When I was a kid, I used to be a photographer. By that I mean I used to take lots of pictures of people I knew. Some of them were not well known, and some of them were.
I was born with a golden spoon in my mouth. Before WWII, my mother’s father, Count Giuseppe Volpi, was one of the richest men in Italy. He owned railroads, electrical companies, hotels and nearly everything in Venice. He started the first film festival anywhere there in 1932. Every year, any star who came to the festival came to his party at the Palazzo Volpi. So whomever I wanted to meet, it was easy. I met Liz Taylor when she was on her honeymoon with Nicky Hilton; David Selznick became like my second father.
In 1951, when I was 17, I went to Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville, New York. I stayed less than a year. My roommate, Barbara, was the daughter of Jack Warner. Over Easter I went with her to stay with her parents at their house in Los Angeles. Barbara went back after the break, but I stayed for a few months, because I couldn’t resist the fact that Jack Warner would say to me, “Tomorrow night, who do you want as your date at dinner—Montgomery Clift or Marlon Brando?” And they used to give these dinners two or three times a week. You think I was going to go back to Bronxville?
Communication being what it was then, it took about two months before my parents got a letter from Sarah Lawrence saying I had not come back. When they received it, they told me I had to return home immediately. I didn’t.
I went to New York, where I enrolled in Columbia University and photography school. My best pal was Monty Clift. He had a walk-up flat, with just a cot and hundreds of books. Rock Hudson and Farley Granger were also close friends of mine. They were all very different, but they had a problem in common: Big stars who were homosexual then had to live a lie from morning till night. That generally meant they had difficult lives.
Rock dealt with it in an easier way; he was a really nice, healthy, strong American boy. Monty was more of an intellectual. He was a much more tortured soul. He drank a lot. I think it was the lying that killed him in the end.
Most of my memories from that period are very happy. One day, in Los Angeles, Deborah Kerr, who became a great friend, called me up. Metro was letting her out of her contract to shoot a picture at Columbia [Pictures], where she’d never been. “It’s a thing called From Here to Eternity,” she said. “Why don’t you come to the lot with me?” So there was Monty, Burt Lancaster and then, walking around the lot, this unbelievable boy, John Derek [later the husband of Linda Evans and Bo Derek]. “Jesus Christ, this boy is beautiful,” said Deborah. “He’s prettier than Elizabeth Taylor.”