#ClassicFilmReading: Every Frenchman Has One by Olivia de Havilland

Olivia de Havilland's memoir, Every Frenchman Has One, is such a delightful read. I felt like I was sitting next to her at dinner listening to all of her stories about moving to France in the '50s and learning the culture. 

Presented as a series of vignettes, beginning with her first trip to France to attend the Cannes Film Festival in 1953, to the then-present day (her memoir was published in 1962), this book is so charmingly put together and such a fun, breezy read, you'll finish it in less than an afternoon. 

Olivia never lingers too long on a particular story, and you'll find yourself learning things like:
  • What the French considered sexy (hint: the mere state of being a woman was sexy enough for the French) versus what Americans considered sexy (hint: Marilyn Monroe)
  • How the French take care of themselves (Olivia tells a funny story about using blue eye drops for conjunctivitis and how if her scleras ever appeared blue in a film, that's why)
  • The functions of French maids, contractors, architects and painters
  • How to find the washroom (spoiler: apparently you can't. Or couldn't, at least, as Frenchwomen had great retention abilities and never needed to take a trip to the powder room)
  • How to dress for a dinner party (smoking dress code is not American smoking dress code. Who knew!)
  • How to get a hair appointment with Alexandre de Paris (hint: it's not easy and involves a sponsor)
I think my favourite story may be how Olivia visited a French doctor who told her that, for her low blood pressure, the best way to rest was lying down; but he also encouraged her to practice sports like tennis and skiing to stay active. The chapter ends with Olivia recounting a skiing trip to Switzerland with, "As all who witnessed my prowess on those snowy and much abused slopes will testify, I was unquestionably and consistently at my very, very best while lying down." 

There is but one reference to her younger sister, Joan Fontaine, and it's all about how she attended a convent school first, became very popular and beloved amongst the nuns, and had a religious vision to boot. Olivia, who followed in her footsteps six months later simply writes, "Now, you just trying following to a convent a younger sister who has had a Vision. Just try it." 

All in all, this book was the perfect summer read: light and breezy, and it makes me hope that our 104-year-old movie maven has a juicy, charmingly-written autobiography stashed somewhere among her papers. If anyone's going to spill the tea on what the Golden Age of Hollywood was really like, I sincerely hope it's the studio-system-destroying, two-time-Oscar-winning Olivia de Havilland. 

Oh! And if you're wondering what every Frenchman has? It's a liver. 

Up next for the Classic Film Reading Challenge: Considering Doris Day by Tom Santopietro


  1. Thank you for the lovely review! I too hope that De Havilland has another memoir in the works because while I liked this one I really want to learn even more about her!

  2. I read this book last summer and found it absolutely charming! I loved Olivia's take of the French and she surprised me with her wit.


Post a Comment