The good-looking pilot flashed me a wide American grin. “Hello there, Miss Hopper,” he said. “This is a little different from our last trip together, hey?”
We were roaring high over the Alps on the way to Italy, and below in the frosty moonlight the mountains looked like huge, unreal peaks of vanilla ice-cream. Inside, the plane was packed with a cosmopolitan crew. A big blond Swede, a chilly Briton, swarthy Armenian merchants, animated Italians and three silent, brown Arabians wrapped in white turbans and burnooses - millionaire oil kings from the Near East, for this fast plane to Rome would continue on to Cairo.
“I’ll say it’s different,” I answered as I recognized the skipper. “The last time I saw you was when you flew some movie stars and me out of Hollywood on a big ballyhoo junket, wasn’t it?”
He nodded. “Yeah, but now, all roads lead to Rome. Everybody’s got something crazy to do over here -- or if they haven’t,” he laughed, “they’re hoping like anything to find it!”
I couldn’t have tagged it better myself -- the rainbow-chasing rush to Europe that’s seized the Hollywood movie world. For personal proof, here was I, deserting my desk, hopping across America and the Atlantic and hundreds of miles more to hunt up Hollywood stories and track down straying screen stars caught in the Continental craze. Chasing pots of gold, all of them, of one kind or another -- fun, excitement, escape, new romances, new glamour, new careers. And finding -- what? The gleaming precious stuff of their dreams -- or just fool’s gold?
My job was to find out, and I tackled the first troubled trail the minute I’d checked my bags in at that movie land mecca in Rome, the Excelsior Hotel. I grabbed a cab and rolled through winding streets to an address I had. It lay up a dead-end street blocked by an untidy market. Dogs, dirty kids, rags and vegetables littered the swarming street. The Italian cop waved me back. I had to go around the block and come in another way, climb four dark flights of stairs in a nondescript apartment building, enter one of two tiny rooms gloomy with heavy Italian oak furniture and with dozens of black-framed photographs on the walls. The light was bad -- but I knew Ingrid Berman when I saw her.
dreams and nightmares . . .
She was pacing the rug as I came in, frowning and upset. She wore a plain blue cotton dress, no make-up, open sandals and no stockings. Her legs were sunburned and scarred, ankle to knee, from the rocks of Stromboli. She was seething with anger because a Roman newspaper that very morning had announced that she was expecting a baby.
I sat there while she paced the floor, using words which I'd never heard Ingrid use before. I watched her tortured face and heard her injured outcries at a world which, to her amazement, had flayed her reckless behavior. I heard her say repeatedly, "Americans think they own me . . . it's my own life to live . . . " -- and voice the bitter question, "Is it a sin to fall in love?"
I heard her say she couldn't come back and face the curious mob in America, she couldn't go to Sweden, she couldn't even go downtown in Rome, she'd be risking her life. She was there in that hideout and there she would stay.
But all the while she knew better, and I knew better, too. I told her, "You've got to face it. You can't hide forever. You've got to live."
"I'm not a woman with a long record of romances," she cried. "I've been a good wife."
"That's just it -- they built you up as perfect, and the world bought a dream. Now you've smashed it."
"But I've worked harder than any actress ever worked -- worked like a slave to make a great picture! Rossellini is a great director -- you will see ! You will see!"
I left after two hours, left Ingrid Bergman bitter and hurt at what she had found at the end of the rainbow across the sea -- a doubtful future, a sorely injured reputation, a broken home and the punctured bubble of her saintly illusion.
And yet I felt that would pass directors and other Hollywood hot-shots are dwelling like Caesars in villas and palaces.
The basic reason for the whole hectic Hollywood overseas invasion is that Hollywood studios have money in Europe that, owing to currency regulations, they can't take out, but can spend there. So they're using it making pictures.
Thus, you can't take a step around Europe these days without crossing the trails of Hollywood stars, and you don't need a bloodhound to pick 'em up either. The swaths they cut are wide and the paths high and handsome. Everywhere I went, for instance, that sensational, scandalous scamp, Errol Flynn, still lingered on -- or the glamour of the guy did, that is. So while I just missed Errol in person all the way, I ran into his aftermath everywhere.
Errol was off to Venice just before I landed in Rome -- to live in a palace, of course, and hob-nob with titles and swells as he does everywhere. He had his yacht on the Mediterranean and cruised around like a millionaire, which he isn't, in the grand style of a Don Juan, which he certainly is. You've got to hand it to Flynn, whether you like him or not. He gets around where things are popping, he has fun every minute he lives, and he can slip out of entanglements and responsibilities like a greased pig.
