History & Legends

Portofino, a World apart
November 2009

Rex Harrison in Portofino for love

Rex Harrison at his villa in Portofino in 1964

Rex Harrison at his villa in Portofino in 1964

The great American actor Rex Harrison famous for his brilliant interpretation in the film “My Fair Lady“, had a villa built above the Belmond Hotel that cost him $50,000 in the first years after the war. Previously, in the same spot, there was a bunker in which the Germans had mounted a battery of cannon. Harrison went to live there with his wife Lili Palmer, an actress of German origin.

Lovers that they were off entertaining guests and of the “party set”, they invited half of Hollywood to Portofino, where Clark Gable, Jennifer Jones, David O. Selznick,and many other legends of the cinema were guests at the Spendido. We narrate an interesting anecdote taken from the book by Antonio Nannicini, Letter From Portofino.  When Harrison won the Oscar, he returned to Portofino and wanted to re-celebrate the event with his friends from Portofino at “La Gritta” the famous American bar that faces the wharf. Naturally, they had been drinking a bit, I couldn’t say, but in the euphoria of the moment, the golden statue wound up in the sea and a friend had to dive in the water to retrieve it.

On the other hand, Lili Palmer, a calm and composed German, totally opposite from her husband, lived happily in the peace of Portofino from 1950 to 1955. Then the lightning struck and Rex met Kay Kendall, the break-up was sudden. It happened like this: One summer evening in 1955, while Lilli and her husband were at dinner with the Duke of Windsor at “Pitosforo” a note arrived for Harrison. The English actress Kay Kendall had sent it to him from a cafe in the most famous Piazzetta in the world. Rex excused himself and left the table and for ten days nobody saw him.  He went on a trip, an anticipated honeymoon with the English actress who would become his third wife. When the two returned, Palmer, composed and understanding but a deeply offended woman that she was, had already left definitively for London.

Rex Harrison
1908 – 1990

Portofino, a World apart.