Jun 282017

Perry Wolff and Charles Collingwood discuss Berlin: Act of War in 1961.

A few weeks later the Cold War intervened. Germany was divided between east and west. Berlin had been split into an Allied command

and a Soviet zone, and the Germans of the east were flocking the west by the thousands. Berlin itself was isolated, cut off from American ground and rail supplies, except by one road in a narrow corridor.

A subject I suggested “Berlin: Act of War?” was immediately approved. I rounded up a small team, found Charles Collingwood as a correspondent and flew into Templehof, the Berlin Airport. Dick Sedia, the crew chief, rented a German video bus. It was driven from Darmstadt, the last town in the American zone, to the Brandenburg Gate, a dividing monument between east and west. Our equipment was in sight of Soviet tanks on their side of the Gate. Their vehicles were unbuttoned, hatches open to daylight, guns covered with tarpaulins.

We spent a day watching the East Germans stream to West Berlin. The border was open, and almost the whole professional class of the east was trying to escape. The footage was excellent as were the interviews.

We had checked into the Hotel Kempinski. On the second evening Charles, who liked nightlife, took me to a recommended café. He saw an unescorted girl leaving and apologized.

“According to Naval Regulations I am about to undertake the most unprofitable of fleet maneuvers,” he said. “I am going to make a stern chase.”

He followed the girl and I went to sleep. About two in the morning, Dick Sedia phoned me. “Get dressed, Perry. We may get blown up!”

Just a few yards ahead of our remote unit, the Russians were building some sort of wall near the Brandenburg Gate. The open border was being closed. Dick and I set up the cameras and lights and recorded the scene. The German owner of the remote bus was worried that the tanks would fire on his equipment. The Soviet armored vehicles had closed their turrets. The covers were off their weapons and their guns were slowly traversing the plaza in front of the gate. When Charles finally arrived, he did an improvised on-camera speech and we left the site as quickly as possible.

My first idea was to take the bus to the airport and ship the tapes on the first plane out, but Templehof was closed. We started down the protected corridor, the one road available to the Allies from Berlin to Darmstadt. A few miles out of town two East German cars overtook us, blocked the van and came out of their armored car carrying weapons. They spoke no English, but they made it clear they intended to search the bus.

“Verboten,” I said.

“Nichts verboten,” I think they said. They wanted all pictures, everything we had taped.  Their side arms were in plain sight. There was no use arguing.

A flashback to the war was brought on by the color and cut of their uniforms. I had spoken to myself about giving a moral pass to any German under the age of thirty; the young ones could not have had anything to do with the Nazi regime. In the dark of me was the reflex of the concentration camp, Ahlem Hanover. In time, hate recedes to distaste.

The two-inch tapes were on the playbacks. I told Dick to give them the pictures; the recorded refugees, the closed subway station filled with faces filled with panic. The police demanded to see the first pictures to verify the images were truly there. They took two heavy reels, and let us go.

“They didn’t know where to look”, said Dick. “While Collingwood was chasing dames and you were sleeping, I saved your ass by dubbing a backup transfer, and hiding the originals. Here’s your story.”

I owed him. As payback I took him on later trips to Italy and Jordan.


Perry Wolff and Charles Collingwood: Torrance Press, August 13, 1961

Jun 262017

John R. Coleman

On my way back from Salinas, I stopped in New York and signed a generous contract Tom Ryan had negotiated. Although my job would not start until October, I would be given a full year’s pay. Sig needed me. I rented an apartment from plans in a building then being erected. The rental included a studio where Tuulikki could paint. Some of her paintings had recently been in a group show at Raymond Duncan’s gallery on the Rue du Seine.

We brought furniture from France and installed ourselves. John was enrolled in a bi-lingual school, but he learned English quickly from television. The only problem I had was that I had a nice office, a secretary, an expense account—but nothing to do. My immediate superior was pleasant enough, but my salary came from his budget, and I was an annoying over-the-budget item. Then I earned my salary.

President Eisenhower had been ill-advised by his economic team. They zigged when they should have zagged, and the economy went into a mild recession. In 1962, I was called on to produce “Money Talks,” a five-part series in prime time, hosted by Professor John Coleman in which he explained basic economic concepts such as gross national product and the Consumer Price Index. A year later, Coleman was tapped for the CBS project “College of the Air,” in which he taught an experimental course, “The American Economy,” that was carried on 241 affiliate stations and 54 educational channels. Imagine a commercial network devoting morning time to direct systematic classroom teaching.  Educational television on commercial channels!

