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A Hundred Years of Transatlantic Romance

These French-American lovebirds include artists, writers, actors, and dancers. As part of Valentine’s Day, which has morphed from a pagan occasion to a celebration of courtly love to a consumer frenzy spearheaded by stores selling flowers and chocolate on both sides of the Atlantic, France-Amérique is presenting ten French-American couples who left their mark on the last century.


Pierre Cartier & Elma Rumsey

He was the grandson of the Cartier jewelry house’s founder. She was the daughter of a titan of industry in St. Louis and the niece of banker J.P. Morgan. They wed in 1908 and moved to New York. The first Cartier store opened the following year, and in 1922 the couple moved to a six-floor Beaux-Arts-style mansion at 15 East 96th Street. Pierre Cartier returned to Paris during World War II to take care of his family business and lived out his days in Switzerland with Elma.

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Pierre Cartier and his wife on board the S.S. France. © Bettman Archive/Getty Images

Louise Bourgeois & Robert Goldwater

Louise Bourgeois was managing a gallery in 1937 when she met American art historian Robert Goldwater, who was in France writing his thesis on Primitivism and Modernist painting. The pair married the following year and moved to New York where they had three children. Robert taught art at New York University and became the first director of the Museum of Primitive Art. But recognition was a long time coming for Louise. She was 71 years old when the MoMA hosted the very first retrospective of her work.

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Louise Bourgeois, New York, June 1997. © Dominique Nabokov

Marguerite Yourcenar & Grace Frick

Paris, 1937. The young writer Marguerite Yourcenar met Grace Frick, an American student of the same age. But their liaison was cut short when Grace returned to the United States. The pair were not reunited until 1939 when Marguerite fled the war to the U.S.A. They purchased a property on an island in Maine and lived together until Grace’s death. Through her work as a translator, she helped introduce Marguerite’s novels to an Anglophone readership.

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Marguerite Yourcenar (right) and Grace Frick en 1955.

Jo Bouillon & Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker became a French citizen following her third marriage to Frenchman Jean Lion, a young industrialist who had made his fortune in refined sugar. Her fourth and final husband was Montpellier-born conductor and violinist Jo Bouillon. The future lovers met while he was performing at the Parisian cabaret Le Boeuf sur le Toit and she was singing at the Palais Chaillot. They tied the knot the following year, moved to the Château des Milandes in Dordogne, and adopted 12 children of different nationalities to create a “rainbow family.” The pair remained together for 14 years.

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Josephine Baker and her husband backstage at the Strand Theater in Manhattan, 1951. © Bettman Archive/Getty Images

Simone de Beauvoir & Nelson Algren

Jean-Paul Sartre was not the only man in Simone de Beauvoir’s life. Her greatest love was in fact an American. For more than 15 years, the essayist maintained a passionate relationship with the U.S. writer Nelson Algren, her “beloved crocodile” and the man who wrote The Man with the Golden Arm. They sent each other hundreds of love letters between 1947 and 1964, which were published in a book in 1997. De Beauvoir told their story in The Mandarins (1954), while he dedicated A Walk on the Wild Side to her in 1955. The couple parted ways when he asked for her hand in marriage, but she was buried still wearing his ring when she died.

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Simone de Beauvoir and Nelson Algren, Chicago, 1950. © Art Shay/MCA Chicago

Marcel Duchamp & Alexina Sattler

Alexina Sattler was the daughter of an Ohio ophthalmologist and met sculptor Marcel Duchamp in Paris in 1923. But it was Pierre Matisse, the Impressionist painter’s youngest son, she married and followed to New York! The couple divorced in 1949, but Alexina bumped into Marcel a few years later while on a trip to New Jersey. After bonding over their shared passion for chess, they wed on January 16, 1954. The pair lived in an apartment in Greenwich Village until the artist’s death in 1968, and today are both buried in the cemetery of Rouen.

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Alexina Sattler and Marcel Duchamp, Paris, 1957. © Michel Waldberg

Yves Montand & Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe starred alongside Yves Montand in the musical film Let’s Make Love in 1960. The actors were put up in a hotel in Beverly Hills during the filming. Marylin stayed in a bungalow with her husband, the playwright Arthur Miller, while Yves Montand lived just next door with his wife, the actress Simone Signoret. The affair that followed put an end to Marilyn’s marriage, but Simone Signoret took a more pragmatic stance, declaring “If Marilyn is in love with my husband it proves she has good taste!”

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From left: Arthur Miller, Simone Signoret, Yves Montand, Marilyn Monroe, and Frankie Vaughan, 1960. © Century Fox/REX/Shutterstock

Romain Gary & Jean Seberg

He was a two-time Goncourt-winning French writer. She was an American actress and a star of the Nouvelle Vague. Despite being married to British writer Lesley Blanch, Romain Gary became Jean’s lover in 1959 after they met at the French Consulate of Los Angeles before Christmas. Their affair lasted three years before he officialized his relationship with Jean, who was then pregnant with their son. Roman wrote of their stormy marriage in the book White Dog, including the time when he challenged Clint Eastwood to a duel after learning of Jean’s fling with the Wild West actor. The couple divorced in 1970.

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Romain Gary and Jean Seberg. © Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Benjamin Millepied & Natalie Portman

In 2009, the French choreographer Benjamin Millepied had not yet founded his own company in Los Angeles. As a danseur étoile at the New York City Ballet, he was working on Darren Aronofsky’s movie Black Swan, in which he directed Natalie Portman. The resulting performance saw the actress win an Oscar and a Golden Globe. After saying “I do” in Big Sur on the Californian coast, the couple moved to France where Benjamin worked as director of dance at the Paris Opera from 2014 through 2016.

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Benjamin Millepied and Natalie Portman. © Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

Timothée Chalamet & Lily-Rose Depp

The iconic couple of the 2000s was Franch-American! Vanessa Paradis and Johnny Depp and their two children spent their lives between Los Angeles and their residence in Le Pan-de-la-Tour in the Var département, where they managed a vineyard. Their romance came to an end in 2012 after 14 years. But their daughter Lily-Rose is now flying the transatlantic flag with her sweetheart, French-American actor Timothée Chalamet, who shot to fame after starring in Call Me by Your Name.

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Timothée Chalamet and Lily-Rose Depp. © Best Image/Backgrid USA

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