Magazine article The Spectator

Love Story

Magazine article The Spectator

Love Story

Article excerpt

Arletty was a great French star of the silver screen during the Thirties and Forties, but she was also known for a few outspoken apophthegms about having sex with a German officer during the occupation. 'If you hadn't let them in, I wouldn't have slept with him, ' and the better known, 'My heart is French, but my arse is international.' Like immortal ancient Greeks such as Socrates, Plato, Taki, Aristophanes and Pericles, Arletty used only one name, but fans knew her as 'la môme de Courbevoie', due to her childlike appearance at the start of her career.

A new book out in France includes the love letters of Arletty and the young Luftwaffe officer who became the love of her life. When I read a review of it I suddenly froze. The Luftwaffe officer turns out to be the German ambassador who was tragically lost while swimming in the Congo river on 9 October 1960, an incident I had referred to in one of my columns. It came about as follows: Paul Johnson had written in these here pages about crocodiles and had mentioned the German's death. I had discussed it with him at his 50th wedding-anniversary party, and he had made a harmless joke about crocs eating Germans. I repeated the comments in my own column. Alas, members of his family read them, and sent me a very polite note taking me to task for making fun of a man who died in front of his family in horrible circumstances and whose body was never found. I wrote back apologising and have felt pretty lousy about it ever since.

Now I read that the ambassador was one and the same as Arletty's lover, a handsome and heroic Luftwaffe pilot who after the war was named ambassador to the Congo just as that tragic country became independent. His name was Hans Jürgen Soehring, and he was first introduced to Arletty by -- believe it or not -- a lady whom I knew in Paris 40 years ago, Josée de Chambrun, she being the daughter of Pierre Laval, the French premier executed after the war. Her husband was a courageous man and a top lawyer who defended OAS nationalists and soldiers who fought to keep Algeria French.

Arletty was introduced to the Luftwaffe officer in March 1941 and soon after they met again in the château de Grosbois, near the main Luftwaffe base, and where the actress was filming Madame Sans-Gêne.

Their passionate affair became public as the lovers met at her flat on 13 Quai de Conti, very close to the Académie française. They attended the opera together, took trips to the winter resort of Megève, and he even introduced her to Field Marshal Goering in one of the latter's frequent shopping trips to Paris. All was hunky-dory except that his career suffered as a result. …

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