Thursday, May 10, 2012

Every Frenchman Has One (1962) by Olivia de Havilland (!!)

How adorably early 60's is this cover?
Would you believe what was sitting on the "in-house count" return cart this morning? While I'm usually greeted with dogeared, stained copies of occult literature and huge reference books on the Civil War, today this jaunty little number was perched on top of the stack, just begging to be read. Olivia de Havilland, you wrote a book?! And didn't even bother to tell me?!

Because it's shelved in the 900's with "Books about France" rather than the 790's ("Books about Movie Actors/Actresses") or biographies, I had never come across the provocatively titled book on Olivia de Havilland's humorous culture shock upon embarking on a full time life as a Francophone, Every Frenchman Has One. The "one" of the title is actually a liver, which, technically, every American-man and Englishman and every-other-kind-of-man has as well, but is not nearly as concerned with as the French. French opinion sees the liver as it is the vital, gateway organ to good health, and in the chapter of the same name, de Havilland explains all the different symptoms explained by a "hard" or "over large" liver, from drinking a bevy of different temperature/different provenance mineral water at "cleanse spas" to taking hot springs baths in a mixture she describes as the temperature and consistency of 7-up. And that's just the beginning of les différences culturelle that our Melanie Wilkes has to deal with at every turn.

I kind of ruined the surprise for you. Sorry.
The book reads a lot like any of the humorous memoirs coming out of the forties', fifties', and sixties'... witty, wry, and overwritten, it's a light foray into international relations with a star of stage and screen that I enjoyed spending time with vicariously in the city of light, in the middle of the century. De Havilland was in the process of divorcing her first husband, novelist Marcus Goodrich, when she met Paris Match editor Pierre Gallant (what a name!) at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953 and embarked on the great French adventure of the second half of her life. The page above, and the two clippings below, appeared in Life magazine when this book was published in 1962.

Apparently staying in the spotlight, she also appeared later that year in a Life article (below) about starlets who had twenty-five plus years of fame to their names, alongside the likes of Bette Davis, Rosalind Russell, and her GWTW costar Vivien Leigh. Not to MENTION her sister, Joan Fontaine, who she has had a famously rocky relationship with over the last, oh, seventy years of their lives. One of the most fascinating Classic Hollywood stories to me is the sibling rivalry between Joan Fontaine and O d H, both of whom are gorgeous actresses, Academy Award winners, and loath to mention the other even in interviews. AND ARE BOTH STILL ALIVE! Out of all the actresses who were big names in that wonderful window of cinema, say the late thirties' to the early 50's, Fontaine and de Havilland are still kicking around! And not speaking. I wish to heck de Havilland had finished that memoir she said she was working on in 2009... Fontaine's No Bed of Roses, published in 1978, says a fair piece about the rift in their relationship, which seemingly began in childhood and was pushed to the breaking point by their acting careers and personal lives, but I'd like to hear both sides of the story. Especially now that I'm more familiar with de Havilland's screen career via my massive Errol Flynn crush.

Doesn't her hair/eyebrow pencil/dress remind you of similar shots of La Crawford in the 60's? I wonder what's with that...something about middle aged Hollywood stars.

Speaking of, do you know Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland did eight pictures together? And that I've seen all of them? I feel like you really get to know an actress by going through a tear of their films that way, and even though de Havilland wasn't particularly impressed by either the scripts or her own screen performances in those movies, I still think they're perfect examples of the razzle-dazzle a really good on-screen romantic pair can lend to a movie. When she couldn't make The Sea Hawk due to some kind of contractual thing (or possibly just didn't want to do another costume epic?), she was replaced by Brenda Marshall, and truth is, it's a poorer picture for it. But I digress.

Other de Havilland movies I enjoyed include The Heiress (with a smolderingly gorgeous Montgomery Clift and truly heartbreaking performance by de Havilland), The Snake Pit (proto-Girl Interrupted!), Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (no Baby Jane, but not a bad sixties' horror flick), The Strawberry Blonde (wherein I learned the phrase "23 Skidoo!" from James Cagney), Lady in a Cage (super underrated thriller) and My Cousin Rachel (from the du Maurier book, with a young Richard Burton). My favorite non-Flynn movie of hers, hands down, is John Huston's uncharacteristically soapy melodrama In This Our Life, where de Havilland and lifelong friend Bette Davis play two-sides-of-the-coin sisters Roy and Stanley (respectively, and yes those are their names). I will admit that I'm biased because it's just such a romp into the woman's picture genre I can't resist it, but if you haven't seen it, go! Davis is so-o-o-o-o "bad girl" good in that movie!

And then there's Gone with the Wind. I mean, that's kind of a given.

The table of contents from the book...see what I mean about the whimsical nature of the prose

With Yvette Mimieux in Light in the Piazza (1962)

In 1962 after being names "one of Ten Best Coiffured Women in 1962 by Helene Curtis Guild of Professional Beauticians" (source)

Wild and out costume jewelry? Check. Decollotagin' wiggle dress? Check. Well coiffed coiffure? Check. What's wrong with this picture? NOTHING.

Are you an Olivia de Havilland fan? What mid-century, former-movie-star memoirs have you enjoyed, if you have? If you're an old movie fan and a Francophile, I really can't think of a better book for you! I'm about halfway through, so I'll have to tell you how the last section is, but so far, it really is a delight! Thank you, unnamed library patron who left this on a windowsill somewhere near the reference tables to be gleaned for our cart and my reading pleasure! :)

See you tomorrow for Photo Friday!

BORROW the ebook copy on Open Library (sign up is free!)

Read more about de Havilland and Fontaine's "bad blood" here

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