Scribes illuminated the City of Light

<I>Variety</I>'s Paris correspondents had all the fun

Few, if any, ever got rich working for Variety. But there were always perks.

Reporters who had never ventured outside the paper’s New York City environs could suddenly find themselves cavorting on the Cannes Croisette or bicycling on the Venice Lido, covering those fests.

Closer to home, Gotham-based hacks could sip champagne while rubbing shoulders with celebs as diverse as Robert Mitchum, Jimmy Durante and Mae West at the Stork Club or 21 before retreating to their tiny apartments in Hell’s Kitchen.

Still, many would say the plum job at the paper was the Paris gig, which has been held by a succession of interesting, even quirky, personalities.

Ever since the Americans stole the cinematic torch from the Lumiere Brothers and George Melies, the Gauls have had their noises intermittently out of joint. That ambivalence has translated variously into admiration, angst and outright irritation with Yank pop culture. In short, much fodder for an enterprising foreign correspondent.

Among the first overseas stringers to stand out was Abel Green, who sojourned in the City of Light in 1929 en route to becoming the paper’s editor. His love affair with Gay Paree could be detected in the many Frenchicisms — femmes, bete noir, beaucoup, amour — that to this day punctuate the paper.

He was succeeded by the enigmatic and monocled Maxime De Beix, whose surname was Levy but who during WWII had to go underground and was adopted by a noble family named DeBeix. After the war he resurfaced, shepherding Variety and Hollywood types around town and penning numerous stories on the Gallic entertainment scene.

On Dec. 26, 1945 De Beix led the paper with a story headlined “French Cook Up H’wood Poison,” which suggested that the Gauls were misrepresenting American intentions to stir up anti-Yank feeling.

“The French people who are suffering in many ways are only too easily led to believe that America is pampering the Germans. One publication claims that Hollywood is already importing Nazi-tabbed show people from Germany, mentioning Emil Jannings, Heinrich Georg and Hans Moser. While entirely cooked up, it has an effect.”

By 1949 “Maxi” (his review moniker and what most friends called him) had slowed down and hired two energetic young reporters — Art Buchwald and Gene Moskowitz — to do the legwork. The former also wrote for the International Herald Tribune and then returned to a journalistic career Stateside. The latter was famously telegraphed by Variety‘s publisher to “hold the fort” when Maxi died, and for the next 30 years he did exactly that.

Like many of the correspondents of that epoch, “Mosk” originally worked out of the top floor of an unprepossessing hotel in the Latin Quarter. Because he was a diehard film buff, most of his stories were film-related. A prolific writer and reviewer, he was legendary for successfully predicting the winners of film fests long before juries got around to voting.

In 1975 he wrote a piece about French filmmakers, including Claude Lelouch, venturing into Hollywood, heralding a cyclical trend that continues today.

It was the same week in October that Variety finally opened a bonafide, if architecturally awkward, office in the center of Paris. One had to take a narrow staircase to access the small cubicles off the lobby where Moskowitz and the newly hired director of operations, Ted Clark, a former Fleet St. journo, were ensconced.

The prestigious address, 33 Champs Elysees, appeared for the first time that week on the masthead along with a short story describing the paper’s continuing expansion of overseas operations.

This article is indebted to the Variety Centennial Souvenir Album edited by Peter Besas.

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