An evening with Catherine Deneuve
A slew of photographers review their photos of Catherine Deneuve. 8:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Last night in New York was about Catherine Deneuve. For me anyway, and surely for a lot of other people.

It was at a benefit the French Institute Alliance Francaise held at Restaurant Daniel. They called it La Nuit des Etoiles (“celebrating Rendez-Vous with French Cinema”).

They honored Jacques Bouhet, the Chief Executive Officer of SG Americas and Jacqueline Chambord, the Artistic Director of the French Institute Alliance Francaise. There was a Tribute to French Cinema by David McKenna, a professor of film on the faculties of Columbia University, Barnard, NYU and the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Catherine Deneuve
There was a video salute to the honorees – very amusing home movies that told you not only about them but also about their personalities. M. Bouhet is a very funny fellow who loves to ham it up although in real life he is a banker. He’s been married to the same woman for thirty-seven years. They have three children and two grandchildren. The footage goes all the way back to their meeting. You could see how jolly a fellow he is. It’s always interesting watching footage of any couple, but especially a French couple because after seeing all those French movies, you get ideas – you know what I mean? Anyway, the Bouhets look like a very happy couple. Not always so common an observation, don’t you think?

Then came the video of Mme. Chambord who had a long career as an actress. And very glamorous. She was a member of the Paris Opera. In film she appeared in Sascha Guitry’s Napoleon, Max OphulsThe Earrings of Madame De..., Christian-Jacques’s La Dubarry and Claude Autant Lara’s Marguerite de la nuit. She came to this country in 1957 and appeared in Joe Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival production of Henry V, and has since performed in many other stage productions. But in 1972, she started working with the FIAF in cultural programming.

Professor McKenna delivered a short tribute to French film, spoken from a personal angle about an American boy growing up in the late 60s, early 70s with his hormones raging and finding something entirely relatable (and hot!) in French films. We saw several clips including one with Gerard Depardieu (Going Places) and two with Mlle. Deneuve (Belle du Jour and Les Parapluies de Cherbourg). Since 1957, when she was 14, she has made more than 90 films!

So the Question is/was: how does she look? The great beauty of Umbrellas of Cherbourg. The face of ... what was it ...? The Chanel No. 5 ads? Before dinner there was a cocktail hour in Restaurant Daniel’s small cocktail lounge. It was mobbed and everyone was waiting for her to arrive including the bank of photographers at the end of the room. About ten to eight, it went through the crowd that she was in the room. I was looking for that face and when she first passed by, I didn’t recognize her because she has a quality that some great stars have of disappearing in the sea of faces. So she passed by without my noticing her.
L. to r.: Catherine Deneuve; Catherine Deneuve and Consul General Francois Delattre.
Then I got my table placement and discovered much to my great pleasure that I was seated at her table – three over from her. Once seated, I could not take my eyes off her and at the same time kept averting them so that she wouldn’t think I was staring. Which is what I wanted to do. I don’t speak French (and she does speak English) but she was surrounded by people with the exception of me and Charlie Rose (who was seated directly across from her) who spoke French to her. And I couldn’t think of a thing that was clever enough to amuse or distract her, so I said nothing. Just stared while faking not staring.

She is very beautiful. The face has matured, of course, but the beauty remains captivating and even mesmerizing. Actually compared to that beautiful young girl in Umbrellas, this was an even more beautiful countenance, for time had added mystique. So I sat there, talking to my dinner partners and sneaking glimpses of her - the eyes, the smile; the smooth and serene elegance, the beautiful blondeness. It’s powerful stuff. She wears her beauty without advertisement, like Garbo. I wondered how such a beautiful woman, and such a famous face, handles the awkwardness of having so many people wanting to just stare at her. It doesn’t matter. Her conversation was quite lively with those she conversed with (I had nothing to say to her so I kept my mouth shut). She talked in both English and in French.

