An eye-opening biography of “the elegant French Queen of Sex.”
As she reflected on her legendary career, Madame Claude (1923-2015) opened up to screenwriter and biographer Stadiem (Jet Set: The People, the Planes, the Glamour, and the Romance in Aviation's Glory Years, 2014, etc.) about her life. The author opens with the tale of her arranging one of her “swans” to meet with President John F. Kennedy during his time in Paris. Beginning in 1957, Madame developed an entirely new outlook on the sex industry. Her requirements were simple and rigid: Her girls, never to be called prostitutes, had to be beautiful, tall, intelligent, and good in bed. They were the cover girls next door, mostly from the upper classes. Madame sent them for teeth straightening, plastic surgery, and lessons in diction, dance, music, and even skiing. When they were perfect, they would earn more than enough to repay Madame, or they would find a husband to pay off the sizable debt incurred. She knew enough to deal only with wealthy customers, and she charged accordingly, taking a 30 percent commission. She never had a problem recruiting swans; they came to her. Their motivation at first was cash-based. Eventually, as the author shows, she developed her brand, and girls flocked to her, submitting to her candid, sometimes-vicious appraisals. At the beginning of her career, two developments created her market: the telephone and the jet set crowd. The oil embargo of the 1970s brought oil-based wealth. Her contacts included sheiks, movie stars, nobility, and heads of state. Her business flourished tax free, but she was careful in her dealings. Charles de Gaulle’s government, as well as those that followed, artfully ignored her business, and she even met weekly with the police and shared intelligence. She never entertained, socialized, or allowed drugs; she just connected rich men with their fantasies.
Refreshingly, Stadiem mostly avoids making the narrative overly gossipy, and it’s good fun to see what devils some of our political and cultural heroes really were.