In May 1961, an elderly woman in Paris heard a knock at the door of her six-story walk-up apartment. It was only the most powerful man in the world.
The president of the United States was going door-to-door hoping to find the call girl he had discreetly arranged to meet.
John F. Kennedy, it turned out, used a fake excuse about a doctor’s visit to attend a long-arranged dalliance while in Paris for a crucial summit, only to wind up in the wrong building, knocking on the doors of random Parisians who were left with the surprise of their lives.
The tale of this ill-advised but ultimately, er, successful liaison is recounted in “Madame Claude: Her Secret World of Pleasure, Privilege, & Power,” by William Stadiem (St. Martin’s Press).
Madame Claude, born Fernande Grudet on July 6, 1923, in Angers, France, was one of the world’s most successful madams.
Starting in 1957, she ran an exclusive, high-class prostitution ring that offered a very specific type of woman — tall, supermodel-gorgeous, classy and upscale (or at least trained to appear so) — to the world’s richest and most powerful men.
The young women who worked for her were known as Claude girls, which became a well-known and powerful brand. She scouted them carefully, paid for plastic surgery if needed, and ultimately hoped to marry them off to aristocracy.
“A date with a ‘Claude girl’ was one of those pinnacle Paris experiences,” writes Stadiem, “like staying at the Ritz or dinner at Maxim’s or wearing a Lanvin suit . . . an apotheosis of luxury that the French do better than any other nationality.”
According to Stadiem, Madame Claude’s client list included the world’s most successful men of the time: Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Sammy Davis Jr., former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, three generations of Gettys, the Shah of Iran, Marlon Brando, Darryl Zanuck, Groucho Marx. If you were rich, famous and male in the 20th century, chances are Madame Claude knew what you liked in bed, and provided exactly that.
For Kennedy, his desired liaison required almost as much detailed preparation as an actual political summit.
After the Bay of Pigs fiasco in April 1961, Kennedy thought a meeting in Europe with French and Soviet leaders Charles de Gaulle and Nikita Khrushchev, respectively, could serve as a reset for his presidency. He decided that he and first lady Jackie Kennedy would embark on their first official European tour. This would be the trip where Jackie so entranced the French that Kennedy famously introduced himself as “the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.”
But while Jackie was thrilled at the prospect of meeting novelist and newly appointed French Culture Minister Andre Malraux, one of her literary idols, her husband looked to fulfill a different sort of fantasy.Also at the Post
“If JFK had a type, it was the wholesome, snooty, proper, preppy girl whose flaunted untouchability he could violate . . . girls like Jacqueline Bouvier,” writes Stadiem, who notes that Kennedy learned about Madame Claude from Sinatra.
“Here was a madam who specialized in exactly what JFK was after.”
The liaison, Stadiem writes, was arranged directly between Madame Claude and Pierre Salinger, Kennedy’s press secretary. When Salinger first proposed the arrangement, Claude turned him down, fearing the many things that could go wrong if the president’s visit to a prostitute went haywire....MUCH MORE
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