CBS News did its duty, called it public service, and no one bothered with the ratings.

I was surprised when CBS spent the money to re-print and distribute all five lectures in an elegant soft cover. Years later Frank Stanton, president of the network, told me Eisenhower had watched the series and had his economic advisors see the re-runs. (Ike and Stanton were close and the President had put Frank into a shadow cabinet, in case the Soviet Union wiped out his sunlit cabinet.)

As the producer, I was just a plumber, as most producers are. I saw that the information flowed through straight lines. Nobody wants a creative plumber who puts the pipes into expressive circles. Nevertheless, the success of the five broadcasts had echoes. Stanton did not contact the producer. He went to the head of CBS News, Sig Mickelson, and congratulated him and passed on the gratitude from the President of the United States.

Sig must have talked to my immediate superior who had asked if he could fire me because I cost too much. This time money did not talk. I stayed on.


John R. Coleman: https://www.haverford.edu/college-communications/news/john-r-coleman-1921%E2%80%932016

Jun 232017

Sig Mickelson, the first president of CBS News

Our last two years in France were spent at 1 bis rue de Martignac, 7th Arrondisement, Paris. We lived in thirteen rooms furnished in authentic Louis XVI furniture. Our bedroom windows looked out to the L’Eglise de St. Clotilde, a double-spired church where Saint Saëns had been the organist. The buttresses across a narrow street almost protruded into our apartment. A portrait of our landlord, the aristocratic Baron de France, topped a wide winding staircase into the salon. The Baron was now elderly and dying.

The rent was two hundred dollars a month paid in American dollars to his eldest impoverished daughter, La Baroness de France. She was elegant, spoke excellent English, and very worried about her finances. I offered her a hundred thousand dollars for the whole building. (I didn’t have the money, but a close American friend who visited us said he would back me.) She refused, ruefully. He father had grown up at 1 bis rue de Martignac and until he died she could not sell the property.

Something had ended for me. The literary footpath that led to the 1920s and Hemingway, Henry James and Dos Passos had turned into a six-lane paved highway. The Moveable Feast had been warmed over too many times.

Years later, I did a documentary entitled, Our Friends the French, which included the following passages (you can imagine the illustrating visuals):

  • A quick history of the Franco-American insult.
  • 1781: Versailles, where the French King lived until they went broke.
  • The French Monarch became much annoyed with the popularity and simplicity of that American left-winger, Benjamin Franklin, our diplomat at Versailles. On New Year’s Day 1781, the king gave one of his lady friends a convenience needed even today—a chamber pot.


  • It was a small gift from a great King, but it began a greater tradition. In short Louis XVI started the movement: CUT TO GRAFTTI “Yankee Go Home.”
  • Lately the French have been bothering us a little too much. What seems to astonish the French is that it has taken us so long to rise to high resentment. The French have been waiting for it all the time. Many Frenchmen expect us to dislike their country because they know France has a superior culture and a longer history. Marianne of France, whom we liberated and fell in love with—is calling out our faults for the whole world to hear.

Mme. Falcoz once asked Thomas Ryan, my friend and attorney, “What do you think of France?

His reply: “Mrs. Falcoz, I think of France about as often as I think about Rhode Island.”

Before we left, an Algerian crisis threatened the country. It was feared the French generals in Oran were planning to seize the government in Paris. I had been in touch with the Paris Bureau. The chief correspondent was out interviewing high officials for television.

CBS radio in New York was impatient for fresh news. The back-up correspondent, Blair Clark asked me to take a sound engineer and see what we might find.  Large rolls of barbed wire had blocked the roads to Paris Orly Airport. I saw tanks on the runways. The sound of sirens was everywhere. We came back to the bureau. The technician cued the sound of sirens and I delivered and off-the-cuff report of what I had seen.

An hour later, a call came from Sig Mickelson. “I heard it in my car. Wonderful, we scooped everybody, and those siren sounds made the piece come alive. Skee, you have to come back. I need you.”

