“In France it’s assumed that if you’re a woman you are sexy, and you don’t have to put a dress on to prove it, too.”
And it was that sentence from the chapter “The Look I Left Behind” from Olivia de Havilland’s collection of essays Every French Man Has One that utterly enchanted me and reminded me why I’m such a Francophile and a lover of classic Hollywood.
Most of you best remember the iconic Miss de Havilland for her role as Melanie Wilkes in the film classic Gone With the Wind. But she also starred in The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Snake Pit, and one of my favorites, The Heiress, for which she won a very much deserved Oscar for Best Actress.
Miss de Havilland is still with us at 100-years-old and makes her home in Paris, France. So I felt it was only befitting to read her memoir Every French Man Has One (published in 1962), which chronicles her early days in Paris with her French husband Pierre and her children Benjamin and Gisèle.
Like a lot of Americans de Havilland was both charmed and confused by the French culture, language, traffic, food, people and customs. But being a plucky sort, she chose to rise to each befuddling occasion with humor and an open mind.
Throughout Every French Man Has One de Havilland delights the reader with her elegant yet down to earth writing style. Yes, she is a movie star and quite privileged; most of us don’t associate with the high society and famous people, and most of us don’t have maids. But de Havilland’s musings on tackling learning a new language or learn a foreign custom (and often failing at the attempt) is quite amusing and easy to commiserate with. I remember my high school French lessons didn’t quite help when I got to go to Paris many moons ago. Needless to say, I ordered a lot of café au laits during my brief time in the City of Light.
There were other segments of Every French Man Has One that completely enchanted me like how American women and French women approach everything from fashion to cooking to rearing children.
Every French man fully exposes de Havilland’s honest self-awareness without slipping into narcissistic self-absorption that seems to have a grip on today’s celebrities (Lena Dunham, I’m looking in your direction).
Now for those of you who are looking for some sordid Hollywood gossip, well, you won’t find it in Every French Man Has One. de Havilland is a class act and a keeper of secrets, which is quite refreshing as her is her breezy and witty writing style.
Another thing I liked about Every French Man Has One was how each chapter can be read piecemeal; yes this book is a memoir but it is done in an essay style format. And every reader will find a chapter that is a true standout.
Now as for that elusive title, Every French man Has One. Is Olivia de Havilland referring to what your think she is referring to? You’ll just have to read the book to find out…