Anna Maria Pierangeli and her twin sister Marisa Pavan were born on June 19, 1932, in Cagliari, Italy situated in the southern region where Sardinia overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. When the twins were three, the Pierangeli family moved to Rome where both little girls set their sights on becoming film stars. The time came to realize their dreams and Anna adopted her surname and split it in half. She would find fame as Pier Angeli, a nom de plume that would drift upon the memories of her friends and associates long after her untimely death.
Angeli’s first appearance was in an uncredited role in the 1948 Italian production of The Million Dollar Nickel. It was largely a forgettable film, however, for Pier Angeli, at 16, although a predominantly tempestuous beginning for she would not appear on screen again until 1951, it was a start. Between 1949 and 1951 she appeared in stage productions and found work in menial jobs but she found how the powers of frustration could mercilessly hinder her progress for she longed to become a part of the lights and the glamour.
Yet it seemed her impassioned yearnings were answered when Angeli’s debut came to her in the Vittorio De Sica film Domani è troppo tardi (“Tomorrow Is Too Late”) in 1951. It appeared she had become famous overnight when she was awarded a Silver Ribbon (Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists) for Best Actress for her performance in the film. She later appeared in The Light Touch as Anna Vasarri opposite Stewart Granger, but it was during the same year when MGM signed her to play “Teresa” in the Fred Zinnemann film that at 18 the critiques compared her with Greta Garbo. She was awarded the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Female Newcomer in 1952 an accolade that would carry her toward The Devil Makes Three, a film that followed in 1952 wherein she appeared alongside Gene Kelly. Then in 1954, she played in Mam’zelle Nitouche (Oh No, Mam’zelle) then Somebody up There Likes Me in 1956 with Paul Newman. That particular role had been earmarked for James Dean, but after his death, Newman was contracted and would thereby make his acting debut. In 1959 Angeli made a well-received record of Italian songs titled “Italia con Pier Angeli”. Her singing voice had already been used in “Mam’zelle Nitouche” and again in “Port Afrique” and she was finally fully established.
She had a brief affair with James Dean to whom she became engaged, but under constant pressure from her dominant mother who engineered a change of phone number so that Dean could not reach her daughter, Pier broke the engagement and later married Vic Damone in 1954. However, it was not a happy union and when Dean, 24 died in a car crash in 1955 by 1959 Angeli’s marriage was in trouble. After their divorce, she and Damone were plagued by court battles for the custody of their son, Perry who was awarded to his mother until his teens when he went to live with his father.
After her divorce, Angeli returned to live and to work in Britain and Europe and made a strong comeback to British drama. She starred opposite Richard Attenborough in The Angry Silence in 1960 and was nominated for Best Actress for her performance. She married her second husband in 1962, Italian composer Armando Trovajoli with whom she had another son, Andrew.
Reunited with Stewart Granger in the film Sodom and Gomorrah she followed on with a brief role in the epic film Battle of the Bulge in 1965. In 1968 she named James Dean the greatest love of her life and during a turbulent four-year period through to 1970, Armando Trovajoli left Pier Angeli in 1965. She later, in 1971, made her final appearance in a low budget B-grade sci-fi opus Octaman. It was the event that brought an undeniable understanding to Angeli that her dream of super-stardom would never come to fruition. It was the final blow that rendered her asunder.
On September 10, 1971, Pier Angeli was found dead of a barbiturate overdose in her Beverly Hills home. She was 39 years old. On 14 September 1971 Angeli’s funeral service was held at The Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. Vic Damone, her son Perry, Norma Eberhard, Dr. Ramon Spritzler, Liza Minelli, and the families of Kirk Douglas and Louis Jordan attended the service, later she was interred at the Cimitière des Bullis in Rueil-Malmaison, France.
- Main Image: Annamaria Pierangeli [Wikimedia Commons]