Despite St. Clotilde, despite Louis XVI, this expatriate was ready to go home. Paris was full of Americans at the time. The franc was cheap, the living was easy but like all immigrants, I was neither here nor there. Though my command of the language was better, I felt insulted when I was told I could not be an American because I pronounced French vowels so well. As a writer, I was disturbed by my illiteracy in the language.

Our son John was attending French Kindergarten. One day he cried, “Je veux mon cagoule! Cagoule! PAPA, CAGOULE!”

What in hell was a cagoule? We had to call Paul Andre Falcoz.

“He wants the hood for his cape.”

“Merci, Paul Andre.” We hung up.

I went to the Ecole Maternelle to bring John home. He said to a chum, “J’ai un drôle de père. Il ne sait pas parler français.” (I have a weird father. He doesn’t speak French.”)

Even worse. Tuulikki and I were planning a trip to the Burgundy wine country. We had maps spread on the floor. We showed him the villages from which our wines had come.

Beaujolais vienne de tout la region. Fixin vient de cette village.”

He interrupted us. “Papa, d’où vient le whiskey?”

We had been playing catch in the Bois de Boulogne, and I asked him in French to give me the ball. He kicked it, instead of throwing it. The grandson of Abe Wolff who had a tryout with the St Louis Browns! That settled it. This boy had to be brought back to his heritage.

At home, Kennedy was running against Nixon and the Americans were repeating the French errors in Vietnam. A lesser conflict was taking place in the upper echelons of CBS. Sig Mickelson wanted to fire Fred Friendly, the head of documentaries and replace him with me. He said nothing to me directly, but he knew how to talk to a writer-producer.

He came to Paris and said, “There’s a new technology. The kinescope process is finished. We now record programs on two-inch tape and edit carefully. It will change the whole business, and unless you come back, you’ll be playing catch up. And we’ll make you a good deal.”

“I’ll start packing,” I told him.

Sig continued, “By the way, CBS News and you are being sued for plagiarism in California. Take care of that first.”

“Where’s the suit?”

“Salinas, California. The lettuce capital of the world.”

I spent two days in New York and then I flew west.



Sig Mickelson: http://library.sdsu.edu/scua/raising-our-voices/sdsu-history/faculty/sig-mickelson

Jun 212017

General-Major Reinhard Gehlen, of the Wehrmacht, in 1945.

Mike Burke was the head of CIA operations in Germany during the Cold War. A few years later he was hired by CBS to buy and sell ideas and programming in Europe for a new organization, CBS Europe, a front useful to both CBS and the CIA. For the network, the European arm would have a valid commercial purpose; but for American intelligence purposes, a number of its business contacts were former members of the German intelligence ring.

Because of the Cold War, German ex-Nazis and Americans were gathering intelligence on the Soviet Union at the same time. The German spies in the Soviet bloc were under the command of Wehrmacht Major General Reinhard Gehlen. Their outfit was known as the Gehlenapparat. They were supposed to report to the CIA, but the operatives did not work only for the United States.

It was a strange deal our government made. The German spies worked primarily for the West German government, not for the Americans. Although the United States provided the funds, the reports always went first to the Chancellor of Germany—at the time Konrad Adenauer, who had been Gehlen’s previous boss. The staff was composed of many men who had served or been in the Nazi party. It was an uncomfortable ideological partnership.

It was also important to the Americans that the German film industry be reconstituted. The Nazis had taken over the production of the German newsreels and fictional films. To fill the postwar distribution vacuum, Washington secretly refinanced a film corporation in Munich, Constantin Film AG.  It was necessary for CBS to maintain commercial relations with Constantin as a market for CBS re-runs. It was also a fine cover story for Burke who wore two hats.

High in the echelons of Constantin Film AG was Klaus Hardt.  When I told Mike I needed a distributor for the two films I had made in France, he called Hardt and asked him to see me. I sent my two films ahead and made a date with the purchasing head of Constantin in Munich.

On an April day, I met Otto Kramer, the chief of the organization.  Although he greeted me in excellent English, as soon as the business discussions started he spoke only German.  Klaus Hardt was the interpreter.

“Mr. Wolff, we have no interest in your film on the war in Europe.  However, we would agree to distribute a German version of Kamikaze.”

(Two months later the Japanese had no interest in Kamikaze but showed much interest in Caucasians killing each other in Europe.)

