Thursday, February 4, 2016

Famous among the elites

Looking south along Hudson and Duane Streets. 9:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Thursday, February 4, 2016.  Raining in New York. All day and into the night. Temperatures in the high 50s and low 60s.

Yesterday was Michael’s Wednesday. It’s always an interesting crowd to this writer looking for tomorrow’s column. Michael’s is a good idea simply because of the mix of the clientele, and there’s very often Somebody to stir the imagination or the keyboard. It’s a media restaurant although more and more I see bankers, lawyers, private equity directors, and hedge fund managers.

Yesterday looked (partly) like this. In the front room: Alexandre Chemla presided over table one with several guests; nearby: Shelly Lazarus President of Oglivy & Mather; Mavis Taintor, Natalie Gramins; Allyn and Susan Magrino with Julian Schnee; Mickey Ateyeh with Mark Simone; Marshall Cogan; Christine Fischer, of AXA ART; Louis Forster; Dr. Gerry Imber and Jerry Della Femina, Andrew Bergman and Jeff Greenfield; Marc Rosen; Andrew Stein.

Around the room: Joan Gelman, who is going to New Hampshire tomorrow to work for Hillary, was lunching with Cynthia Kayan; literary agent Ed Victor; Laurie Tisch; Blair Effron; Leslie Stevens; Brooke Hayward Duchin and Alex Hitz; Jack Kliger; Mathalie Moar, Cindi Berger; Peter Price; Gus Wenner, scion and head of Rolling Stone’s digital; Greg Clark, and ... Mel Brooks, creator of the 2000 Year Old Man and a fabulous career in Show Business like no other man even if he lived 2000 years. But that’s debatable of course, at the Friars, and elsewhere.

When it comes to seeing celebrities at Michaels, I have all kinds of personal reactions that run the gamut, but when you see Mel Brooks – and I mean, just some alter kocker-looking guy in a baseball cap strolling by at a brisk pace to the table under the Hockney – you just laugh. The thought of the guy is enough to make you laugh, and seeing his stride only adds to it. He’s a wonderful funny man for all time. A total pleasure to behold. I noticed the two guys who were seating with him were also smiling too.
Last night at the Met. Marymount School of New York celebrated its 90th anniversary with a reception for 800 people across the street from the school, in the Temple of Dendur at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

The event was hosted by international fashion legend and philanthropist, Noriko Daisy Lin Maeda, and her daughter, Hanako, who is a Marymount graduate. Noriko is the creator and owner of Japanese fashion brand, Foxey. Hanako launched her own New York City-based label, ADEAM, in 2011. The evening raised more than $1 million for the school's Preservation Fund.

Guests raved about the food provided by Restaurant Associates, and DJs AndrewAndrew provided the fabulous music for the event.
Hanako Maeda, Noriko Daisy Lin Maeda, and Concepcion Alvar, Headmistress of Marymount School.
Aerial view of the Marymount anniversary celebration Tuesday night at the Temple of Dendur.
The Marymount School on the corner of 82nd Street and Fifth Avenue across from the Met.
Today we are running another great obituary from the Telegraph of London about a woman whose name was famous among the elites and international society in the last half of the 20th Century.  More than a few women of that ilk, long since married, have been attributed to her stellar reputation in business. If you’ve never heard of her – or even if you have – you’re in for a good story of a remarkable woman.
Madame Claude (real name Fernande Grudet), who has died aged 92, was known to the international jet set as perhaps the most famous purveyor of high-class call girls in the world.

Her career in the vice trade began in Paris after the war (in which she claimed to have worked with the Resistance).

Following a brief but not particularly successful period as a call girl (“I was never pretty enough,” she recalled later), she astutely realised that the saucy image of the Parisian prostitute with the enormous cleavage was out of date and that there was an unmet demand among well-heeled punters for girls they would not be ashamed to show off in public – girls who combined beauty and sexual expertise with intelligence and total discretion. “There are two things that people will always pay money for,” she wrote in her autobiography Madam (1994): “Food and sex, and I wasn’t any good at cooking”.
Madame Claude in 1986. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Opening an establishment on the Quai des Orfevres in 1961, she recruited girls from the Paris catwalks, from the best colleges, and from the show bars. She hired private tutors to teach them a smattering of art and philosophy, sent them on trips abroad to learn languages and culture, paid for any necessary plastic surgery (of which she was herself a huge fan, having had everything but her breasts “done”), and encouraged them to broaden their sexual repertoire. Her stroke of genius was to introduce a system whereby clients booked an appointment over the telephone, giving rise to the term “call girls”.

