So my beloved friend Gena Rowlands, the formidable actress and even more formidable, in a soft way, human being, told me the other night over dinner I had to go see 'La Vie en Rose,' she was so moved and impressed by Marion Cotillard who plays Edith Piaf in the film. Is Edith Piaf, really, once you have seen her. Unbelievable. She occupies her body, and, unmistakably, her spirit. My clever friend Jean Doumanian echoed Gena's sentiments, pointing out to me that the actress is only twenty-eight years old.
My sometimes friend Rex Reed wrote in his review that you would want to see it over and over again, and as I am very suggestible, once was not enough. I went Friday and again Saturday and would have gone again today except I am trying not to be compulsive. The performance is beyond remarkable, and the music is transformational, making you a part of Paris, which I never loved so much when I was living there as I do when I'm longing for it and wishing I had made better use of it. Literary use of it, I suppose, since all my dreams of Paris before the first time I was lucky enough to live there were based on what I had heard and read, Hemingway and Fitzgerald fantasies that never ripened into real.
Still, something happened to me in the course of watching the movie: I realized that my own life was not unlike Piaf's. True, my mother never sang in the streets. but she was a social director at resorts, which is not all that different, amusing people in passing. And she did abandon me when she had a date. Then again, I was encouraged to sing my songs in Paris not by someone who could later have been played in my movie by Gerard Depardieux, but by Maya Angelou, who said to me on that fateful night in the Mars Club when I was so uncomfortable and intimidated, because all the lights were orange and all the people were black, which you could still call them then, "Hoh-nee, you could get up and be bigger than anyone here." Thus it was that I got up onstage and sang my songs that had been such a hit at the Bryn MAwr Junior Prom; and the boss came over and said "You've got a job!" and I wired my mother "I am singing in a night club in Paris," and she wired me back, "Come home immediately." But I didn't. I stayed and sang my heart out, and part of my soul, too, I think, though there was no way I could be mistaken for Piaf unless a waif could be very overweight.
Nor did I ever have an affair with a boxer, but I did have a big hunky guy in my life who left too soon, though not in a plane crash. And then there's the moment when they ask Piaf what would happen if she could no longer sing, and she says she could no longer live, and I feel that way about writing, though it would be nice if there was a later appearance of some young Yves Montand. Also I have never knit, because I had a Nazi housemother in high school, Mrs. Lande, who said knitting required an IQ of 80, and I was afraid of that, as she also turned me away from bridge, which required 100, but Edith didn't play anything but supper clubs and music halls, so that omission doesn't count.
Still, it would be arrogant and delusional to think I could in any way compare myself to that great chanteuse, except I, too, lived in a whorehouse. Of course I didn't know it was a whorehouse, since my innocence extended not only to thinking I would find love and a career path in Paris, but also to assuming those sailors in the hall knocking on doors were in on leave and those were their girlfriends. I had moved to that hotel out of loneliness and desperation, because the French family I lived with and ate dinner with every night spoke to me only on the day my rent was due, and only after opening at the Mars did I feel secure enough to seek out my own lodgings. Sue Stanley, a peppery little Greek who was singing at the Dinarzade, the really upscale boite in Paris at the time, wanted my song "Sex," and so was very kind to me, and when I got sick, came to visit, saw where I was living, said "Oh, My God," packed me up, and got me out of there. "She's living in the only Left Bank hotel on the Right Bank" she said in her gravelly voice, which was not as good as Edith's, but then, whose was?
Certainly not mine. I would not dare to call my movie 'La Vie en Rose,' even if the title was available. I like peonies best at this point in my life, because they start out very tight and keep on opening and opening and even at full, lavish, almost overripe blossom are still lovely enough to paint, because you can see the heart at the center.