At the end of the evening, one my dinner partners, Nathalie Gerschel Kaplan was kind enough to ask her if I could take her picture (I didn’t have the nerve — I didn’t want to bother her). She said it was fine. I took two: one with her and Consul General Francois Delattre and one alone. My photos serve to provide the pleasant memory but the pictures just don’t do it. They hardly convey the enormous charisma she radiates. Enough/cool it David!

One other lovely moment for me.
I heard that Anka Muhlstein was in the room with her husband, the novelist Louis Begley. I found someone who could not only point her out but introduce me to her. Mrs. Muhlstein wrote a book I read a few years ago about a French noble who was born during the French Revolution and led a very interesting and somewhat controversial life afterwards. His name was the Marquis de Custine. He wrote a seminal book about Russia after touring it called Russie 1839. So influential was his book that when George Kennan was made American ambassador to Russia after the Second World War, he requested everyone working with him read it. Some of the marquis’ observations about the Russian people are in Mrs. Muhlstein’s book. They are interesting to all of us.

She also published a two volume translation recently of the Diaries of Comtesse de Boigne, a French woman who was born at Versailles during the reign of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and lived through Napoleon, the Restoration and the Second Empire and wrote all about the experience up until 1830. Also a terrific read if you are fascinated as I am by history. So we spoke just long enough to make myself cloying. Mrs. Muhlstein’s dinner partner took a picture of us and I was on my way. Star-struck all around. A special evening in New York, and only – for me anyway – in New York.

Oh, and of course, there was the great Daniel Boulud menu:

Peeky Toe Crab Salad with Grapefruit – Mandarin Gelee Fennel Mousseline, Frisee and Crispy Coriander Tuile

Served with Chablis Saint Martin “Domaine Laroche”, 2002

Dover Sole Rissolee with a Celery Triology
Mache Salad and Black Truffle Dressing

Veal Trio:
Braised Veal Cheek, Glazed Sweetebreads and Roasted Loin
Creamy Potatoes, Porcini and Wilted Spinach

Served with: Knights Valley, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, California 2002

Duo of Desserts:

Single Estae Venezuelan Chocolate Fondant
Tangerine Trifle with Ginger Sabayon

Petits Fours, Chocolates and Madeleines.
David McKenna
Daniel dining room before dinner was served
Jacques Pepin and Marie-Monique Steckel
Geoffrey Holder
Elizabeth de Cuevas and Hal Witt
Charlie Rose and Lloyd Grove
Jacques Bouhet and Olivia Flatto
Sharon King Hoge
L. to r.: Anka Muhlstein and DPC; Nathalie Gerschel Kaplan; Jacqueline Chambord.
L. to r.: Billy Rayner, Phyllis Collins, Kathy Rayner, and Maurice Sonnenberg; Glen Lowry and Michèle Gerber Klein.
Rae Scarton and Gina de Franco
Maggie Norris and Joe Cheng
Jano Herbosch
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When Schulenberg first arrived in New York, from California in the early
1960s, he was enchanted by the variety and richness of the public places
where people congregated at all times of the day and night for drinks, for
tea, for cameraderie.

The Plaza's legendary Palm Court is about to become a memory, swept away by the mania for condos and shopping malls. Rumpelmeyer's in the Hotel St. Moritz at Central Park South and 6th Avenue, which also had an outdoor café in the warmer weather, was famous for its ice cream. The very classy meeting place, like its possessor, the St. Moritz, is now also gone, replaced by the Ritz Carlton. The Algonquin, however, home of the legendary Round Table of the literary wits of the 1920s and 30s, remains, intact and flourishing.

Right: At the San Remo bar in the Village.
Palm Court at The Plaza Hotel, 2-26-61
Algonquin, 3-29-61
Rumpelmayer's at the St. Moritz, 4-11-61
Rumpelmayer's at the St. Moritz, 4-11-61

March 11, 2005, Volume V, Number 44
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch & DPC/


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© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/