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!”
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.