With the Academy Awards on last night, I first want to congratulate author Maggie Mae Gallagher’s brother, Robert Huth, on winning an Oscar for Frozen. You can read Maggie’s story about Robert here. Today, author Eileen Dreyer, shares with us her friendship with Oscar and Emmy nominated Pierre Jalbert. Eileen is a retired trauma nurse, and lives in her native St. Louis with her husband, children, and large and noisy Irish family, of which she is the reluctant matriarch. She has animals but refuses to subject them to the limelight. Eileen is an award winning author of over 30 books.
My friend Pierre Jalbert died last month at 89 years. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of him. He made a career in Hollywood, but isn’t a household name. He won’t be in the Oscars remembrance clips. He was one of those yeoman workers who get thanked at speech time.
I met Pierre by sending a fan letter. There was a TV show in the 60s called
Combat! I watched, critiquing it as a theater/film student (okay, so there were also
handsome soldiers in danger. Sue me). My friends and I would dissect each episode as if it were Hitchcock.
Pierre in Combat!
The show came back on in the 80s, and to my relief, it really was as good as it had seemed to me as a teenager. Vic Morrow, the star, had just been killed on the Twilight Zone set. I figured if I wanted to reach the cast, I needed to do it then. So I wrote, just to say thank you. Somehow, serendipitously, Pierre and his wife became dear friends.
Pierre had an amazing life. He was Captain of the 1948 Canadian Olympic
team and one of the first ski instructors at Sun Valley and Aspen. He was a film and dialog editor. In fact, if you can understand Marlon Brando in The Godfather, you can thank Pierre.
The Canadian Olympic team. Pierre is second from the right.
He worked with the big names (“Marlon Brando is a pussycat, darling. A
pussycat”) on movies like Ben Hur, Singing in the Rain, Mutiny on the Bounty,
Blackboard Jungle, American in Paris. When he wasn’t editing, he was teaching the
same people to ski. So when Pierre and his wife dropped names, the ground shook.
Not to impress. Those were just the people they knew. Nureyev. Sinatra. Lazar.
Duvall. Chamberlain. Altman. Hepburn. Power.
Pierre was such good friends with the legendary Norma Shearer, he was
married in her living room. The fireplace in his living room came from the set of
Gigi. He was Oscar and Emmy nominated, and still the fastest man down the ski
slope well into his sixties. And, by the way, to the day he died the sexiest man I ever
met. I mean, like, knee-weakening. He loved women, and when he held your hand, you knew it.
In the 60s, MGM asked if he wanted to act. They needed someone who
spoke French for a show about WWII. Pierre said no. He would have lost his parking
spot. They finally talked him into it, though, and he became an integral member of
the Combat! cast, doing some wonderful work.
Pierre in later years.
Of course, as a writer, I couldn’t simply waste all that wonderful experience. I talked him into letting me watch him loop a movie and then sit by his pool talking of his life. I got a romance out of it (written as Kathleen Korbel) called Edge of the World.
Pierre had an amazing thirst for life. Not just for his crafts. He was a
voracious reader, a dedicated historian (I still really want to do a miniseries of the
treatment he wrote about the Marquis de Lafayette), and a lover of art. I’ll never
forget being followed around the old Getty museum by guards after he laid himself
out on the floor to fondle the antique parquet floor.
I met some people in the industry through him, other character actors and
technicians. I heard great stories and saw how the industry could wear you down.
And I learned that to survive and thrive, you have to be strong and self-assured and
resilient. The people like him live from call to call, and I saw the impact when that
call didn’t come. But Pierre would simply shrug and open a book on Napoleon or
break rock to terrace his lawn or share a ski slope with his wife Joy. It’s a lesson I
took to heart in my own career. We can control very little. But we can make sure
what we do control is the best we can be. Because that is what remains.
That and the memories. And Pierre left behind some wonderful memories.
Bottom Line: I watched Combat! every week as a teenager and we’d all talk about it at school. Great show!