Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Picasso Visits Downton Abbey

In 1971, on our first date, Claude Picasso, Pablo's son, moved into my apartment in New York City. As a model, I was on the covers of Cosmopolitan, Newsweek and New York Magazine. Claude was going through a divorce and so was I. He had difficulty making a living as a photographer so I offered to help him out financially. His mother, Françoise Gilot, gave me a three pieces of Picasso jewelry to show her gratitude.

In 1973 upon Picasso's death, Claude and I became engaged. There was no hope for him to inherit Picasso's fortune due to the Napoleonic Code.Napoleon, like Picasso, had been a philanderer and had protected his assets. This French code or law said any child born out of wedlock could not inherit if there were no will. Enfin, Pablo Picasso would not leave a will because he felt the drawing up of one would bring on his death, so this law meant the illegitimate children of Pablo Picasso would not inherit Picasso's assets.

Enter Françoise Gilot, who never married Picasso but who bore him two children and who was a lawyer. She sued the French government not only for her children, Paloma and Claude, to have the name Picasso, but she began a massive lawsuit against the French government so that her children could get to Picasso's art, fortune and estates. I recall that he had at least seven chateaux, but maybe he had more. Claude showed me a few of these chateaux but only at a distance. UnlikeDownton Abbey Picasso's residences were not inherited, but purchased with his nouveau richewealth. When we stayed in Cannes while Claude inventoried Picasso's art, Claude drove me to Notre Dames Des Villes. In 1974 Françoise won her lawsuit and established jurisprudence by reversing the Napoleonic Code.

One big difference between the Picassos and Gilots is that Downton Abbey was about inherited wealthy and old money and the constraints which come with inherited wealth, while the Picasso and Gilot wealth was new money.

When Françoise won her lawsuit, Dr. Jonas Salk whom she married not long after she left Picasso (and whom we lovingly called 'Jonas'), Grandmere Gilot, Paloma and I celebrated by covering Grandmere's carriage house in Neuilly with toilet paper. We laughed raucously as we wrapped the spiral staircase in it. Jonas brought Charmin from America. Parisian toilet paper was still rough brown single sheets. Françoise was wealthy in her own right. But try as she could to escape any association with the bourgeois meaning of new money, she was a part of this just as old money was the aspect of society associated with the aristocratic family of Downton Abbey.

When Claude and I were engaged and had moved to Paris to plan our wedding, we still were living on my savings as the French government needed time to unravel the red tape and to inventory the estate and Picasso's art.

At this moment in history if I wanted to buy an outfit. I had to use my money, as Claude was still financially constrained. Claude insisted on seeing this outfit before I purchased it so that he could give his approval. I later understood he needed time to adjust to being the head of Picasso's extended family and in charge of the estate. Power was not something familiar to the Claude whom I knew. Claude's insecurity reared its head in his need for social approval. This became apparent when he forbade me to see my friend Jean-Pierre Rassam, the French Lebanese producer whose sister was the mother of Oscar-winning producer of The Artist, Thomas Langmann. Jean Pierre did not adhere to the unwritten rules and regulations of the bourgeoisie.
While Françoise was charming and a talented artist, her mother, Grandmere, was dyed in the wool bourgeois and a favorite of mine. She was reminiscent of Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham played skillfully by Maggie Smith, but Grandmere was without the airs and pretense, in part because she was not a member of the aristocracy. In her later years Grandmere rode a motorbike. Still she ruled the Gilot/ Picasso roost. I never met Françoise's father, who was harsh on Françoise and had wanted her to be a lawyer, not the artist she is today. So Françoise rebelled and ran off with Pablo against her father's wishes.

While being a member of the bourgeoisie had its drawbacks for those who valued freedom of the spirit, it also was a catalyst for Françoise to become the respected artist she is today and for fighting to get Picasso's fortune for her illegitimate children.

When I was engaged to Claude, I felt stifled living in Paris with the unwritten rules and regulations that came from the nouveau riche and fled to Manhattan and then to Hollywood where I could try to be myself, bask in the sun and forget the constraints of being a future member of a big family with unwritten rules much as in Downton Abbey.

I guess I identified the most with Lady Sybil Crawley, who fell in love with Tom Branson, the limo driver, as well as the servant who proudly took a course in typing to get a job as a secretary. I am addicted to watching this spectacular TV series, which brings back memories.

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