A very smart ex-girlfriend of mine always began reading the Times with the obituaries. The obits, to give them their nickname, are the important epilogue to a life, a summing-up that may slightly embellish it in retrospect, but that may also be perfectly objective. This is, for many people, what, if anything, will survive..
So it was fascinating to read the Times obits on a late October day (20th) when, surely for the first time, it comprised two centenarians: Danielle Darrieux, dead at 100, and (I hope not eclipsing her importance) Marion Schlesinger, dead at 105. Ms. S. emerges as a significant and charming person, mostly in Cambridge, Mass.,which I, as a former Cantabrigian myself, can readily respect. But to her life in politics I have nothing to add. Not so about Danielle Darrieux.
As a youth in Belgrade, I was in love with the universally beloved French movie star, Danielle Darrieux, as much as a teenager could be, and just possibly more so. I saw all her movies, and cherished them all. Naughty fellow that I was, I especially relished a film not mentioned in an otherwise thorough obit, “Club de Femmes” (Women’s Club). That, because it showed her in a shower scene, although one that had only minimal, dorsal nudity, with not even my revisits able to coax forth more.
It was in another of her films, “Un mauvais Garcon,” (A Bad Boy) that she delightfully sang, along with her charming co-star, Albert Prejean, “Je n’ donnerais pas ma place pour un boulet d’ canon’ (I wouldn’t trade my place for a cannon ball), which, however preposterous, made perfect sense when she sang it, becoming a place in our hearts. In fact, D.D. would not have been faulted by us no matter for whom or for what she had traded her place.
As the Times obit made plain, Danielle was in more than a hundred movies, and heaven knows how many stage productions over her very long performing career.
starting as a teenager and continuing very nearly to her demise. Once I even met her in the flesh, though it wasn’t quite the happiest occasion.
This was in 1969 or 70, when she succeeded Katharine Hepburn in the lead of “Coco,” the musical about Coco Chanel, which opened with Hepburn in the lead, although (in the words of theater historian Thomas Hischak) she “could barely croak out her few songs,” I had some use for the show to begin with, but really loved it when Darrieux took over the role. I wrote a three-page encomium that you can check out on pages 272-74 of my book, “Uneasy Stages.” In it, I wrote, along with much else, that D.D. was as good as a trip to Paris, and concluded my extensive paean with “Hepburn played it indomitable, Danielle plays it adorable.” The show would have garnered better reviews if D.D. had opened it.
I can’t here reproduce that whole lengthy rave, which D.D. obviously could not have read when I called on her backstage. She was surrounded by progeny and her current husband or partner, who might have had misgivings had she responded more warmly to my adulation. But no matter, the brief meeting remains one of my happiest recollections, even if by then Darrieux was well into her fifties. Yet, as I wrote, “Other women grow older; she only grows womanlier.”
Anita Gates’s obit does justice to the actress, who was as beautiful as she was talented, could sing and dance as well as she could act, and was indeed ageless, I believe, to her dying day. You should read this obit if you possibly can, which includes three pictures, and from which I quote.
“She continued acting well into her 90s, making nine films in the first decades of the 21st century. Her last big-screen appearance was in ‘Piece Montee’ (2010), a comedy about a family wedding. She also appeared in a 2011 television movie, ‘C’est Toi, ‘C’est Tout,’ playing an American grandmother.”
Apropos Anerican, Danielle made several excursions (or incursions?) into Hollywood cinema, but American movies never rose to the occasions. They were never in adequate vehicles--champagne in Coca Cola bottles. The still from a French movie of 1960 makes her look 25, not 43, and the portrait from 1987 at 70 makes her look 40. There is a picture of her in her favorite movie role, a French film adaptation of Stendhal’s “The Red and the Black” (1954), in which she co-starred with the brilliant Gerard Philipe.
Of her three marriages, the one to Dominican-born playboy Porfirio Rubirosa may constitute one blot on her scutchon, the other being continued acting in Nazi-occupied France. According to Oliver Goldsmith, when lovely woman stoops to folly, the only expiation is to die. But that was three centuries ago, and in a few respects we have progressed since then. Rubirosa was apparently a great lover, and I should have jumped at the offer by Norman Mailer to portray him in his play, “The Deer Park.” But, as I explained to Norman, a critic reviews plays in the evenings and thus cannot be also acting in them. I had to turn down his flattering invitation, earning me a swift punch in the plexus.
Most American moviegoers are likely to recall Darrieux in at last two of her three films directed by Max Ophuls: ”La Ronde,” “Le Plaisir,” and “The Earrings of Madame de .…” Possibly also in Anatol Litvak’s “Mayerling,” at age 19, based on the deeply touching murder suicide by Crown Prince Rudolf, Rodolfo in the Times and presumably in the film, portrayed by Charles Boyer, which I loved.
I am reminded that Darrieux’s only other Broadway appearance was opposite Howard Keel, in the short-lived musical “Ambassador,” based on Henry James, which didn’t help much. I am also reminded that whereas Brigitte Bardot was lucky in her initials, which spelled out Bebe, French for everybody’s baby. But Dede doesn’t spell anything, unless in the unlikely case that you count “Dedee, d’Anvers,” a film by Yves Allegret, starring another talented beauty, Simone Signoret.
As also a charming singer, Dede managed to be in more shows and films than many another, except perhaps Marlene Dietrich, but she was an altogether different kettle of fish. In my memories, I see Darrieux as a Grown-up Miss Sunshine, lighting up whatever she touched, as I wish I could say to her right now. “Never less than beautiful, and always in good humor,” is how the film historian David Thomson has described her. That would make a very nice epitaph, if immortals required an epitaph, other than the one we carry with us in our grateful remembrance.