YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS: Bogie knew how to get to the French Riviera. Just board a train from Paris on a rainy afternoon and next morning you're soaking in the sun on a beach in Marseille. Of course Bogie took a boat to Oran and then headed west to Casablanca, but that's another story.
For years Hollywood's biggest stars flocked to towns such as Nice, Cannes and Saint-Tropez to sun, swim and even—occasionally—sail. Irving Berlin once wrote that he would sail down the avenue, but "a yacht we haven't got." Among the Hollywood set who vacationed there, though, everyone had a yacht or a close friend who had one. Gary Cooper, just in from a back-lot Dodge City, would trade his six-shooter for an ascot and a captain's hat. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton found yachting the only way to escape the paparazzi. Jackie, bigger than any Hollywood star in 1963, escaped the White House to tour the Greek Islands on Ari's yacht. Years later they honeymooned on it.
If the area was good for vacationing, it was also good for filming. Cary Grant, the cat burglar, went swimming in the Mediterranean with the beautiful rich girl from the U.S. In real life, that girl became a princess and sat on a throne in Monaco. James Bond, it seemed, was always racing his car around hairpin turns or test-driving a tailored tux in one of the Riviera's casinos. One of Bing and Bob's roads led to Morocco, and had the film been shot, say, 40 years later, they might have actually made it there, but like the rest of their roads, this one led only to Soundstage 51.
You didn't have to be a movie star to go down to the sea in yachts. In retirement, Winston Churchill could be found cruising on the Mediterranean. Years earlier, he and his buddy, FDR, chose Casablanca for a wartime summit, although they never stopped in for a drink at Rick's Caf� Americain.
It is not surprising, given Hollywood's interest in the Riviera, that the most famous film festival in the world is held each spring in Cannes. Started in 1946, it attracts crowds of celebrities and celebrity-seekers for two weeks' worth of movie-viewing and party-going, culminating in its various awards, topped by the Palme d'Or for best picture.
As time goes by, dreams and memories merge, and it becomes difficult to distinguish one from the other. Many midnights ago, I seem to recall, I was at one of those elegant parties in a grand hotel overlooking the Mediterranean. Everyone was drinking champagne. In the ballroom, the band was playing a Gershwin medley. Couples were dancing: Sophia and Carlo, Liz and Richard, Ava and a young man who moved like a matador. I noticed Ava was barefoot. In the bar, Papa was explaining to Scott why Gatsby would never sell. At a corner table, a woman I did not recognize sat alone. Later I learned it was Garbo.
I was out on the patio under a thousand stars, listening to Coop and Errol compare notes on their latest conquests, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Bardot. No one who knew her well called her anything else. She sipped some champagne from my glass, then took my hand.
"Come with me," she whispered. We took the winding staircase down to the hotel gardens, across the great lawn and onto the beach. "We will go for a swim," she said.
"But I have no bathing suit," I answered.
Bardot reached out and gently tapped the tip of my nose with her finger. "You silly American," she said.