Someone who has always intrigued me is Gloria Paul, an English actress who ended up acting in films in Italy during the 60s. I associate her primarily with comedies and spy films, a glamorous, exotic lady who wouldn’t fit in so well with the more grimy productions made during the 70s. But there was never really much information about her anywhere. Recently, however, I stumbled across an Italian language interview, which I have translated for your delectation. It’s mostly about her life in Rome, but there’s some interesting biographical information in there as well.
Gloria Paul was born in London on the 28th February 1940. The daughter of a Financial Times journalist and an opera singer, she began dancing at the age of three. Success came when she won numerous contests and qualified as a ‘young talent’. While studying at school she was compelled to stop her dance classes but, after having finished secondary school, she was signed up by the famous dance group ‘Tiller Girls’. With them, she performed ‘Bluebell’ at the Paris Lido, before becoming the first ballerina of the Alaria Ballet. She arrived in Rome in 1961 and took part in four films (in total she shot over 25), appearing opposite such legendary performers as Totò, Renato Rascel and, in theatre, Erminio Macario. Her last film appearance was in 1996, in the film Esercizi di stile. In the same year she was the victim of a bad domestic accident, which necessitated her spending a period in a wheelchair (while she was in the shower, the ceiling of the bathroom suddenly collapsed, bringing down the boiler above and breaking her back). After the incident she took part in several TV reports such as Conversando, Domenica in and Porta a porta.
Q: How did you come about your love of the performing arts, Gloria?
It was born when I was a little girl. My mother sent me to a dance school when I was a little girl, I was there for three years, and then I began to do talent shows etc etc. And out of that I got used to going on stage.
Q: So your parents wanted you to go into the industry?
It was my mother’s dream, perhaps because it’s what she wanted to do but it just wasn’t possible. My father, though, was a journalist, and he wanted me to be a model or a fashion journalist. He hoped that I would follow in his footsteps. Instead, my first job after finishing school was as a dancer, and from there – without ever really thinking about it – everything escalated. I just let myself be carried along by the work.
Q: And what was the best compliment you ever received?
Oh God! I’ve received so many that I can’t remember them! One thing that makes you really happy is when you finish a show and there’s lots of applause. That’s a strong feeling that fills your heart. Away from the professional, one thing that I like is that people say I haven’t really changed from the girl I was. Even when I was at my most successful, I never lost my head,.
Q: And what’s the worst thing that’s been written about you?
Nothing so bad. The worst thing that’s happened to me was the incident in 96, when the water heater fell on me in my shower. The boiler collapsed and it all fell on me.
Q: In your career you’ve worked with some famous people. How did you find Totò?
When I met him he was already a big star. That was on Totò, Peppino e la dolce vita, and I didn’t really understand quite how important he was, because I’d only just arrived in Italy. I was 20 years old and didn’t know anything about Italian film. I must say that he was a gentleman, he always seemed very protective. After doing the movie I also worked with him on a TV show called Tutto Totò, and I remember that the director teased me for not speaking very good Italian and said something wrong. He said: “What, after all the years you’ve been here you still can’t speak Italian properly?” So Totò intervened and said: “I’d like to see you speak English as well as she speaks Italian!” He was always very friendly and polite with me.
Q: And Renato Rascel?
He was also a nice guy. He was very demanding, professionally, but a great artist. I worked with him for 3 years, doing Enrico 61. We did it for two years in Italy and then for one year in England, translated in English, of course.
Q: What advice would you give to those who wish to follow in your footsteps?
Everything is very different now to how it was in my day. There’s a lot more competition. But I’d suggest keeping a sense of humility, working hard, and being tenacious, don’t give up at the first sign of trouble. It’s a job that can be humiliating. You might want to do a part and get rejected, but you need to carry on, don’t let it bother you.
Q: What’s your dream, Gloria?
Oh, I don’t have any dreams any more, dear Gianfranco! All my dreams vanished after the accident.
Q: After the accident, who has helped you? Has faith been important?
I’m very practical about things. Certainly, one hopes that there’s something up there that can help us. After the accident I discovered that people truly wished me well and I’ve been very lucky in my choice of friends. As the saying goes: “You discover who your true friends are in bad times”, and at bad times, they were always at my side. I had a good nose for friends, and when I need them they’re there. With my job, you know a thousand people, but in life one must be selective. You shouldn’t judge people too quickly, it takes time.
Q: Let’s talk a little about Rome. When did you arrive here and what impact did it have on you?
It had a big impact on me. This was the magnificent 60s, the years of La dolce vita. In those days I was working a lot and so didn’t experience much of La dolce vita. The first time I came here was with my parents and my brother, and the first monument that I wanted to visit was The Coliseum, which I’d heard about and studied at school. I remember that it was an emotional experience. Then I started working in Italy a lot and got absorbed in that, caught up in too many commitments and thousands of contracts.
Q: Where did you live in Rome?
Oh, I’ve lived in many parts of Rome. Now I’m on the most beautiful hills in Rome, Aventine. When I go down and see the Palatine I can’t help but wonder at the beauty of it all. It’s a wonderful thing, believe me. Above all on a summer evening when the sun goes down and there’s a sunset, a unique, beautiful and orange sky. It’s a show you can only see in Rome.
Q: So now you’re in Aventine, but where did you live when you first arrived in Rome?
At first I was in Parioli, then I moved to Trionfale, then Piazza Barberini. Then on to Nomentana and, occasionally when I was doing theatre, I took on an apartment for rent.
Q: What do you miss about Rome when you’re away?
When I’m away I very much miss my house and my thousand comforts. I’ve lived here for nearly 30 years and am very fond of it. Then I miss my friends and loved ones. One thing about Rome I definitely don’t miss are the streets, which aren’t pleasant for people like me who use a wheelchair. That’s one downside to Rome.
Q: Did you know that the actress Dalila Di Lazzaro had an accident because of the potholes and now has back problems as a result.
Oh yes, I know. But she’s not paralysed. She had some back and spine problems but is pretty good now. She can walk, whereas I can’t because I’m paralysed from the waist down.
Q: How do you find the Romans?
Well, I’ve been in Rome so long now I consider myself half-roman, or an adopted Roman. I must say that sometimes I feel the Romans can be very intrusive, but they’re very nice and there’s something comic about it. They can make a drama into something less dramatic through their irony, they always have a joke ready and can make you laugh even when you don’t feel like it.
Q: What about Roman food?
We shouldn’t mention it! Apart from at the Coliseum, Roman food, and Italian food in general, are exceptional. I lived in Paris for some years, which is the home of fine cuisine, but here in Italy, and particularly Rome, it’s the food of the Gods. When I first arrived in Italy I went made for parmesan and clams, at the restaurant I’d order clams and ask the waiter to put parmesan all over them (Laughs). The waiter looked at me strangely. When I was doing theatre I had problems with my diet and I’d eat three times a day. With Macario we’d do tours of 93 town squares and eat all the regional specialties.
Q: Do you have any favourite restaurants in Rome?
Very many. Near to me there’s the Testaccio, which is the home of Roman cuisine, and there are many fine restaurants.
Q: On the internet it says that Gloria Paul is a stage name, is that true?
No! Paul is my true name, my family name. On the internet there are all kinds of mistakes and errors.