All images taken by Jay Weston of Maxim's by Assouline
In the late '50s, I became the public relations/ production guy for a wide-screen film company called Cinerama. After originally making several amazing tri-screen documentaries (This Is Cinerama), in 1962 we co-produced with MGM a huge Western feature called How The West Was Won. It was truly an all-star vehicle because we enlisted the powerful, feared Hearst Hollywood columnist, Louella Parsons, as our ally in lining up the many stars, promising to give a hefty percentage of the film's profits to the writer's favorite charity, St. John's Hospital. No star could withstand her entreaties, and they turned out to work for a minimal salary... dozens and dozens, with three top directors also involved. The film turned out splendidly, and I decided to hold the world premiere in Paris. I would be bringing in 300 journalists from all over the world for the event, and that city was a central location no one could turn down. The film company's dynamic president, Nicolas Reisini, and board member (and my mentor) Maurice Dolfuss, had very good connections with the French government, and we got them to go all-out for the event. The Guarde Republique with their ornate helmets and red uniforms holding raised swords served as the honor guard lining the red carpet, and we even brought over a few dozen real Indians from the Sioux nation with war paint to attend. My main preoccupation was where to hold the after-screening party, and the selection was obvious. MAXIM'S was then (as now) the most famous nightclub in the world, and I had dined there several times as a guest of my board members. So we held the spectacular event at this spectacular venue (3, rue Royal, in the heart of Paris). Believe me, it was a great success, a once-in-a-lifetime party.
Brooke Shield with Maxim's owner, Pierre Cardin, last year.
So imagine my delight when the Assouline Publishing people recently sent me a copy of their new book, Maxim's, Mirror of Parisian Life. It has a preface by legendary fashion designer Pierre Cardin, who owned a share of the club and, after a festive evening in 1981, fearing it would be sold to an Arab sheik, bought the nightclub. He is quoted as saying, "Year after year, Maxim's remains the prestigious symbol of a certain way of life." I'll say! I have been there several times since he took over and saw a major growth of its international brand, more top-tier entertainment and a noticeable younger and more fashionable set frequenting it.
Clint Eastwood arriving for dinner on his recent Paris visit.
Jackie Kennedy Onassis dining here with her new husband, Ari.
For my Huffington readers who have never been there, you should know that, in France, Maxim's is a restaurant as strong and assertive to la vie Parisienne as Spago is to those of us in Los Angeles. And I was startled to find that our famous Spago chef, Wolfgang Puck, actually cooked at Maxim's in the early '70s before embarking for our fair shores at the age of 24. What makes the venue unique are three things: the magnificent art deco décor, the brilliantly exotic food, and the social habitués who frequent it. In the '50s and '60s, when I spent some time there, it was the haunt of everyone from Maria Callas and Aristotle Onassis to, one night in '65, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in the next booth to me. (I was dating a French actress named Cecile Aubrey at the time.) The Duke and Dutchess of Windsor visited it several times, and Diana Ross, the star of my film, Lady Sings The Blues, was an habitué whenever she visited Paris. The book features an elegant collection of illustrated recipes, and I do remember eating something called Quail Confit, Truffled Chicken, Saddle of Lamb, and their famous dessert, Fruit Charlotte.
Diana Ross dining here with owner Pierre Cardin in the Eighties.
...and Princess Grace made it her favorite night spot after marrying Prince Albert.
At Maxim's, there have always been three prerequisites for entry: good looks, a jacket and tie for men, and a full wallet. Once you made the cut, I there was a valet to open the taxi door, two doormen dressed in grey coats with red trim wearing coachman's hats, then you walked through a long hall draped in red before reaching the mains salon. (I have never been here without wearing a tuxedo and escorting a woman in a long gown.) Brigitte Bardot created a scandal in the seventies when she arrived barefooted... and of course they let her in. Maxim's was the first place where dinner was accompanied by music; in the beginning it was a piano player before becoming, as today, a full orchestra. Always the 'home' of beautiful women, there is a tradition that one table in the grand salle is reserved for a group of very pretty unaccompanied women, and I am told that it is still practiced today.
The famous Australian singer, Nellie Melba, inspired a peach dessert prepared especially for her by the Maxim chef, and still today Peach Melba is on the menu of this and many other restaurants. Two biographies of designer Coco Chanel were published this month, and both mention that she was a frequent visitor to Maxim's during her long and tumultuous life. There is a legend that Ho Chi Minh worked here as a busboy while in exile in the early twenties before returning to Indochina to lead his revolt. In preparing my still-in-the-works biofilm about actress Jean Seberg, I found a scene in her '58 film, Bonjour Tristesse, directed by Otto Preminger in Maxim's. And Maurice Chevalier, Leslie Caron and Louis Jordan frolicked here in the wonderful film, Gigi, set in the Belle Epoque. Ian Fleming set a scene with James Bond here in The Man With the Golden Gun, and Quentin Tarantino filmed an extended scene here in his recent Inglourious Basterds. (His spelling.) Who can forget Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard dining here during La Belle Epoque in Woody Allen's new Midnight in Paris. (Woody and wife Soon Yi had dinner here the night he finished shooting.)
Woody Allen filmed a scene in his new film, Midnight in Paris, at Maxim's.
Brigitte Bardot arrived here barefoot... and was admitted, a first.
After buying the nightclub for 'several million dollars' in '81, Pierre Cardin set about making it an international 'brand,' and today there are numerous products bearing the Maxim's name. Cardin has opened 25 Maxims throughout the world as well as several smaller Minims. Its wine cellar in Paris is still rich with 130,000 bottles, all French, although I have suggested they carry such California vintages as Justin and Laetitia. How I would love to ramble about sipping in that cellar! The menu has changed a great deal under the tutelege of the 36-year-old current chef, Olivier Guyon, with a lighter businessman's lunch being served and more salads available for dinner. But it still features Quail Eggs with Iranian caviar, Langoustine with Eggplant Charlotte, Stuffed Saddle of Lamb (my favorite) and the magnificent Lobster Feuillete Maxim's.
Quail Eggs with Caviar has been on the menu forever.
...and I've never forgotten the taste of the Poached Chicken with Truffles.
The book (which is available at www.assouline.com) concludes with this: "Maxim's is still a star in a radiant world. It is a place of unique anbiance, of Parisian life, of fin-de-siecle décor, of fashion, elegance and class. Maxim's is a burning flame... it lives and must live on." Yes, I do look forward to my next visit one day soon.
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