Everywhere I went, I ran into lovely sighing ex-romances of Errol's, quivering at his memory. He'd raided the Rivera, lionized all the parties, swooned all the girls. He'd even poked his nose into Stromboli, the only Hollywood star bold enough to try that. But he just had to see what was going on when lovely Ingrid's heart turned itself loose. Errol stayed part of one day, had a frugal lunch of bread, cheese and wine -- and all there was -- took a horrified look around that bleak island and at a Bergman de-glamorized and too earthy for Errol. It didn't look promising. "Gad," he muttered, "what am I doing here?" -- and sailed right off. The rugged art life is not for Errol.
not so charming . . .
But there were a few people Errol didn't charm so much-- some passengers on the plane that winged him across to Europe to start his heart-breaking tour. I heard about that from one of them, in person, in a plane, myself. I'll tell it -- just in case my doing so might help Flynn to mind his manners next time (which I doubt!).
Seems Errol made a round of the Manhattan bards before he climbed aboard ship and, the minute he did, insisted on his berth being made up right away for a snooze. That meant discommoding the rest of the passengers, who hadn't had dinner yet. No sooner tucked away, Errol rang the bell every other minute, stomped up and down in his night robe and generally made himself a pest. At Gander, Newfoundland, he was roundly booed by his fellow-travelers, which didn't bother him a bit. So he got booed again when he stepped off at Paris. You can carry the lordly charm too far -- especially when your audience isn't amused.
If I had to come up with one favorite glamour-pair in Europe, the answer would be easy: the Tyrone Powers. No wonder Ty hated to come back home to Hollywood, stayed away from the States almost two years. He was having too grand a time on the Continent. In Italy they consider him an Italian, he hung around there so long -- more than that, a royal Italian. Not since Mussolini, and before him, Pompey and Caesar, paraded in triumph through the ancient streets, has a Roman mob gone so wild as they did over Ty's and Linda's wedding. Thousands lined the way to the church, shouting, "Our Prince!" Flowers and gifts littered their path.
Ty and Linda have lived in nothing but the grandest style since they were married. In Rome they occupied the Countess Di Frasso's little place -- the stables of her palace which she kept and made over when she sold the big place. It's a royal barn for sure, furnished richly and elegantly, one of the jewel-boxes of Rome. In England, while Ty made The Black Rose, the Powers roughed it in a beautiful country house, with squads of servants, fit for a lord. In between pictures, Linda and Ty have covered Europe, have gone everywhere, have been entertained by everyone. I don't believe the Prince of Wales, in his palmiest days, ever had more adulation en tour or more applause.
Right now, of course, Ty and Linda have the world's sympathy on the tragic loss of their expected child, for whom they had such fine dreams.
Making a picture in Europe is an escape from reality. It does something pretty pixie-ish to Hollywood stars, no doubt about that. Joan Fontaine is an example I observed.
I flew all the way to Rome beside Joan. It was her first trip abroad, and I can't say she started it too auspiciously. The very day we climbed aboard the Constellation in Hollywood, reporters were on her trail. That day she had split up with her husband, Bill Dozier. In New York, a harried magazine writer grabbed her. He'd just written a flowery piece about their ideal marriage and he had to get some new dope fast. Joan started the trip with a furrow in her brow deep enough to plant corn.
got no worries, got no cares . . .
But the minute we hit Rome, Joan's cares whisked away in the torrid breeze. She found a beau her first day there, and from then on, Joan, acting half her age and position, was as romantic as a girl who's slipped out of school. I asked her, "Aren't you worried about the situation back at home and what you'll do about your life, your home and your baby?"
"Not just now," she answered airily. "Isn't this wonderful?" For her, yes; for Bill and the baby and her real life and responsibilities, no. But that's what Rome does for you. It's out of this world at times. Golly, sometimes I had to pinch myself to settle down -- and I've certainly reached the age of reason.
One day, for instance, I attended a gala celebration in the square at Florence with Joan, and Joe Cotten -- where they danced until dawn like a daring debutante, without a care in the world -- not there.
And I -- well Joe and I took another hack for a ride along the Arno river, silvery in the moonlight, about the prettiest drive in the world, I suspect. (It's a good thing I'm well over 16 and Joe's safely married!) But we both got a jolt when, amid all this ancient beauty, we spied an open-air movie show across the river.
In Rome, Hollywood actors have come, seen, conquered -- and stayed. The Dowling sisters are permanent residents and move in top society. Alan Curtis prefers it to Hollywood. Binnie Barnes and her husband, Mike Frankovitch, both speak fluent Italian by now. They are typical of the Hollywood expatriates who settle down in Rome and then wait to produce a picture or to get a job playing in one. Meanwhile -- to get a job playing in one. Meanwhile -- life in a villa and a promenade on the Corso is lots of fun.