“We will give you the standard deal for distribution. But we will do something you will not find with other distributors. We will give you an honest ticket count. We will not fudge our books. You will get a fair accounting.”

I was delighted. But Kramer continued: “In Germany it is necessary that the producer buy the accompanying short subject. I have such a short subject on the habits of caterpillars. It was made by my shatz”.

Klaus translated: “Shatz means mistress. And it will cost you ten thousand American dollars.”

I didn’t have ten thousand dollars.

Klaus saw my face. So did Otto Kramer. But he was adamant. “After you give Constantin the ten thousand we will make a version in German without cost to you.”

Then Hardt said something in German I did not understand. But his tone was one I never used to a boss or a commanding officer. I think he was chagrined by the immorality of underwriting the shatz’s film.

A pause.  Kramer said nothing. But Klaus did.

“Mr. Kramer misspoke. Later, he will take the first ten thousand from the initial gross receipts. You needn’t pay now. After that you will share and the accounting will be accurate.”

The tone of the rebuke made it clear to me that Klaus had worked for Burke in the CIA-Gehlen Organization. Klaus was also wearing two hats.

I agreed to the terms. After a genial goodbye to Kramer, Hardt and I left for a cup of coffee. On the way to the bar I noticed he limped. He saw that I noticed.

“I had frostbite in the war and lost four toes on one foot.”

“I just escaped a bad frostbite,” I said. “I still have an unusable left big toe.”

“Where were you?” he asked.

“The Ardennes.  Near a small town, Marche.”

Without hesitation he added, “We were stopped just short of Marche”.

I had a flash of memory. This German and this American might have been shooting at each other.

Klaus Hardt had just saved me ten thousand dollars. On the other hand the 116th Panzer grenadiers were an SS division whose officers may have killed American prisoners in the Bulge.  And with Klaus’ excellent English and his sharp retort to Kramer, he could not have been just another German draftee. He was officer material.

Which Klaus Hardt?  He might have become my first German friend. But not so long as I remembered crawling in the snow on December 24, 1944, and the discovery of the corpses on Christmas Day. Three Germans frozen into comma form and Hyman Lipsky, sliced longitudinally near the chicken coop.

It was turbulent; a booming, buzzing confusion.  Yet the past— fear and hatred—overrode the reasonable, the affable, the offer of friendship. My mind surrendered to my reflexes.

“Thank you Klaus.  I appreciate your help with Otto Kramer. But I think I’ll go directly to the airport. “

“I’ll get you a taxi.  Give my regards to Mike Burke.”

“I will.”

I never talked to Burke about the meeting. I never talked to Klaus again, although he called me once when I was back in Paris. Years later I tried to track him down, but Burke was dead and the new, independent Constantin had no record of Hardt.



General-Major Reinhard Gehlen: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinhard_Gehlen

Jun 192017

At the time the French Government would not permit the export of French francs. The money I made from the two features had to remain in the country. While we wanted to buy a small apartment on the Left Bank, our closest friends, Paul André Falcoz and his pharmacist wife Marie Andrée persuaded us to refurbish a dairy farm in the Loire, a district southwest of Paris.

Paul André was a member of the shadow cabinet of Pierre Mendes-France, the head of the Radical Socialist party. The party was neither radical nor socialist. It consisted mainly of bankers, les barbus, who were against President Charles de Gaulle.  Paul André wanted to run for a seat in the National Assembly, and France had a “rotten borough” system. Unlike America where a candidate has to run from the district in which he lives, in France the aspirant only has to own property in the area.

That’s why Paul chose the Loiret. Marie André saw a business opportunity in scientific milking.

In the late fifties, French herds still contained cows with tuberculosis. To kill the germs French milk had to be pasteurized at a high temperature. The milk became thick and no byproducts were possible.

If we put barbed wire fences around each field we owned and screened the stock we bought, we could have a herd of non-tubercular cows, separated from the tubercular animals on neighboring farms. Our milk could be pasteurized at a lower temperature and would taste less thick. Since Mme. Falcoz was slightly overweight, yogurt and pot cheese would be available for her, and for sale in France for the first time.

I was enthusiastic and wrote to the United States Department of Agriculture for advice and pamphlets. A new cow barn was erected and new milking machines were bought. It was expensive. Our milk would have to be sold at a higher price.

