Published in IC Publications
The Middle East Magazine 01-APR-07)
have looked for you
and died searching
in this garden
where you hide behind the scenes ...
Queen she was,
then only Princess, but Legend she certainly became.
"princess with sad eyes" as she was to be known in the Western Press, after her
tragic divorce to the Shah of Iran in the late 1950's, was certainly one of the
most beautiful and photographed Women of the 20th century. Empress of Iran and
Reza Pahlavi, she was born in Isfahan on June 22nd, 1932. Daughter of Khalil
Esfandiary - Bakhtiari, later Ambassador of Iran to the Federal Republic of
Germany, and Eva Karl (German citizen but born in Moscow Russia) , she was named
after a constellation of "Seven Stars, the Haft Peykar" that can be seen in the
Skies of Persia's most beautiful city of a 1001 nights: Isfahan. Little did she
or her parents know that her name and beauty were to capture the heart of a
future King and the eyes of film producers under the Sunny Starlight's of
Hollywood and Cinnecita.
Soraya on cover of the Christmas issue of German magazine REVUE 1958 with Grace
Kelly. Soraya was half German by her mother and therefore got very much coverage
in the German People Press. Interestingly the Shah was also to court Hollywood
actress Grace Kelly ( before she met Prince Rainier of Monaco) as would be wife
after his divorce with Soraya (Right) With the Shah on a state visit to West
Germany as the newly Wed Queen of Persia.
In the summer
of 1950 a shy Soraya was introduced to the Shah of Iran. Little did they suspect
that day that both their lives and hearts would be affected for ever. The Shah
had seen only a photograph of her given to him by his elder sister Princess
Shams. The Shah who was reigning quite democratically as Constitutional King for
nearly 9 years since taking oath on the eve of his father's abdication in 1941,
was in no particular mood or intention to be married. He was known for being an
insatiable playboy particularly after his divorce with Egyptian Princess Fawzia
(who had given him a daughter Shahnaz) but no male heir to the Peacock Throne.
The arranged marriage of the Shah was dictated by his father Reza Shah for
"Reason's of State" and not "Love". Now a bachelor for many years, his own
family and ministers were getting impatient with the King's hesitations. However
this time, the Shah's growing feelings for Soraya seemed to be very different
from anything he had known with other women. "One just had to see them together"
confessed a close family friend. "Soraya had a combination of Western and
Persian qualities in her that seduced the "Western educated Man" the young Shah
It was indeed
difficult not to be attracted if not intrigued by such a meeting be it arranged
by the royal family. Soon the cordial presentations were followed by jokes and
compliments on both sides. "Time and charm would do the rest " thought
confidently Princess Shams hoping to convince an ever impatient Taj Ol Moluk,
the Shahs Queen mother. Sooner than later the Shah was to court the young lady
and a genuine romance was to grow between the two love birds.
They fell in
love and the engagement was celebrated in October of that year. A sudden illness
however nearly prevented her to attend her own marriage. Unknown to anyone this
illness had made her infertile. This was the main reason why the divorce was
announced several years later in 1958 to the royal couples dismay.
weeping Shah announced their divorce to the Iranian people. The headline-making
divorce inspired French songwriter Françoise Mallet-Jorris to write a poem that
later became hit pop song, "Je Veux Pleurer Comme Soraya" (I Want to Cry Like
nevertheless granted and kept the title of "Her Imperial Highness the Princess
Soraya of Iran".
The years that
followed were nevertheless to put the princess in a unique situation. One which
was rarely equaled in the annals of Royalty since Britain's King Edward VIII
abdication, who married an American divorcee Wallis Simpson and in recent years
Princess Diana Spencer: That of a Jet-Set celebrity...
Top : Courted
by Playboy Gunter Strass. Middle: With Austrian actor Maximillian Schell at the
Berlin Film Festival. Bottom :Soraya with Jet Set on the French Riviera: (Left
to right) actress Liza Minelli, Playboy Gunter Strass (dated Soraya) and French
Crooner Sacha Distel mid 60's.
celebrities and chased by Paparazzo's her new life was to be subject to all
sorts of rumors and often unproven romances. She was said to have ignored the
seductive advances of Hollywood macho Kirk Douglas, to have spent a night with
Frank Sinatra, one with Cowboy TV Actor Hugh O'Brien, to have been dated by
Italian gigolo Massimo Gargia (who gained fame and fortune for being Greta
Garbo's lover in her last years), and German Millionaire Gunter Sachs, or to
have succumbed to the charms of Mel Ferrer and that even Gay actor Rock Hudson
was not indifferent to her charms. True or false, one thing was certain Soraya's
enigmatic beauty left no one indifferent ...
certainly the case for Cineccita's young ambitious director/producer Franco
Indovina. The latter was to contact famed Italian film director Michelangelo
Antonioni and together they made up to suggest to the princess to cast in their
upcoming film entitled "I Tri Volti" aka "Three Faces of a Woman" (1965).
