Meeting Maurice (by Cerélle Bolon)
As a Mademoiselle Magazine Guest Editor, one is asked to list three well known individuals one would like to meet and interview. What an opportunity! I knew it was unlikely that I would be able to meet the people I had in mind, but why not give it a try!?
My first choice was Frank Lloyd Wright. I had written a paper about his theory of design while in college and had always admired his architectural designs.
Secondly, but no less important to me, I listed Carl Sandburg. I love his poetry and his outlook on nature and God's representation in it. His use of words is a physical and mental delight!
Third, but hopefully more possible and definitely no less important to me, I wrote the name Maurice Chevalier. Now that was a big change, but I simply loved his "joie de vivre," his charm, his singing, and his sense of humor.
Of course, none of these choices came to pass. It was suggested that I choose someone in the fashion industry, for that was the category in which I had won. Besides, none of my choices was available...and Maurice was in France at that time.
Not too surprised by this, I was ready with an alternate choice, that of H-------. The interview was very pleasant, and I was happy to meet her for her ethnic peasant influenced designs were close to my heart. She was charming and helpful and a true delight.
Still, I WOULD have liked to meet that charmer Maurice Chevalier, and that was probably the only chance of my lifetime!
When my month long term as a guest editor came to an end, I obtained a temporary job with Lily Daché. She had been most gracious to the College Board Editors at the Mademoiselle reception, and my friend from Washington University and co guest editor Barbara Tunze and I both went to see her. She was preparing for the fall fashion show and hired us to put together hundreds of color coordinated sets of cosmetics as gifts for the fashion editors who would attend. It was a lot of fun and went very well. Still, I needed a real continuing job.
Fashion designers are an ego driven lot. It had been delightful knowing and working for Madame Daché. She was confident, successful, generous, and her fame had been established. Others, I found to be generally paranoid and jealous of each other.. distrusting of anyone. Of course, later, after working in the industry for a couple of years I could see why they had gotten that way!
Showing my portfolio to designers who had no interest in me became a humiliating experience. Worst of all was Sccasi... Mr. Issacs, actually. Oh, how I had admired his designs..but after meeting him and having him flip though my designs, dropping each one to the floor..I would not have worked for him for anything! What a nasty little fellow!
Finally, I was interviewed by Pembroke Squires at Cabana. He was pleasant enough, and at last said that Cabana did not need another designer, but he did need an assistant. Well, I had to pay rent and I had had quite enough of looking for a design job. I found out later that no one gets a job in this industry that way. Usually, they are found "under the table" through the fabric salesmen who move through the industry and know where a designer is needed, and it is all very much done by subterfuge. No one "gives notice" as that would alert the boss that you are leaving, and they fear you will take their new designs to a competitor.
If you find a designing job, it is anonymous and you do designs for which the head designer takes credit. The way to the top is, unfortunately, via back stabbing or attrition of the previous designer by alcoholism or some such misfortune. Of course, I found this out gradually, by experience and observation, and no little bit of salesman gossip.
The two years that I worked for Cabana were interesting, and I did meet some good friends there, but it showed me how little I would enjoy making this industry my "life's work." Not the least of the problems were the bosses who controlled the designing. They were not trained in fashion, and had hired designers but had the control, and were often known to barge into the design room waving a newspaper ad from a department store saying, "Here, knock this off!" (Copy this!)
Oh my, whatever it was, by the time it had reached a department store it was old hat already. I realized that I wanted to be independent in my designing, or find some other field entirely. Along the way, I had remained friends with Lily Daché and her husband, Jean Després. Mr. Després had offered to escort Jeanne Volk, my past college friend and current NY roommate, and me to the theater one evening. I had quite forgotten until one day he called and said Lily was abroad and he had time and would we like to go? Jeanne was going home that weekend for a family birthday, and so it ended up being just the two of us. He gave me the choice of any Broadway show I wanted to see. What an opportunity for a poor girl living in the big city!
At work, I asked everyone what was the best show running, and decided on "Flower Drum Song." True to his word, that is what we went to see and looking back, I am sure he must have paid a lot for those good tickets. I am afraid that Jean had been to see it already, but he did not decline. When he came to pick me up at the apartment he brought a large bottle of cologne from Coty, of which he was president, and also a bottle of good Champagne. How very French!
He was the best of guides and a charming companion, and treated me with utmost respect. How wonderful to be able to do such a thing and not need to worry about ulterior motives. Had I not known both Lily and Jean, and had he not invited both Jeanne and me, I would have had real doubts. It is wonderful to be able to say that I have only the best memories of these two fine people.
That evening, during our conversations, I told Jean how I had requested interviewing Maurice Chevalier. He said that he knew him well, but that Maurice was seldom in New York City. He offered to introduce us if Maurice should come into town. How fabulous that would have been! Alas, in those two years, he did not come. Imagine, a second chance and no luck again, so that was that.
Well, perhaps not. A few years later I was back in Arizona, married to Bill and life was moving on. We had met at the studio of Paul Coze in a painting class. Paul was a dear friend and I had always begged him to please let me meet Maurice, should he ever come to Phoenix, not that it was likely, of course, but just in case. Paul was the French consul in Arizona and was often host to celebrities, among them Marcel Marceau, Romaine Gary, Pierre Mendes France, and Valery Giscard d'Estaing, so one never knew.
Then a remarkable event occurred. Paul told me that Maurice was coming to perform a "one man show." Oh Joy, Oh delight! Of course Bill and I got good tickets and attended. It was presented in Phoenix Union High School Auditorium..imagine! In the early 60s that was the best stage available in our town and the visiting operas, Broadway shows, and the Phoenix Symphony all performed there.
With only his longtime pianist for accompaniment, he presented an amazing variety of vignettes, both humorous and poignant, and of course singing. I had no idea he was so talented and versatile. I suppose I should have known, as his many years on the stage in vaudeville in the 20s would have prepared him for anything.
At the intermission as we excitedly visited with Paul and expressed our admiration for Maurice's performance, Paul said, "You know my car. I am parked on the west side of the building. After the show, go to that side and you will see where the stage door is located. Stand where I will see you as we go to the car."
After the show, we excitedly hurried to the stage door area...along with a large crowd of other admirers. We lined ourselves up with Paul's station wagon and wondered if this could really be happening. Before long, the door opened and out they came. The crowd cheered and Maurice smiled and greeted the French and Francophiles in attendance.
Paul's tall frame led the way as he waded through the excited, but well behaved crowd...straight toward us! He stopped, turned to Maurice and said, "This is my student, Cerélle Bolon, who greatly admires you and has always wanted to meet you and would like your autograph!" Before I could say anything, he turned that blazing smile on me and said, "I don't give autographs, but would you like to kiss me?"
NOT what I had expected, but of COURSE! I replied, "I'd LOVE to." As he leaned forward, I was suddenly aware of Bill standing there and I kissed both his cheeks. Then I said to Maurice, "I would like you to meet my husband, Bill." Paul added, "He is my student, too." With that famous twinkle in his eyes, Maurice looked at Bill and with that wonderful accent said, "Don't worry, I'm not dangerous anymore."
What a treasure of a memory! Maurice, exactly as I had imagined him... gracious, charming, delightful and even at that age, so seductive! (He was born in 1889) Paul and Maurice attended a celebrity dinner with Henry and Claire Booth Luce and all the local celebrities. I did not even envy them that, for my experience had certainly been better.
A few days later, when we saw Paul, he presented me with a small piece of paper. In shock, I saw that it was the autograph of Maurice Chevalier! Paul said, with a twinkle of his own," I told him that any woman he knew well enough to kiss, he could give an autograph."
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