The War Hero Who Loved Cats (translation)

By Carmen Rigalt. El Mundo. August 26th, 2008.

Peter Viertel, screenwriter, came to Costa del Sol with Deborah Kerr. In the «house-cortijo» they acquired in the sixties only their last cats remain. I tried to imagine what would have Peter said yesterday, when they gave his name to a street: Some terrible thing, I am sure.


callemarbella02The street map takes you on a walk through history. Theoretically, it should be the other way around (history leads you to the street map) but one has to be well taught to realise that. As an example: You strat on Sagasta st. down to Cánovas, then you turn at Menéndez Pidal and stop at Concha Espina. Or, B option: You start on Francesc Maciá st. , cross Rafael Casanovas and you arrive to Joaquim Folguera then you turn by Jacinto Verdaguer. The street maps don’t make us more cultivated but they help us to memorize.

Since yesterday, Peter Viertel is also a street in Marbella. What not many people are aware of is that, before becoming a street, Peter Viertel was already one important guy.  The writer came to Marbella with Deborah Kerr, who remained his wife till the very end, even though separated by countries and street maps. They died 20 days apart. He in Marbella, she in England. Being at the hospital, Peter got the news about the street honour. He asked that it was made for Deborah and someone suggested they shoudl both have it.  And that’s how it’s been, they have two paralel streets in Torre Real, close to the couple’s home.

Deborah was ill with parkinson and spent long years hospitalized in Switzerland and England, but Peter Viertel remained in the city till the end. It’s been almost a year since the writer died and he still isn’t completely gone. In the home he bought in the sixties, some of their cats still remain.  «Mr. Peter asked me to look after them and I go there everyday to feed them», says Magdalena, the housekeeper. Arturo Reque, Viertel’s lawyer, remembers Deborah Kerr:

«She was always surrounded by cats and knitting. She was determined to learn Spanish and she always kept a book at hand by the phone where she wrote down words and expressions. One day someone told her that her husband was a «culillo de mal asiento»[*] and she went crazy trying to decypher the meaning.»

Those who are important get streets named after them. The famous ones get stars. To cover that, Marbella also has their own fame boulevard where they give a star to those who have anythign to do with the city:  Julio Iglesias, Carmen Sevilla or Arturo Fernández are now part of the constelation of stars in Marbella. This year, The Duchess of Alba has also joined them. There they shine with their own light. The town hall sends the famous ones to the boulevard and the important ones to the street map. That’s Peter Viertel’s case, and he surely deserved it.

Last September, Peter was playing tennis (he was an avid sports man and he was always looking for someone to play with), writing books and gatherine memories. Surfing was no longer part of his daily activities (he was a master at it and spent half his life on a board, but his late years were devoted to golf and tennis). He had been everywhere and he had met everyone. He knew more about bullfighting that the bullfighters and he had a true interest for Spain’s history and traditions. A pla and a firend to Hemingway, he was the last man standing form the lost generation. War hero, the marines honoured him at his funeral. If there is such a thing as a soul, Peter’s soul went out of his body with a trumpet.

I had dinner with Peter and the countess of Romanones a few days before he was hospitalized. Seeing them together was a real show. Aline and Peter were always competing to see who had a bigger memorie and could remember more anecdotes.  They seemed two stars of the CIA. She spoke about her past as a spy and he laughed with his eyes. Yesterday, I tried to imagine when would have Peter said had he been in the opening of his street. Something terrible, I’m sure of it. Few people attended the event. That’s the disadvantage of living a long life, whne you die, there are no friends left to come to your funeral.  But the unconditionals were all there: Aline, whom Raúl del Pozo calls «the last Lolita»; Count Rudi, silent witness of Marbella; Arturo the lawyer and Magdalena, the housekeeper. The cats had to stay at home.

[*] Culillo de mal asiento: Literal translation would be: «A little ass of bad seat» which of course makes no sense whatsoever. It’s an expression we use to say someone is never too comfortable sitting – being – at the same place for a long time and that he/she enjoys doing many and varied things as not to get bored. I can imagine Deborah trying to figure that one out!

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