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Betty Werther

in Interviews - Personalities

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scroll down for part II

I first met Betty Werther at a dinner party chez Naomi Barry, herself a legend at Gourmet magazine, in 2009. I am proud to call her a good friend.

In preparation for the publication of an article on the Lighthouses of Brittany I asked her a few questions (Please read to the end and be prepared for another instalment next week)

When did you first come to Paris and why did you come back to stay?

1949 – straight out of college (UC Berkeley where my grandmother gave  me a choice: join a sorority or European trip??? 

back to NYC n 1952 to get MA at Columbia, then back to Paris in 1953 which turned out to be permanent. 

What were the 3 most significant stories that you have covered?

 Orson Welles doing Kafka’s “Trial” at the old Gare d’Orsay; a couple of interviews with adorable Giacometti; following the real fashion innovations of Courreges during the spring/fall Paris fashion openings. I found everything else, over like 7 years of coverage to be hysteria over leakage to 7th ave. and a couple of inches of hemline or waist.  Lots more like Claude Levi-Strauss on structuralism and following wonderful Pierre Mendes-France on one of his election campaigns, or swimming around his rented Antibes villa to see if Walter Wanger was really not there. DeGaulle  press conferences but just routine. 

What are the greatest changes you have seen in Paris?

 Mothers granted the right to travel abroad with their children and open bank accounts (Loi de July, 1965!!!; My street, rue de l’Annonciation, Paris 16, became wonderfully pedestrian in the 1960s…or 1970s??;  lighting on the Eiffel Tower became low-energy, then began to sparkle; Quais on the Left Back became one-way; Television BEGAN airing in the 1950s; the Socialists won in 1981 and so on…then 2 oil crises, wars and terrorism and the FN began to rise, etc. Devalue came back, then left again.  While MacDo opened to the Right on my street, then Starbucks opened in a sort of Mall on the Left. AND, Paris began to expand in all directions – Rungis replaced the marvelous old Les Halles and nearby Centre Pompidou participated in a massive rehabilitation of Le Marais, previously a sort of slum area. Sarcelles and other city/suburbs replaced the old eye-sore bidonvilles, China moved into the 13th and elsewhere, suburbs became more and more diverse and multi-colored,  and life goes on…

What are your favourite Paris pleasures?

Cinema evenings with friends followed by supper; dinners or lunches with family; “free” days at home lunching with “the Little House on the Prairie” or “Doctor Quinn”. quiet evenings at home with “Josephine” or (Alas! Alas!) “Downton Abbey”; reading some really terrific books, birdwatching from my windows; remembering over something like 20,000 (63 X 365 minus 60 X 63 for holidays and trips outside Paris) more active by-gone days of  theatre, ballet, exhibitions, lectures, long walks, wild demos etcetera besides (all in Paris) 2 husbands, 3 mothers-in-law, 2 delightful daughters-in-law and one very sweet and handsome quasi son-in-law, 2 great children, 4 grandchildren, plus a truly fulfilling career in journalism, and lots of good friends. Could anyone ask for more?  Well – maybe another lunch with Terrance when  the first Chestnuts blossom..

Scan 9-2PART II

OMG – You set me cogitating. Plus in my earliers – my Mac keeps doing corrections of its own like changing DeGaulle (“came back and left again” ) to Devalue (hmmm!. i actually came back to France in 1953 to stay because in NYC (Columbia has a sort of neutral chapel) I had married my first husband, met in line at the Cité Universitaire International House canteen my first week in Paris – when he was a medical student. He then joined me in the U.S. and did a year of interning at (Wow!) Kings Country Hospital, Brooklyn. 

Because of your pushing,  tons of words in as many articles tumble out.  For a while, after Time Mag. I was on a kind of Czech beat for the old Trib – first with political rambling like “The Third Anniversary of the PRAGUE SPRING” which ran two full columns on the Editorial Page of the Trib, right next to a piece by Archibald MacLeish.  After that I concentrated on “positive” window-openers. Later I had a full HALF PAGE in Le Monde Diplomatique on UNESCO when the U.S. pulled out for the first time. But many articles on musicians like Benedetto Michelangeli, Teresa Berganza, Barbara Hendricks (delightful ladies) … and wonderful days with Arturo Rubinstein for the English version of a film  (“Love of Life/Amour de la Vie) by Francois Reichenbach. Lots of time with and articles on Vasarely, Graham Sutherland, the big Paris art shows, etc.  but then for a great American mag first called “Craft Horizons” then “American Craft Mag” – many articles from soup to nuts including a big spread on Thonet Chairs. I guess I had a particularly good time for an article (TIME) on the Guide Michelin, the year resto Lasserre won its 3 stars. That  won ME quite a few lovely free eats (unbeknownst to TIME which burned you at the stake for “junkets”) . But as we know, without constant upkeep, good things come to an end. Also for Lasserre, now down to 2 stars. AND for the Readers’ Digest (Ouch!) a long article on Reunion Island where I met up with people involved with a multi-murderer, one chapter in a book I “Did” for RD on Interpol. Also articles on Cardin, Etienne Chapaz a one-legged, blind (Algerian war victim) skier with whom I became friendly. Also off-the-top-of -my-head 1st persons on a Rat in my apartment and another on Shipwrecks and the Island of Ouessant. Lots of fun and extraordinary people met and appreciated along the way. Rod Steiger, Shirley McLaine, Gina Lollobrigida, Jules Dassin. He totally captivated me and not only because he refused to let me buy him an “expense account” lunch saying  he took (wicked) pleasure in inviting Henry Luce (my boss at the time or had been. Must have been before 1967 when he died), Liza Minelli, (one of those horror assignments. I HAD TO interview her on what SHE thought about Hope Lange, and she didn’t exactly like that.  Another “horror” was having to ask Lee Radziwill in London what she thought of her sister Jacqueline Kennedy marrying Onassis),  Akim Tamiroff (a sweetie), Jackie Gleason, Petula Clark, Robert Charlebois (he was performing at Olympia, then directed by Bruno Coquatrix. Coquatrix told me he  had  turned down the sono. Charlebois told me he knew that Bruno had turned down the sono but that HE had turned it up again), all of the French New Wavers (Truffaut, Goddard, Chabrol, Renais, etc) and on and on… Probably what I feel the most for are dozens of articles written when for 8 or so years I was co-editor of a magazine at Unesco called “Sources” (for which I attended and reported on a Conference in Beijing in 1992. Climbed a really GREAT Wall over there) wherein we dealt with everything essential to the PLANET (population, women, pollution and the environment, the oceans, water in general, energy focused on renewables, culture, Africa, reducing the risks of natural disasters, literacy of course and every aspect of education,  the first mention of sustainable development in the 1970s, and actually global warming way back before it was (as now in all probability) too late. 

Truly sorry for all this My American Friend in Paris. Shouldn’t have gotten me started.  Big Bisous, Betty 

 

 

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