : Oggi Italian Magazine,
Photo provided by Èlia Novella Dalmau.
From the 1960s, Marisa worked more in television. Among her best memories was the episode “Come Back to Sorrento” from the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse series, the episode “Ambush” from the Combat series and “The Diary of Anne Frank” in 1967.
Concerts and discs
However, Marisa was more than a television/cinema actress, she was also a singer, appeared in concerts and recorded her own albums. She toured Europe and America with Jean-Pierre and performed in plays such as “Gigi”. In the 1970s, she made a few more French films.
Nowadays Marisa lives in Gassin, in the South of France and organizes gala charity events every year in order to raise money for her URMA association, an association she founded herself to support and finance research laboratories working to find treatments against Alzheimer.
Her sister Patrizia lives in Paris and uses her delightful voice to dub movies and record songs and nursery rhymes. Both sisters are perfectly fluent in several languages including Italian, English, French and even Spanish. They remained very close to each other, especially since Anna’s premature death on September 10th 1971.