A Walk On The Wild Side… Capucine

Jack Nicholson and Capucine, the dazzling beauty in the Dambier photograph here, both liked Charlie Feldman’s shoulders.

As a struggling actor in the late fifties, Mr.Chinatown-to-be wanted the soft shoulder blazer look of a top Hollywood producer-agent, and Feldman, who produced A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951, was one of the best.

Capucine liked Charlie’s shoulders because they carried the former Dior fashion model up the stairway to the stars. So much, in fact, that she drew the ire of actors David Niven and Peter Sellers — and  even comedy writer Woody Allen — as being Charlie’s pet when they all workedThe Pink Panther series.

Here, through the lens of Dambier, we see a heart-stopping Germaine Hélène Irène Lefebvre, known to movie fans as Capucine or just “Cap” to Charlie and Hollywood insiders. Exotic. Pensive. A high class cat ready to pounce. Not on a hot tin roof but a place a little closer to the gods. But that would come later.

From the cars and the architecture, it looks like post-war Paris where she and her lifelong friend Audrey Hepburn shuttled between modeling and the movie business. It was a time of inflation and a black market in food and even medicine, where women penciled in lines on the back of their legs as pretend lingerie, and the kindness of strangers was welcomed at all levels of society.

But in the flotsam and jetsam of a decimated France, when the socialist government was paying families a bonus to have a third child, Capucine was too noble, too basic black and pearls for your average Frenchman to have a third child with. The look that put the biscuit in the basket would be Brigitte Bardot, who brought the image of the sexy, available knockout blonde to prominence around the time Cap met Charlie Feldman while modeling in New York in 1957.

With the help of Charlie, she was contracted to Columbia Pictures, and in 1960 she played a prostitute opposite one his clients, John Wayne, in North To Alaska.

A role as an artsy kept woman followed with the 1962 production of Nelson Algren’s novel about New Orleans lush life, A Walk On The Wild Side, where she played opposite Laurence Harvey and a young Jane Fonda as Kitty Twist, the white trash hooker who betrays Cap to whorehouse madam Barbara Stanwyck, whose bisexual lust for the je ne sais quoi that Dambier’s camera captures in Cap was revealed in her lines.

Well off, and with Charlie as her angel, Cap said goodbye to Sunset Boulevard and moved to Switzerland. She displayed a classic hooker’s guile by double parking Charlie in a two year affair with actor William Holden. The Pink Panther series, parts in What’s New Pussycat? and Fellini’s New Wave Satryicon, and Charlie’s clout helped maintain her career and her income beyond the gossip and reviews that always questioned her acting skills.

Like her friend Audrey Hepburn, Cap had psychological problems, depression. But unlike Hepburn, luck of the draw and her complex personality structure did not find marriage to a psychiatrist in the cards.

She committed suicide, jumping from the eighth floor of her apartment in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1991, where she lived for three decades. Dior and Givenchy, for whom she modeled, could have created a perfume from the flower that was her screen name. But they didn’t. Maybe somebody should. One more reminder that there’s no business like show business.

By Eric Ehrmann

Editor’s Note: With a title like this and Eric’s lyrical way with words, Lou Reed’s classic by the same title comes to mind:


About Author

Eric is a digital nomad who writes on sports, politics and culture. He is a member of PEN, one of the original bloggers on the HuffPo World section and is one of the pioneering contributors to Rolling Stone starting in 1968 working under co-founder Jann S. Wenner. Eric resides in Brazil and is fluent in five languages. His work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, National Review, New York Times and USA Today. Photo credit, Eric Ehrmann.