Biography

Rome Closed City

Anna Maria and Maria Luisa

“Anna and I have always been very different, but we were sisters after all, and we cared for each other as two sisters normally do, without exaggeration, because our personalities would soon tell us even more apart.”

Marisa Pavan Aumont

Soumoy, Margaux. “Drop the Baby; Put a Veil on the Broad!” – Marisa Pavan’s Story, FriesenPress, 2021

Maria Luisa “Marisa” Pierangeli was born on June 19, 1932 in Cagliari, Sardinia shortly after her fraternal twin Anna Maria “Anna”.

Marisa’s architect father Luigi Pierangeli, born in 1906, was the only child of a middle-class Catholic family of Frontone on the Adriatic coast. Luigi lost his father at an early age and was raised by his bourgeois mother and powerful clerical uncle who educated him under traditional religious conventions.

Marisa’s stay-at-home mother Enrichetta “Enrica” Romiti shared a similar background with Luigi. Born in 1908, she was the only child of an influential middle-class Catholic family of Fossombrone on the Adriatic coast and was raised by her powerful, bourgeois mother and grandmother since her father had died during World War I.

Luigi and Enrica fell in love and married when they were still young students, in spite of Enrica’s family’s reluctance for her to get married that young and with a boy who, they claimed, did not fit their standards.

Marisa and Anna circa 1934
Source / Thanks: Patrizia Pierangeli, Paolo Faillace

In 1935, when Luigi’s three-year contract to drain mosquito-infested swamps in Sardinia was over, the family moved back to Rome where Luigi’s independent architecture company was located, and the family settled on the third floor of an apartment built and owned by Luigi himself on Via Nemorense.

Luigi and Enrica revealed themselves to be strict parents who wanted to give their daughters the traditional and conservative education they had both received.

As for Marisa and Anna who already did not look alike physically in spite of Enrica’s determination to always dress her twins alike, their psychological differences would soon tell them even more apart. Moon versus sun; cat versus dog; sour versus sweet… you name it! Marisa was a rebellious, introvert personality who favored more her mother in terms of looks and mentality and wasn’t that close to her father, while Anna was a docile, extrovert personality who favored her father in addition to being a daddy’s girl. No particular bond was ever noticed between the twins though they always had much consideration and respect for each other.

World War II

In June 1940, Fascist Italy entered World War II as an ally of Nazi Germany, and the horrors of the war soon impacted the Pierangeli family, just like so many other families in the world. Rome became occupied by the German army, and the frontiers were watched closely.

Food was severely lacking in the capital and lines of starving civilians began to form in front of grocery stores. Unable to bear the situation any longer, Enrica decided to leave her family for a couple of months to go get food outside the capital by dressing like a man and hiding in trucks to reach the lands of her native Adriatic coast. Luigi and his daughters seemed to have lost all hope to see her even coming back alive, yet Enrica surprised her loved ones when she came back home one day with bags full of food.

During the war, the Pierangeli family took another risk: that of hiding in their cellar General Pavan, a Jewish friend of theirs who was wanted by the Nazis and the fascists. One of the family’s uncles from Enrica’s side had also been an officer under the commandments of the General in the past. Little Marisa would grow particularly fond of him during the war years.

From June 1944, the German army was chased from Rome by the Americans, and the war came to an end shortly after Mussolini’s death on April 28th, 1945, the monster who scared Marisa for life, thus allowing her to become both an acute observer of the world and a rebellious soul from a very young age.

I had never imagined that a plain, ridiculous joke would someday unleash my acting career…

Marisa Pavan Aumont
Marisa promotional photo for the film The Rose Tattoo.
Made by American photographer Milton Greene.
Photo found on eBay by Margaux Soumoy.
Marisa promotional photo for the film The Rose Tattoo.
Made by American photographer Milton Greene.
Photo found on eBay by Margaux Soumoy.

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. 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.

Marisa (right) and her twin sister Anna Maria, inseparable before fame.
Photo source : Magazine Screenland Plus TV-Land (around 1954).
Marisa (right) and her twin sister Anna Maria, inseparable before fame.
Photo source : Magazine Screenland Plus TV-Land (around 1954).

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.

California

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. 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.

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.
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.

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.

Jean-Pierre Aumont

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.
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.

1956 Oscars

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.

Births

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.
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.

TV

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.

France

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.