By Larry Teren
We live in a divisive world culture today where everything seems to be evaluated in terms of black and white, good and evil, right and wrong. There is little room for compromise. This putting of things into such perspective has shaped our hero worshiping. Celebrities whom we cherish can quickly become vilified if we disagree with their politics.
For example, in the 1960’s I grew fond of Fonda- Jane, that is. As a healthy male teenager, I found her alluring beauty as well as her level of talent a must-watch movie star. I enjoyed films such as her debut in Tall Story, Barbarella, Klute, Sunday in New York, Cat Ballou and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
But then Janey ruined it for me when she went to North Viet Nam in 1972 and acted as a stooge for the communist enemy our soldiers were bravely fighting. Others were harsher and called her a collaborator. From that point on, I could not separate her politics from her talent. She made the decision that it was important for her to be a thinking, well-rounded person who not only got paid to entertain but espouse her beliefs. It was equally important for me to decide how and from whom I wanted to be entertained.
It didn’t help when she married Ted Turner, another celebrity whose politics were several degrees distant from mine. In more recent years, Fonda has also expressed other liberal views with which I disagree. It’s her constitutional right to express her opinions and it’s mine to decide whether I concur or not. Even if the judgmental ledger were to swing my way and a vast majority of people were to find her obnoxious, I doubt if that would change her politics. But, that’s okay- she shouldn’t. The point is- she is entitled to hers, and I to mine.
In the grand scheme of things there are arenas where a majority consensus is required. The problem is getting enough people to express themselves so that we all know the scorecard and not just rely on who shouts the loudest.
The most iffy collaborator in show business history was Maurice Chevalier.
During WWI, he was in the French army and injured on the battlefield, captured and brought to a German prisoner of war camp where he resided for two years. He was swapped in a prisoner exchange arranged by the King of Spain through an intermediary. It was also during those two years that he learned English from a fellow prisoner.
More than twenty years later, during World War II, Maurice Chevalier fled German-occupied Paris to the south in the puppet-Vichy government. He went there with his common-law wife, a Jewess, and her parents.
He kept the parents hidden while his woman, Nita, stayed with him flouting the repression by the Vichy officials. The local authority was hard pressed to fill requested quotas of rounding up Jews and turn them over to Nazi spies. Nita apparently was left unharmed and her parents could not be found. This led others who dealt with the daily misery of spies all around them to believe that Maurice Chevalier was given special privileges for whatever reason.
To compound this- Maurice Chevalier had decided to stop performing for the duration of the war but the Nazis “requested” that he come to Germany to perform. He agreed on one condition- that he be allowed to go and perform for the inmates of Altern Grabow, the POW camp he stayed at for two years during the previous war. In addition, he wanted that ten prisoners who were originally from his home town be freed.
The deal was struck. Maurice Chevalier sang and danced for the inmates and told them not to fret, that he had been there longer than anyone would ever be and to keep up their spirits. Shortly after he returned to his new home in the south of France, he met a former inmate who told Maurice Chevalier that he along with nine others were allowed to go home.
After France was liberated, Maurice Chevalier’s enemies accused him of being a collaborator for the Nazis during World War II. He denied it saying that he only wanted to get some prisoners freed. At one point, his accusers were ready to take him out to be shot but cooler heads prevailed. Other leading celebrities testified on his behalf.
A few years later, in the early 1950’s, Maurice Chevalier was offered a contract to come back to America and perform as he had in the 1930’s. He accepted but was denied a visa because he had signed a petition wanting to abolish the atomic bomb. The U.S. State Department thought of him as an undesirable sympathetic to the communists during the McCarthy witch hunt era. Once this zealous approach to stalking the enemy died down, Maurice Chevalier was given his cherished visa.
He came back to America,
made Love In the Afternoon with Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper and then followed with his signature movie role in Gigi.
Was Maurice Chevalier a dupe or a collaborator who just wanted things made easier for himself and his loved ones regardless of who else suffered? We will never know.