The film was
explained to the Princess as what was to be a three part sketch, a very popular
genre in the 60's. It was also a way of illustrating the wide spectrum of her
abilities as an actor passing from comedy to drama or enigmatic
personifications. She was to be supported by a cast of talented and recognized
actors such as rising Irish Star Richard Harris (future King Arthur of the
Musical Hit Camelot) and Italian comic Alberto Sordi.
Spanish and Turkish posters of Italian film with Princess Soraya: THE THREE
FACES OF A WOMAN (1964). Piero Tosi, Ralph Serpe, Richard Harris, Alberto Sordi,
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, Mauro Bolognini, Franco Indovina. (Middle)
Turkish Poster illustration was drawn by Turkish painter Kemal Bortucen. (Right)
Princess Soraya. From the collection
Mujeres Celebres October 1, 1968. 32 pages, full color.
Comic book in Spanish issued in Mexico by Editorial
Indovina was to
write part of the script which was read to the princess for final approval.
After some hesitation, Soraya was to accept the offer with some inner
excitement. She had already accepted to pose as Model for several European
Magazines between interviews but never on a professional basis. This film
experience would certainly allow her to earn her life and also change her image
in the press from that of the "sad and lonely princess".
Italy was one
of her favorite destinations and Cineccita Studios was living its Golden years
thanks co-productions with Hollywood Studios in such Mega productions like
William Wyler's Ben Hur and Joseph Mankiewicz "Cleopatra" or in prestigious
European co-productions like Lucino Visconti's "Il Guepardo" aka "The Leopard"
that launched Hollywood Star Burt Lancaster's European career.
as Model in the 1960's shortly after her divorce with the Shah. The decoration
is the famous order Haft Peykar (Seven Stars) made especially for Soraya (who
was to maintain her royal status as Princess despite her divorce ) by French
Jewel designer Artus Bertrand.
Italy was where she and the Shah had stayed during their short-lived exile in
1953 during the Oil Nationalization Crisis that brought Prime Minister Mohamed
Mossadeg to the International spotlight. Italy had greeted the royal couple
warmly. The Shah had at times hesitated to return and regain his throne was it
not for the insistence of his political advisors. Soraya often wondered how
different her life with the Shah would have been had the latter decided
differently. So maybe after all it was a sign of the Stars above to catch up for
the missed opportunity ...
Soraya was to
play three different parts according to the script : As herself (segment "Il
provino") as Linda (segment "Gli amanti celebri") and as an enigmatic Mrs.
Melville (segment "Latin Lover")
rare editions of the Italian Magazine * LA DOMENICA DEL CORRIERE* a
tabloid-style weekly which featured brightly colored and sensational
lithographic illustrations on both the front and back covers. (Left tot Right)
lithographic illustration's respectively of The 53' Coup which has succeeded in
Tehran. Next is The "Repudiation of Soraya". The third and last features a trial
probably for tax evasion in Italy of the former Princess who was a popular
figure in the European Jet Set. ©pictory Iranian.com
proved to be cooperative and particularly photogenic while Antonioni perfectly
captured her presence and even sense of humor. The collaboration was genuine and
without useless protocol. Soraya wanted to give her best including in intimate
scenes with Richard Harris. However no kisses were allowed for obvious reason's
due to her royal status and not to spread rumors. Harris was to declare in the
Italian Press that " The Princess had the Star Quality and talent of a dark
haired Grace Kelly" and was impressed by her natural professionalism and talent
for the screen.
The film was
presented out of competition for the opening of the 1964 Milan International
Film Festival. By then the news of Soraya's film debut had reached the Shah's
court. The monarch seemed amused and even pleased for her but the news was
censored in the Iranian Press. Soraya also published her auto-biography the same
year (See Below Authors notes **) which was an immediate international
bestseller but was also to be censored in Iran in order not to shock or provoke
the religious authorities. The then unknown Ayatollah Khomeiny had encouraged
riots in 1963 by using religious arguments against the Shah's reign and his
Western sympathies. Iran also had its new Queen Farah who had recently given
birth to Crown Prince Reza, heir to the Peacock Throne. The country was eagerly
waiting for an imminent news of the announcement of the Coronation of the Royal
Couple which was to take place several years later in October 1967.
