You must remember this: Bogie knew how to get to the French
Riviera. Just board a train from Paris on a rainy afternoon and
next morning you're soaking in the sun on a beach in Marseille.
Of course Bogie took a boat to Oran and then headed west to
Casablanca, but that's another story.
For years Hollywood's biggest stars flocked to towns such as
Nice, Cannes and Saint-Tropez to sun, swim and
even--occasionally--sail. Irving Berlin once wrote that he would
sail down the avenue, but "a yacht we haven't got." Among the
Hollywood set who vacationed there, though, everyone had a yacht
or a close friend who had one. Gary Cooper, just in from a
back-lot Dodge City, would trade his six-shooter for an ascot
and a captain's hat. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton found
yachting the only way to escape the paparazzi. Jackie, bigger
than any Hollywood star in 1963, escaped the White House to tour
the Greek Islands on Ari's yacht. Years later they honeymooned
If the area was good for vacationing, it was also good for
filming. Cary Grant, the cat burglar, went swimming in the
Mediterranean with the beautiful rich girl from the U.S. In real
life, that girl became a princess and sat on a throne in Monaco.
James Bond, it seemed, was always racing his car around hairpin
turns or test-driving a tailored tux in one of the Riviera's
casinos. One of Bing and Bob's roads led to Morocco, and had the
film been shot, say, 40 years later, they might have actually
made it there, but like the rest of their roads, this one led
only to Soundstage 51.
You didn't have to be a movie star to go down to the sea in
yachts. In retirement, Winston Churchill could be found cruising
on the Mediterranean. Years earlier, he and his buddy, FDR, chose
Casablanca for a wartime summit, although they never stopped in
for a drink at Rick's Cafe Americain.
It is not surprising, given Hollywood's interest in the Riviera,
that the most famous film festival in the world is held each
spring in Cannes. Started in 1946, it attracts crowds of
celebrities and celebrity-seekers for two weeks' worth of
movie-viewing and party-going, culminating in its various awards,
topped by the Palme d'Or for best picture.
As time goes by, dreams and memories merge, and it becomes
difficult to distinguish one from the other. Many midnights ago,
I seem to recall, I was at one of those elegant parties in a
grand hotel overlooking the Mediterranean. Everyone was drinking
champagne. In the ballroom, the band was playing a Gershwin
medley. Couples were dancing: Sophia and Carlo, Liz and Richard,
Ava and a young man who moved like a matador. I noticed Ava was
barefoot. In the bar, Papa was explaining to Scott why Gatsby
would never sell. At a corner table, a woman I did not recognize
sat alone. Later I learned it was Garbo.
I was out on the patio under a thousand stars, listening to Coop
and Errol compare notes on their latest conquests, when I felt a
tap on my shoulder. It was Bardot. No one who knew her well
called her anything else. She sipped some champagne from my
glass, then took my hand.
"Come with me," she whispered. We took the winding staircase down
to the hotel gardens, across the great lawn and onto the beach.
"We will go for a swim," she said.
"But I have no bathing suit," I answered.
Bardot reached out and gently tapped the tip of my nose with her
finger. "You silly American," she said.
With that, she slipped out of her dress. She stood there for a
moment in the moonlight, then turned and dived into the
The water, I recall, never felt so warm.