By Allyn Freeman
It was the day after Thanksgiving in 1963. I waited in the Cannes airport to board a late afternoon flight to Paris where I worked for an American company. At the newsstand, I bought Le Figaro. Rather than circle around the woman standing between me and the International Herald Tribune, I reached over her for the newspaper. As I did, I accidently stomped sharply on her left shoe.
Mon Dieu! Oh no, no, no! I recognized that lovely face; I had crunched the toes of Jeanne Moreau! For this transgression against France’s cinematic superstar (the actress in notable films like Les Amants, Jules et Jim, and La Notte), could my punishment be a one-way ticket to the guillotine?
In late November, I came to the Riviera to rendezvous with my college roommate, a gunnery officer on the USS Independence, the aircraft carrier stationed in the Mediterranean. We agreed to spend Thanksgiving together, and I arranged a business trip to visit clients in Nice and Monte Carlo. On Thursday night, we dined at a bistro that served slices of turkey, substituting the French fare of petits pois (peas) and Lyonnaise potatoes for the traditional American bread stuffing and yams topped with marshmallows. An apple tart and a glass of Calvados finished off the ersatz holiday dinner.
As Moreau gaped at me with a pained expression, I apologized in French (embellished here), “My Chère Madame, luminary goddess of the stage and screen, may the cloven hooves of a thousand truffle-sniffing pigs trample my shameful self. I implore you, kind lady, to forgive the maladroit, awkward, clumsy, and heavy-footed gaucherie of a young American man far from his native land who has always been a grateful admirer of the Marquis de Lafayette. My regrets are profound and sincere.”
She realized that I suffered intense distress, replying, “Not to worry, I can still walk with a good right foot.”
Our chance meeting could have ended at the newsstand. But as we moved further into the airport, I realized we were on the same plane to Paris. It was an open-boarding flight without assigned seating. She took an aisle seat, and I sat across on the opposite aisle, one row behind. In this arrangement, I could stare at her unobserved during the flight, using the two newspapers as concealment. Every once in a while, she peered out of the side of her right eye to see if I was watching. I was, I was.
Arriving at Paris’ Orly airport, I shadowed her a discreet few yards, behind and unseen. Moreau exited the airport, striding briskly to a waiting black Rolls Royce parked at the curb. A liveried chauffeur held the rear door open. She waved him off, saying, “Louis, I’m driving.” He shut the door, and ran around to the front, passenger side.
Moreau climbed into the driver’s seat as I stood a few feet from the rear of the Rolls. She moved the seat forward and adjusted the side view mirror, noticing for the first time that the remorseful foot crusher from Cannes continued observing her from afar. She twirled her hand back in my direction, a personal gesture of forgiveness and farewell. Then, Jeanne Moreau, with her undamaged right foot on the gas pedal, motored off into the Paris night and out of my life.