scriptwriter Franco Indovina seemed infatuated by her new égerie but no romance
had been reported during the movie's shoot. Soraya was courted by many
celebrities and the most serious at the time was Swiss German Actor Maximillian
(Top Left) Soraya dances with Hollywood Star Rock Hudson. Top Right With lover
Maximillian Schell at the Airport. Color Insert with co-star Richard Harris at
the premiere of Three Faces of a Women at the 1964 Milano Film Festival. Bottom
Right Still Queen she was Greeted at La Comedie Française during a State Visit
to France. ©pictory Iranian.com
Soraya and Schell shared German roots and enjoyed eachothers company. She would
often be seen with him on location during his film shoots. Schell was an
ambitious actor and their romance was to become more of a friendship than an
enduring love. The two would tease one another for being seen together on
Magazine covers or tabloids.
visits Lover actor Maximillian Schell on film set of
Return of the Ashes (1965) at Pinewood Studios in London with Co-Stars
Samantha Egger and actor husband Tom Stern ©Universal Artists (Right). Hollywood
tabloid the Police Gazette of the same period. ©pictory Iranian.com
Schell was to introduce her to rising Swiss star Ursula Andress who had reached
Star Status in as the first James Bond Girl in Terrence Young's Dr. No. Andress
suggested her to cast in a new upcoming film SHE and proposed her a Cameo role
for fun where she would play the role of a Dance club girl named Soraya.
Produced by Hammer Productions and based on the classic
adventure novel of a love starved eternal queen Ayesha (Ursula Andress) who
seeks the reincarnation of her long dead lover. The plot was interesting and
quite Indiana Jones like so to speak in "Spielbergian" terms today:
back from the war, Maj. Horace Holly (Peter Cushing), Job (Bernard Cribbins),
and Leo Vincey (John Richardson) are just aching for adventure. While having a
good time in the local bar in Palestine, Leo is vamped by a beautiful exotic
girl Ustane (Rosenda Monteros.) He gets abducted and is confronted by a
mysterious and mesmerizing timeless beauty Ayesha (Ursula Andress). She gives
him a ring and a map and says find me. His friend sees the ring and the map and
says treasure. So they are off in the desert. They will soon find more than they
interesting plot it was not a very good film and Soraya's participation was not
credited in the cast. The main reason however was that the Iranian government
feared that the film's subject and Soraya's innocent participation would create
a scandal. Pressure was put on the production to exclude the Princess from the
general cast. Her name does appear as "Soraya the dancer" but without any
particular reference to her royal credentials.
Soraya was cast in the cameo role of "Soraya the club dancer" (She didn't
appear on the credits) in what was in fact an Ursula Andress film SHE (1965).
The latter had just been revealed as the First James Bond Girl in Dr.No ©MGM
entertaining yet badly produced Hollywood film was also to compromise Soraya's
promising film debut in Italy.
producers of this second film had misjudged Soraya's importance as a sensitive
and talented actress, while ignoring her Royal Status. It was a cheap shot and
truly a pity for it put a fatal blow to Soraya's future film projects.
In the meantime
The Princess' relationship with Franco Indinova was to grow stronger and deeper
in the years that followed. The two spoke of marriage. Indinova was the first
genuine love since she divorced from the Shah. The two were engaged and she was
determined to marry him. The Shah gave the couple his approval and Soraya was
even invited to Tehran on a private visit.
Her love for
the Shah never altered as she was to remind it in her reissued memoir's but she
felt that Indinova could give her the love and happiness she needed.
tragic aircraft accident in the early seventies killed Indovina on his way back
from a business trip shortly before the wedding day.
Pleurer Comme Soraya aka I Want to Cry like Soraya Françoise MALLET-JORRIS' poem
composed for the repudiated Queen in the 1960's was put to music by Marie Paul
Belle in the 1970's in a successful Album. ©photocomposition Darius KADIVAR
Soon the tragic
accident was to make headlines in Tabloids across Europe and underline Soraya's
tragic fate once again as "The Princess with Sad Eyes" and truly as a "Femme
Fatal" unable to escape her destiny.
Any pretext was
good to associate her to the most tragic figures of Greek tragedy. She was to
join the iconic female figures such as Jackie Kennedy Onasis or Maria Callas
whose lives was linked to personal tragedies.
Françoise Mallet-Jorris' poem "Je Veux Pleurer Comme Soraya" was put to music by
Pop Singer Marie Paul Belle and the song became a hit in the music charts of
that year. The Princess was to never recover emotionally from that loss.