We were not alone in the idea. The Rothschild’s had much larger farms and were going through the same process.

Many French prices and salaries were based on a cost-of-living index. One of the most significant figures in the index was the price of milk. If it were to be raised, government pensions and other indices would have to be changed.

An appeal had to be made to the government agency controlling the cost of milk. Paul André and the Rothschilds made the request. The functionary asked, “Why should the parents of French children have to pay more for the milk they feed their babies?”

And then the process was explained—if tubercular cows were excluded and the milk from healthy cows carefully managed, pasteurized milk at lower temperatures would lead to better health, better new food products for the French, and perhaps even to some export business.

Finally the governmental chief understood. He exclaimed:

Not just “du lait ordinaire – ordinary milk— but du lait, appellation controlée!”

Vintage milk!

Unfortunately the peasant running the farm had little use for US Department of Agriculture procedures and the farm went broke. He went hunting on the week when he should have been spreading phosphates on the fields. Fortunately, years later, the French government seized a small section of our land for access to a highway under eminent domain and my investment was returned to me.

Meanwhile I tried to sell my films outside France.



French Cow: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carl-pettit/milk-health-issues_b_4170730.html




Jun 162017

The Belgian project helped finance two feature-length documentaries made from Airpower: La Guerre Inconnue (the Unknown War), and Kamikaze. I bought the footage from CBS and cleared the rights. To distribute in France I needed a co-producer who recommended technical facilities and personnel.

The editor was Jeanne Gilot, a woman in her thirties who was technically capable and physically strong. She was attractive, a brunette with small solid breasts that I had to disregard. We sat close together for hours at the editing machine. Though we were shoulder to shoulder, our body language was proper.

An early feminist, during working hours she would not permit me to carry heavy film cans from the shelves to the editing machines. “Perry, c’est mon travail. Je ne suis pas un fleur bleu.” I am not a shrinking violet is how I translated it, but my French was never too good. She glared and I retreated.

At quitting time she went to the ladies’ room and returned with lipstick properly placed and a bit of eyeliner that set off her best feature, her blue eyes. She stood next to the coat rack.  I was then allowed to take her garment from the rack and help her into it. She moved from female to gentlewoman, and I went from patron to gentleman.

We always used the vous form; never the tu. From the formal to the familiar was a great leap for the French.

While watching her edit I noticed she wore a wristwatch—an expensive Boucheron with the fine gold mesh strap. I was quizzical.

“This came from my married lover,” she said.

One day her wrist was bare. She said nothing, but I thought I heard her cry. I never questioned her, and I never learned more. I was as disappointed as you may be, dear reader.

As the weeks went on she became used to my terse style both in editing and writing. “You are very good Perry. I am learning a lot about America.”

When the rough cut was finished she sat beside me in the sound mixing room. Events became heated. The sound mixer was excellent…in the morning. His equipment was obsolescent even for the late ‘50’s in France, but he handled it well—until lunch. We ate at a small café on the Avenue du Boulogne where a steak, salad and a half bottle of red wine cost about a dollar. He would drink his wine, and sometimes mine. When we went back into the sound studio he was half the professional he had been at noon. Error after error, retake after retake. I was paying for his services and the facilities. I called his attention to his inept work and blamed the wine.

Monsieur, vous êtes un puritain. Le vin rouge au déjeuner est une tradition ouvrière protégée par les syndicats.”  (Red wine at lunch is a worker’s tradition protected by union rules.)

Then he added something derogatory using the tu in French, which I did not understand, but Jeanne did. She was startled. I could not understand her French, but I understood her tone to him and his sullen retort to her. Insult to insult. He quit two days later. Jeanne finished the mix, but would not take screen credit except as the editor.

When she and I said goodbye, it was not with the French triple kiss—cheek, cheek—cheek, with pelvises decently apart. It was a long hug, faces over the shoulder, and body warmth to body warmth. It said far more than sex ever could. The heart and the head are many inches above the gonads, and that much closer to heaven.

“Tu vas me manquer,” she said at our last meeting. Tu, she said. Not vous. She would miss me.


Distribution in France

La Guerre Inconnue (The Unknown War) was a recapitulation of the air war in Europe. Kamikaze discussed the defeat of Japan. Kamikaze was received well in the major French newspapers. While the audience for documentary features is always small, the film turned a profit.