People are always dropping in to keep the Hollywood Romans hopping with excitement. Cary Grant, Errol Flynn, Greta Garbo -- the Divine Swede travels constantly in company with George Schley, her manager and the husband of dress designer, Valentina. Garbo was supposed to make Friends and Lovers, her first in nine years, for Walter Wanger - but the bets are it'll never get going. There have been financial complications -- and anyhow all Garbo's friends have advised her against doing it. Rumors buzz like bees around Rome, but real news is surprisingly scarce.
Edward G. Robinson was one sturdy boulder of reality that was welcome to contemplate while I was there. Eddie was making My Daughter, Joy, on the Italian Riviera with Peggy Cummins. I wanted to run over for a visit but I couldn't spread myself around everywhere. I talked to Eddie on the phone, though, and asked him what was doing.
"Gladys (his wife) is painting like mad," he answered. "And my son is running all over Italy in a midget car."
"What about you?" I asked.
"I'm working like the devil" growled Little Caesar.
Doug Fairbanks, up in the shadow of the Dolomites making State Secrets, also sounded nice and normal and hard-at-work when we chatted away on the telephone.
the noblest roman . . .
But the antics of half the Hollywood horde, swarming fantastically around the solid beauty of the cathedrals, the noble arches of the Emperors and the majestic marble ruins, are sometimes so incredible that even that screwball, Orson Welles, gets disgusted. He gripes bitterly at what he calls the "American Invasion". Orson was there at the start of that invasion, and he's stayed to make a pretty fair career-comeback for a broke
genius, in Prince of Foxes and The Black Rose, both starring Ty Power; and in the magnificent The Third Man, made in Vienna, with Valli and Joe Cotten. Otherwise, Europe hasn't altered the boy wonder one bit. He's marching grandly on.
I talked with Merle Oberon, who was at Antibes, and deliriously in love. "You'll just have to fly over and meet him," she entreated me. "I can't," I wailed. "I've got to go to Paris and catch up on the fashions. I'll see you both in Hollywood." I won't, of course -- because "him" was Count Cini, the dark and handsome Italian who crashed to his death so tragically even as he waved Merle goodbye on his take-off.
I know Merle was not dramatizing herself for a minute when she cried hysterically, "Life is finished for me!" She felt that way. Count Cini, from an illustrious family, one of the richest in Italy, was the world to her. What a pair they would have made! But now? I think Merle's salvation lies in work, and I'm hoping it's in Hollywood. She's a wonderful woman who's too young and beautiful to pine away.
I flew to Paris from Rome, and it's always a thrill for me to dip down over the sparkling lighted jewels of that band-box city. Paris, today, is to London what Palm Springs is to Hollywood -- a weekend resort. It's an hour-and-a-half's hop and I've a hunch all the Hollywood stars in England, loaded with American dollars don't feel comfortable flashing them around the hard-pressed British.
The talk around Paris, among other things, is that the marriage of David Selznick and Jennifer Jones stands a very slim chance to last unto a ripe old age. Jenny's psychiatrist in Switzerland advised her against marrying David -- and that anxious producer never put anything on celluloid, not even Gone With the Wind, as suspenseful as his yes-no-maybe-so pursuit of Jenny with object matrimony. He chased her all over Europe, finally cornered her in France -- and right up to their wedding day they couldn't make up their minds.
Leland Hayward, the Broadway producer, and his best-dressed bride, Slim Hawks, were supposed to stand up with David and Jenny, along with Louis Jourdan and his wife. Leland and Slim were on their own honeymoon and wanted to be off for travel and fun. Finally they got sick and tired of sticking around while Jenny and David see-sawed. "We'll give you two exactly 60 minutes to make up your minds," they ultimatumed. "Either you marry then, or off we go.
wedding talk . . .
Well, David and Jenny used up the full hour talking it over -- but with the last minute ticking off, they said they meant sure enough at last. And so they were married.
Ah, me -- I told you Europe did something silly to Hollywood stars. I heard that Richard Widmark, a perfectly grand guy at home, was living so swankily in London while making Night and the City that the British actors, who are hard up, wouldn't speak to him. And who do you think out-glamorized Hollywood's Jane Wyman, over in London making Stage Fright? A grandmother named Marlene Dietrich. She's the toast of Paris, London and wherever she stops. And who has everybody nuts about him, twice as much as about his glamorous wife? None but my old crush, Buddy Fogelson, there in London with Greer Garson.
Well, for some Hollywooders, the Big European Excursion is meat -- for others it's poison. For me, I don't know -- and I couldn't stay long enough to find out. Back home my typewriter was rusting away. But I do know this:
There's no place like Rome. Or for that matter, Florence, the Riviera or Paris. But after all, as the old and so-true saying goes, there's no place like home. East, West, home's best. My home and my beat is Hollywood, and I'm glad to be back. I think a lot of the Hollywood stars gallivanting over Europe on their Continental sprees might discover the same thing one of these days -- even Ingrid Bergman.
You have, alas, to come to your senses sooner or later.