Memories : (Top Right) Anna Valle (Soraya) and Erol Sander (The Shah) ©LUX VIDE
in mini series on the Princess with Sad Eyes as Soraya was known in the Western
Press. Raison d'Etat was to put an end to the genuine Love story of the Shah and
Soraya. It probably also explains why the former Queen was never quite
comfortable to pursue a new chapter in her life as a promising actress or model.
©photocomposition Darius KADIVAR
destiny did not spare the former Princess' life. She was blessed with an
unmatched beauty to this day. The Monica Belluci's, Paris Hilton's or other
beautiful Stars that make today's headlines certainly lack the class that the
Persian Princess' natural distinction and hypnotizing beauty inspired.
Soraya is said to have died of natural causes at age 69 and is buried in Munich,
Germany. In 2002, her tomb was defaced with the words "miserable parasite,"
followed by the phrase "Didn't work from the ages of 25 to 60." The vandalism
made headlines throughout Europe.
learning of her death, her brother Bijan, who died one week after Soraya, sadly
commented, "After her, I don't have anyone to talk to". Since Soraya's death,
several young women have come forward claiming to be her illegitimate daughter,
reportedly born in 1962, according to the Persian-language weekly Nimrooz; the
improbable claims have never been confirmed.
The former queen's
belongings were sold at auction in Paris after her death. Her wedding dress,
made by Christian Dior, brought $1.2 million.
After Indovina's death in a plane crash, she spent the remainder of her life
unhappily, by her own admission, wandering through Europe, buying antiques and
couture, appearing at social events in a desultory fashion, and generally
becoming known as a serious depressive.
However Soraya's greatest tragedy was certainly that of not entirely being loved
or accepted for who she was. The only daughter of loving parents, a proud
Bakhtiary father and a German mother, caught between East and West, she was the
itinerant ambassador of a vanished kingdom that no longer belonged to her.
Eternally in search of a futile future in the arms of handsom lovers of a one
night stand or that of real or fake princes of the Jet Set. All these romances
could only have made sense to her had she been able to give life in turn.
That however was not to be, no more than her illusive yet promising Hollywood
VIVE LE CINEMA !
This article and photos cannot be reproduced or duplicated without the author's
written permission .
Soraya's performance in an excerpt of I Tri Volti aka Three Faces of a
Woman opposite Alberto Sordi (here)
Princess Soraya wrote a memoir of her tragic life,
"The Palace of Solitudes" in 1991 a reissue of her intial biography
in the 1960's. As well as an interesting historical novel in French called
published in 1995.
Soraya: Fragments of a life by Cyrus KADIVAR (Iranian.com)
Michaelangelo Antonioni Tribute
EYES WIDE SHUT: The World of Cinema mourns for Antonioni and Bergman by
Iranian Diaspora in Italy:
PERSIAN BELLA RAGAZZA: Maya Sansa European Cinema's
by Darius KADIVAR
Iranian film director Parvin Ansary in Italian Cinema
interviewed by Brian Appleton (Iranian.com)
A QUEEN'S LOYALTY
By Darius KADIVAR
YASMINE'S MISSION FOR IRAN'S CHILDREN
By Darius KADIVAR
A Labour of Love: Brief Encounter with Shahbanou Farah
Pahlavi of Iran By Darius KADIVAR
Empress of the Arts
By Darius KADIVAR
Enduring Friendship : Alain Delon and Farah Pahlavi
by Darius KADIVAR
Alzheimer Research Fundraising Gala 2005 Presided By
Shahbanou Farah Pahlavi by Darius KADIVAR
Monaco's Persian Heartthrob by Darius KADIVAR
HAIL BARONESS AFSHAR!: First Iranian Woman In the
House of Lords by Darius KADIVAR
CHAMPAGNE SAFARI: Rita Hayworth and the Persian Prince
by Darius KADIVAR
Farah Pahlavi at Maurice Béjart 80th Birthday Party
By Darius KADIVAR
Being Princess Shams: Mathilda May portrays Late
Shah's Sister by Darius KADIVAR
Remembering Princess Leila Pahlavi by
Honoring A People's Princess: Shahbanou Farah at Lady
Diana's Tribute in Paris by Darius KADIVAR
Musical Ode To Cyrus The Great In Paris
by Darius KADIVAR
When Giants Meet: The Queen of Persian Pop greets the
Shahbanou of Iran in NY Live Concert
by Darius KADIVAR
Interview of Shahbanou Farah in Point De Vue Images du
Monde translation by DK
Rainbow High: Farah Pahlavi at Paris Dior 60th
Anniversary Gala by Darius KADIVAR
About the Author:
Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance
Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant. He is also contributes to
in LA/US and
London Based IC Publications
The Middle East Magazine
Persian Heritage Magazine.
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