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The Making of a White Liberal: Part Three

If Jean found her Lutheran upbringing strict and puritanical, she would absolutely hate life under director Otto Preminger. Preminger was born in Austria to a Jewish family.1 Although he was not the only major influence in Jean's life, he was perhaps one of the worst.

Like many people, Preminger would use Jean for his own selfish reasons. Marlon Brando would later say he "wouldn't work for that bastard, not even for ten million dollars."2 Preminger kept a tight control of Jean's daily schedule during the filming of Saint Joan, even disallowing her to return home for the holidays. Her schedule was so rigid that it excluded her from most social activity. Jean expressed her sense of alienation, "The shock was greatest because I had divorced myself from life in Iowa. My girlfriends had married and led lives that I no longer had any touch with, and I hadn't developed a circle of friends in the new life I was projected into at seventeen..."3

Preminger also verbally and emotionally abused the young Jean, taunting her on the film set. "What's the matter? Can't you do this scene?" Preminger later said, "You're a short thing. What makes you think you can act?"4 Maggie McNamara and Dorothy Dandridge, two other actresses who worked with Preminger, were also victim of his abuse. They would both commit suicide.5

Preminger allowed the press onto the set during the filming of the scene where Jean would be burned at the stake. A mechanical error resulted in an accidental fire that left Jean with lifelong scars. Preminger was accusedof staging the incident as a publicity stunt. Within twenty-four hours Jean and Preminger were in a car accident. Preminger released photographs after the incident showing him holding Jean's bandaged hand and smiling. If he hadn't deliberately staged these incidents for publicity, he was certainly taking advantage of them.6

Saint Joan was a failure but Preminger casted Jean again in the film Bonjour Tristesse. Jean met Franois Moreuil during filming and immediately fell in love with the young French lawyer. After filming was complete, Preminger made no indication of whether he would use Jean in any more films, and she and Franois moved to New York where Jean could take acting lessons.7 Franois gave up his law practice, sold his car, and worked in a darkroom for ten hours a day developing photos. "We were really short of money." said Franois.8

Jean and Franois returned to Marshalltown and were married on September 5, 1958.9 At the ceremony Franois sobbed loudly and kissed his bride on both cheeks. During this marriage Franois came to realize the extent of Jean's personal issues. "She was either unhappy because she was making a movie, or unhappy because she wasn't making one." he said.10

In 1959 Franois and Jean were in Los Angeles. They were invited to dine with the French Consul-General, Romain Gary. The ambassador was really not French at all but rather the son of Jewish parents from Lithuania, his original name being "Kacew." After moving to France with his mother at the age of 14, he studied law and was granted French citizenship in 1935. In 1938 he joined the French air force and was part of the Free French forces that operated from England. After the war he became an ambassador and writer. He was also a married man.11

Gary, who was nearly as old as her father, began quickly pursuing the newly-wed Jean. By early 1960 Jean and Franois had already begun to grow apart.12 At this stage Jean's personality seemed to split into two directions. On one hand, she remained the kind, naive, and altruistic Midwesterner. On the other hand, she was willing to abandon her new husband for a much older man.

During this time period Jean also suffered what may have been her first mental breakdown. While driving her to a clinic, Franois recalls that "With her high heels, she broke all the instruments on the dashboard." Jean was then placed under psychiatric care. An agreement was reached with Gary that, for Jean's personal health, no one should see her. Later Franois learned that Gary had in fact visited Jean while disguised as a doctor. Franois also believed that Gary "had put Jean under the care of one of his friends who was a psychiatrist to 'take hold of her.'"13

Jean called him a liar and later returned to Marshalltown to file for a divorce, listing reasons such as irreconcilable differences and cruelty. She also claimed that Franois, the young Frenchman who wept at his own wedding, was physically abusive. Franois responded by saying, "My only cruelty consisted of giving up my profession to help further my wife's career." Regarding the physical abuse he would only say that "I never hit Jean. Never. I never touched a woman."14

On July 17, 1962 Jean gave birth to Diego, her son by Romain. Because Romain was still married to his first wife, Lesley Blanch, he used his connections to have the date of birth changed to October 23, 1963. Jean and Romain would not be able to marry until October 10, 1963. The child was kept secret from Jean's family until nearly two years later, and his real birthdate was not admitted. It was during Jean's marriage to Romain Gary that she became involved in leftist causes, especially Black Nationalism.15

Continue to Part Four.

2. McGee, p.52
3. Ibid., p.63
4. Ibid., p42
5. Ibid., p.53
6. Ibid., p.43
7. Ibid., p.55
8. Ibid., p.57
9. Ibid., p.65
10. Ibid., p.67
11. Ibid., p.79
12. Richards, p.94
13. McGee, p.85
14. Ibid., p.92
15. Ibid., p.124