Brushes with Greatness - Jacques Cousteau

My Dinner With Jacques Cousteau

jacques_cousteauBack in the mid 1970’s I had the honor of working as an editor and graphic artist on a PBS series with Jacques Cousteau. When his son, Phillippe was killed in an airplane accident, he moved the operation from L.A. to Paris. I stayed behind, writing and producing That’s Hollywood for Fox. One of my best friends made the move to France and eventually coaxed me to come for a visit.

Unbeknownst to me, the show they were working on had a major problem. The show was called, Cousteau’s Search for Atlantis and after two years looking, they hadn’t found the lost continent. How do you fill two hours with “nothing”? They wanted my advice and perhaps a short film or two to spice up the show. I had gone to Paris to rest, I wasn’t about to work on my vacation. That’s when my friend producer Andrew Solt pulled in the big gun. He called me aside; “Captain Cousteau wants to take you out to dinner tonight at his favorite restaurant in Paris”.

My head was reeling. This is going to be a meal I will never forget! Exquisite French Cuisine perhaps? An exotic seafood delicacy?

After an entire day of delicious anticipation, the Captain came to pick us up in his little car and we zoomed off into the Parisian night. Dodging in and out of traffic, he deftly re-lit a cigar butt that was clearly several inches shorter than his nose. After a wild ride worthy of an bush-pilot, I found myself at Steak House, so small it had only one long table and no menu. We sat down, the captain, my friend the producer, and several young ladies who were part of the crew or friends. They served only steak, New York, Filet, or T-Bone, but only steak. I must have looked disappointed, “Don’t you like steak?” the Captain asked. “Uh, yeah, but I just thought maybe I was in for some special delicacy like some exotic seafood dish or something…don’t you eat fish?” “Oh, no” he replied. “Never, I know where they have been”.

Then I sat aghast as he explained how the Mediterranean Sea was the sewer for Europe and that unless he was hundreds of miles out to sea, he would never touch seafood. As we dined, “JYC” (pronounce jeek) regaled us with endless stories of his adventures, finally admitting that Atlantis probably wasn’t off the coast of Santerini as he had hoped, and by the way, would I help on the show?…I was hooked by a great fisherman and agreed to make a couple of little animated films for him. Mission accomplished, now we would celebrate. After dinner, he ordered a special bottle of liqueur wrapped in a towel. “Was he sharing a bottle of the legendary and forbidden absinthe?" As each guest was poured a small shot which they downed with much ceremony, I happened to turn and noticed JYC’s smile get wider and wider. I caught a sly twinkle in his eye. “He is having too much fun”, I thought, “Something is fishy.” When it came for my turn to be served the liqueur, I politely passed, and after all had consumed, the bottle was unwrapped to reveal a large snake pickled by the alcohol inside the bottle, the girls screamed, the captain laughed, and I was relieved I escaped being the receiving end of the old sailor’s prank. For reasons I couldn’t have predicted, It certainly did turn out to be a dinner I’ll never forget. All Rights Reserved 2012