These Hollywood people. They really are different from you and me. I’m such a fan of Candice Bergen that I downloaded her new book, “A Fine Romance,” for Kindle. And guess what? In the middle of a wrenching recollection of how the urbane, gorgeous Bergen nursed her wonderful husband, French director Louis Malle, during his terminal illness, comes this revelation: Frances Bergen, Candice’s equally gorgeous mother, had an affair with Louis’s older brother, Jean-Francois. This is a little nutty since Louis Malle’s most famous movie, “Murmur of the Heart,” was about incest between a mother and son. And his last movie, “Damage,” was about a father who beds his son’s girlfriend. Bergen writes about this in the context of Malle’s funeral in 1995:
“My mother, I realized, had come to Paris for the funeral primarily because it would give her an opportunity to see Louis’s brother, Jean-François. In one of the weirder chapters in our marriage, Louis and I had introduced Mom to Jean-François, thinking he would be someone she would enjoy having lunch with once in a while in New York City. But we forgot that Jean-François was a notorious ladies’ man, a handsome, smooth, rakish devil. A Harvard graduate, a racehorse owner, and head of Lehman’s in Europe, he’d left a trail of broken hearts in his path. My mother’s was now at the end of the list.
During their affair Mom had lost twenty years. She wore a ponytail for the first time. She had a spring in her step; she was girlish. She went to Paris to visit him, frequenting a famous club, Les Bains, ate at his favorite haunts. Jean-François had taunted Louis at the time: “I’m going to have an affair with your mother-in-law. I’m going to marry her and then I’ll become your father-in-law and then I’m going to cut you off!” This was, unfortunately for my hard-hit mother, a joke . Jean-François , characteristically, moved on. My mother was devastated. “He was the one,” she announced.
Frankly, it was, as moments go, slightly awkward, somewhat too close to a Louis Malle film. Too close for Louis Malle, in fact, who never mentioned it once during the entire few months of their affair. But now we were at the reception and my mother, looking elegant and demure in a dress and a chapeau, was sitting down next to Jean-François, who had just lost his little brother and who looked wrecked. He now proceeded to get more wrecked, and now his brother’s mother-in-law was confronting him about who the hell knows what, and frankly, Mom, it was not the time.”
Okay! Frances, of course, had long been married to Candice’s famous ventriloquist father, Edgar Bergen. No judgments! The rest of “A Fine Romance” is witty, disarming, sometimes laugh out loud funny and poignant. Last week, news outlets jumped on a passing reference Candy made about being fat and not caring. But the book is much, much more. And certainly worth the $14.99!
PS I met Louis Malle, I think, in 1987 or 1988. John Guare brought him to a screening I hosted. I can’t remember what movie it was but I think it was John Sayles’ “Matewan.” We always stayed in touch, and in 1992 I wrote a piece for The New York Observer about Louis’s movie, “Damage” getting an absurd NC-17 rating. Candice’s book is as much a tribute to him as anything else, and it’s beautiful. He was a great man, and died much too soon.