Juliette Gréco’s recent death in her nineties brought back some melodramatic memories. In 1957 Gréco was one of France’s premier chanteuses of torch songs, a very sexy young woman dressed in black with auburn hair and very white skin who sang of doomed love and romantic longing.
Darryl F. Zanuck, the legendary one-time head of Twentieth Century Fox, fell rather hard when he saw her perform in a Parisian Left Bank bistro and decided to make her a film star. While casting The Roots of Heaven, the movie that would be her introduction, Zanuck and La Greco moved to the French Riviera where Zanuck gambled very large sums at the chemmy table every night at the Cannes summer casino. Juliette sat next to him and played every hand he did but with much smaller sums.
Rather a long way away from the French Riviera, a 20-year-old me was a struggling tennis player on the circuit, and in August of that year, after a heartbreaking loss in Deauville, I had had enough. I decided to go to the Riviera where my best friend Yanni Zographos held court at the Hôtel du Cap every summer. Yanni was the nephew and an heir of the man who broke the bank in Monte Carlo having figured out the odds in the game of baccarat. Nico Zographos took over the bank in various casinos during the 1920s and, never having married, left a large fortune to his nephews and nieces.
Yanni reserved a room for me at the Carlton in Cannes, room 303, without a sea view and looking on to the large courtyard. I would stay for two days and then move to the more salubrious surroundings of the Hôtel du Cap.