The co-producer never bothered to see La Guerre Inconnue. He was well connected with the French government. He arranged to have the opening at the grand Palais de Chaillot with dignitaries and veterans of foreign war present. Every seat was taken.

At that time the belief of the French military was that one of their armored division had liberated Paris. They had entered Paris without firing a shot. But the American 4th Division had prepared the way for them. The GIs took the casualties but the French took the credit. General LeClerc’s troops were shown leading the liberation of Paris.

I did not say it directly—indeed he film only hinted at it—but that was too much.  Indignation led to rejection.  Several of the anciens combatants rose to their feet and left in the middle of the movie.

My co-producer apologized profusely—even to the officials who had made the arrangements. A few days later he gave me some bad news. The French government imposed a tax on all movie tickets. For deserving films, this aid to the cinema was returned to the producer. Since technically, since the film had a French visa, this money went to him, and the American producer would have to wait. He was planning another movie, and he would invest my share in it.

The money could not be transferred out of France. In the meantime he had invested in a successful comedy, La Belle Americaine, and made a fortune with it. Unfortunately the fortune was reinvested in a remake of The Three Musketeers, which flopped.

Jun 142017

We were in Paris at the time Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were living in sin in Rome and filming Cleopatra. The scandal was worth millions in box office revenue to Spyros Skouras, the head of Twentieth Century Fox.

At that time Skouras had partially underwritten a documentary for Baudouin, the fifth King of the Belgians whose father, King Leopold III, had ruled the Congo. The Belgian Congo was in a rebellious state. Perhaps King Leopold thought that a first rate documentary on the glories of the country would bring him political allies.

In 1950 Leopold III gave up his crown because of his affiliation with the Nazis. The chief naturalist on the film was a renowned expert on animal behavior who had to be dropped because of his Nazi connections. For over a year the rushes had been locked in the vaults of the Studio of Boulogne. No editing had been done. A Belgian Executive Producer had titled the film Les Seigneurs de la Foret. Lords of the Forest.

Skouras asked the chief of the CBS News bureau if he knew anyone who might structure and edit the footage. I had written a number of documentaries from the American Museum of Natural History. I was living in Paris at my own expense. I seemed to be qualified.

Documentaries and nature films meant little to the head of Twentieth Century Fox. He had seen nothing but the print advertising campaign. Snarling lions, threatening gorillas. He liked the action. Anyway, he knew he would receive honors and medals from the Belgian Royal family. Nevertheless, show business is always business before show.

“How much would you want?” he asked.

“What about four thousand dollars?”

“You’re crazy! I can hire the best writer in Hollywood for four thousand a week.”

A WEEK!! I had been thinking of a total payment. “Then what do you suggest, Mr. Skouras?”

“Two thousand, and we can get rid of you on two weeks notice.”

I agreed. We would be able to live in Paris for another year.

The photography was brilliant. It was the first nature film to be shot in Cinemascope, a French invention. The first rate crew worked in the Congo for over a year. They filmed shy animals at nighttime: The pangolin, for instance, was an ant eating armored mammal that only ventured out after sunset. Their nocturnal habits had never been photographed. Somehow this small animal had been followed in wide screen Cinemascope. No trickery. There also was wonderful footage of the mountain gorillas. The animals had been filmed with loving care.

There was a fault.

The people of the Congo had been photographed as if they were strange animals. Herds of humans, you might say. Big children at play.

The solution was to edit out the loveable humans and make an animal nature film, similar to those on television today. I spent thirteen weeks editing and writing and recording a cue-script in English, to be translated to French.

I was summoned to Belgium—to the Royal Palace of Laeken. I found a screen, a projector, the new King the Belgians, Baudouin, and his Queen; their retinue, Spyros Skouras, his wife and two daughters.

The Belgian executive producer was also present. The last time we met was when he unlocked the doors to the editing suite at the Paris studio. A microphone and a stand were placed in front of me, and I read my typescript to the silent picture.

King Baudouin applauded, as did his attendants. The Hollywood contingent seemed pleased, and the biography of Spyros Skouras notes he received a decoration from Belgium for his service to the country. Everybody shook my hand and went to a dinner, to which I was not invited. I was enlisted hired help.

