From poor little rich boy to cafe-society darling, popular singer and AIDS volunteer: French liqueur heir Cointreau’s eventful, confusing life.
The author’s childhood seems pulled from a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, with parents who shunted him off to a comfortless nurse, a cruel bully of a granny and a beastly brother. At age 8, the author also suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a teacher. For 40 years, Cointreau suffered panic attacks and agoraphobia and attempted suicide at least once. The author barely mentions his father, who founded the Cointreau branch in New Jersey, except that they spent summers at his grandmother’s apartment in Paris and at her château near Angers. The title of the book is not exactly appropriate, as the author had many saviors through his life, most importantly Jim Russo, his life partner. As a member of the upper crust, Cointreau met all the right people; Robert and Lee Lehman (Robert was the chairman of Lehman Brothers Banking Investment Corporation) were the first to take him under their wings. The author and their daughter, Pam, dated for over five years, during which time the author finally admitted to himself that he preferred men. While a student at the prestigious Browning School, he met Arthur, son of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a friend who understood him and whom he tried to help. Then he met his idol, actress Ethel Merman, and her daughter, and once again forged a permanent relation. Cointreau doesn’t explore the motivations that drew him to the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s work, but he volunteered at Gift of Love in Manhattan for years and, through it all, learned how to deal with what life had thrown at him.
A lightweight memoir, but the common thread of these deep friendships is the fact that they all trusted the author and he returned it in full. It’s a difficult but important lesson.