Recruitment appears to have been no problem; indeed Madame Claude maintained she was over-subscribed. “About 20 girls a month would come to me, and I would choose one,” she recalled. She judged them initially on “face, figure and intelligence”, before subjecting them to a final hurdle – a night with one of her “essayeurs”, a trusted team of testers who would sample the girls and report back on their sexual technique.
Madame Claude in 1977.
For those who passed the rewards were substantial. At her height she ran 200 “swans” with 30 to 50 favourites, many of whom could say they did not get into bed for less than $10,000 a day. Madame Claude took 30% of the takings. Among her recruits she claimed to have a Normandy countess, the daughter of a French Air Marshal, a university professor, a famous fashion model and the wives of several leading Paris figures. “If you walked into a room in London or Rome and saw a girl who was better-looking, better-dressed and more distinguished than the others,” one client, a New York banker, was quoted as saying, “you presumed she was a girl from Claude.”

According to William Stadiem (who wrote an unpublished biography of Madame Claude), her clients in the 1960s and 1970s included such figures as Colonel Gaddafi, Moshe Dayan, Marlon Brando and “half the French Cabinet”. The Shah of Iran had a standing order of girls flown out to Tehran every Friday. The painter Marc Chagall gave the girls his nude sketches of them, while the Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli once enjoyed an orgy with a group then took them all to Mass afterwards.
Madame Claude in Los Angeles in 1985.
The more famous the client the more peculiar his tastes. John F. Kennedy wanted a girl who resembled his wife, Jackie, “but hot”, while Jackie’s second husband, Aristotle Onassis, who arrived at the brothel accompanied by his then mistress Maria Callas, made “depraved requests that made Claude blush”.

Madame Claude was proud of her business. “It was run in as moral a fashion as any business you could imagine,” she wrote later. “There was no pimping... Everyone enjoyed complete freedom. The girls did their job and I did mine.” While Claude herself loathed sex and did not think that anyone over 40 should be allowed to “do it”, she loved the control she exercised: “It makes me laugh when I see the photographs of the ladies and countesses in the social pages of Tatler, Harpers and Vogue, and count up which ones started off by working for me,” she told an interviewer.
Madame Claude after her arrest in 1986 (Photo: Rex Features).
But in 1976 the French tax authorities began to investigate her finances. To avoid arrest she fled to Los Angeles, where she remained for a decade. But attempts to resume her business (during which she tried, unsuccessfully, to recruit Joan Collins) came to nothing, and she lost a fortune in a failed patisserie and hotel enterprise. In 1985 she returned to France believing the statute of limitations meant she was safe from prosecution. She was wrong and served a four-month prison sentence, albeit in a converted 17th-century castle, from which she emerged, unapologetic and unreformed, to revive her old business.
Madame Claude's attempts to resume her business came to nothing (her bid to woo Joan Collins proved unsuccessful).
She moved back to Paris, ostensibly to work in a boutique, and started off again. By 1992, she had a dozen girls on her books at £1,000 an hour. The previous year, however, had seen the appointment of a new head of the Paris vice squad, Martine Monteuil, an insouciant blonde who, in her younger days would not have looked out of place in Madame Claude’s establishment.

Commissionaire Monteuil set about cleaning up the streets with unusual zeal. When she heard rumours that Madame Claude was back in business, a vice squad undercover unit began checking out an address in the Marais district. When police burst into Madame Claude’s third-floor flat they found her inspecting a naked job applicant called Sabrina. “My dear,” she was heard saying on a tape later played in court, “those thighs are a little heavy.”

Madame Claude aged 73 (Photo: i-Images).
Back she went to prison, this time for five years.

“My treatment has been a disgrace,” she complained. “If I was Madame Nobody, I would have been in and out of court in a day, fined and freed. Monteuil has used me to make her reputation, she has squeezed all the glory she can out of me. I am an old lady being forced to suffer for the vanity of others.”

After serving her time, she moved to Nice, where she was reported to be living quietly with several cats.

Fernande Grudet was born in Angers, western France, on July 6 1923. According to her version, she was the daughter of a politician from an aristocratic family, was educated by nuns from the Visitandine order, became a Resistance heroine, was interned in a concentration camp where she saved the life of Charles de Gaulle’s niece, survived and later sold bibles to survive. An alternative version had her father running a snack cart at Angers railway station and an early life on the back streets of Paris learning her trade the hard way. It seems to be true, however, that she had a concentration camp number tattooed on her wrist. It was also true that she had a daughter (she claimed the father had died in a concentration camp), who was raised by her mother and with whom she had no contact.

Fernande Grudet adopted the name Madame Claude when she opened her first brothel in the 1950s, and then moved to more prestigious premises near the Champs Élysées.
Madame Claude was played by Françoise Fabian in "The French Woman."
Although she claimed to dislike sex, she reportedly married twice – for practical reasons. The first marriage, in 1972, gained her a Swiss passport; the second, a US green card.

Madame Claude was not, by all accounts, a pleasant woman. One of her girls was quoted as likening her to a “slave driver on a plantation in the American South” who considered it unprofessional if her girls “wasted energy experiencing pleasure” during sex. The actress Francoise Fabian who portrayed her in a 1977 film described her as “une femme terrible” to whom “men were wallets and women were holes”.

Madame Claude, born July 6 1923, died December 19 2015
 

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