I went back to Paris. I thought I would have some two months to make a soundtrack and find a Belgian narrator. I found the executive producer in the editing room.

“Bien fait, Monsieur Wolff, mes felicitations.” Then in English, so I understood. “We don’t need you anymore. “

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing is wrong. The pace is just a little too rapid for Europeans. I will change that. You Americans are too quick. I must slow things down. Also, the film now has to be totally Belgian. All the way.”

“Totally Belgian? What do you mean?”

“This is a Belgian production. You’ll receive no credit because your arrangement with Mr. Skouras did not include screen credit. But we’re grateful. We’ll expand your two week option to three weeks.”

It ended with twenty thousand for me, and no screen credit.

I saw it later. He truly had slowed it down.

They entered Les Seigneurs de la Foret at the Cannes Film Festival in 1958. It was nominated but did not win. The Congolese threw the Belgians out just before the release in the United States. It made no money either here or in Belgium.



Les Seigneurs de la forêt Movie Poster: http://www.encyclocine.com/index.html?menu=72608&film=11315


Jun 122017

Marche-en-Famenne, Hôtel de la Gare, 1948

Thirteen years after the war I decided to return to that territory just over the Dutch-German border.  Prummern, Geilenkirchen, and Beeck. Then southeast to Belgium and Marche-en-Famenne. I might have died in any of these places.

I had no trouble until I came to the German customhouse on the German border. Though the agents were young, they could have been old enough to fight.  I had a sense memory of the green and black German Wermacht uniforms. The guards wore clothing with colors that triggered the recall.

I told myself that any German under thirty had an automatic pass, a verdict of not guilty. But wormed in my medulla were Ahlem Hanover and the Holocaust. Unreasonable maggots that took years to crawl out of my brain, my memory.

I went through Prummern and turned north to Geilenkirchen.

I was lost. There were no ruins. The church where I had failed as a sniper was rebuilt.  The Cathedral in Geilenkirchen had been restored to its 18th faux 16th Century exterior.

As for the beet fields that had sheltered me until Robas and his BAR rescued me, they were gone. Concrete roads, parking lots, buildings of no distinction had replaced the battlefield.  No rows of beets.

One October day in 1944 a fine officer, Lieutenant Mercer Yeager, had been mortared when we attacked Beeck. We called off the attack and went back to our foxholes. I brought the wounded officer into my shelter and tried to stop his bleeding. I could not. The only sounds he made were animal noises. Except once, when I thought he said he was cold. I wrapped my arms around him, and his blood flowed into my combat jacket. He died.

I got a new field jacket two days later.

I turned the car towards Belgium and slept the night in Heerlen. The coal mines had disappeared. I could not find the house where the husband had offered me his wife. The following morning I crossed into the Ardennes on my route to Marche-en-Famenne and the chicken coop where I had last seen Hyman Lipsky.

It was early fall, not the grey winter of the Battle of the Bulge. The light on the hills and trees was elegant amber, and the roadway was without peril. Woods and foliage wove into a mixture of orange, brown and yellow.  Sun, no snow. Water, not ice. Streams interlaced the twisting road. I climbed a path toward the exterior of Chateau of Biron from which I had fled.

The chicken coop was not there. What remained, and had grown raggedly well, were the trees that had been torn apart by artillery shells that had burst in the air.

I went into Marche. I saw the schoolhouse and the jail again. On the main street was a small shop I had forgotten. One night in that long past December the door to a grocery shop had been left wide open. Technically I suppose I looted, but there was a quantity of Belgian chocolate I liberated. To my surprise the shop was still there. I entered and found the storekeeper. I told him about my thievery and offered to pay.

He called to the back of the store and three men, well dressed, came out.  I was introduced as one of them men who had kept Marche from falling to the Germans thirteen years earlier.

Suddenly, for all of us, it was a solemn moment.  They said, “Merci, cher Americain. Vous qui nous avez libere, êtes toujours  bienvenue.”  You will always be welcome.

“Do many Americans come back?” I asked.

“Not many.”

“Too many Americans have never left Belgium.”

It was a fragile emotional footbridge that could only be crossed by memory. It would fall into the depths of banality if we walked on it with words. We smiled and said nothing more. We shook hands and I left.