PARIS -- They are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the International Herald Tribune in Paris this week and I'm here for the party. I'm proud to say that I have been continuously associated with the "Trib" for 38 years. Fourteen of them were spent in Paris and were the happiest years of my life, except for the first three, when I lived there as a bachelor.
I went to Paris as a student in late 1948 and lucked out by getting a job on the Tribune in early 1949. The position was restaurant and nightclub critic and the pay was $25 a week. I had impeccable credentials for reviewing French restaurants. Previous to Paris I had dined for three years in U.S. Marine Corps mess halls. Then for three more I ate in the school cafeteria at the University of Southern California, and finally, in Paris, I took my meals in Montparnasse at a Polish cooperative called the Hotel des Etats Unis.
Writing about food in Paris was no problem. But wines were a little trickier. So I did what almost every American in France was doing at the time -- I faked it. I was told by friends that if the wine bottle had a neck it was a burgundy, and if it had shoulders it was a bordeaux. When it came to distinguishing reds from whites it was every man for himself.
To make the gourmet job less boring I took along an Irish American lady from Warren, Pa., who offered to tell me what dishes were hot and what ones were cold.
The key to the good life in Paris was writing about restaurants. If someone wanted to eat well, he had to come to me.
One time the late Aga Khan called and asked if I could recommend a good restaurant. I said I would go one better and take him there. We had a great lunch and when the check came there was no move on the Aga's part to pick it up, so I took it. When I handed in my expenses, the feisty managing editor, Eric Hawkins, said, "How dare you take the Aga Khan to lunch?" "I had to," I protested. "I still have relatives in Pakistan."
The Trib didn't keep me on the food beat forever. I started covering other stories of interest, such as the wedding of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, the feud between Aristotle Onassis and Stavros Niarchos, the state visit to Paris of Roy Cohn and David Schine, the opening of the Istanbul Hilton, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Israel, the breaking of the "Six Minute Louvre" record and Elizabeth Taylor's futile attempt to walk through the Rome Olympics without getting pinched.
I also covered the International Set, which had only the most beautiful women as members. (It was French law.) Unfortunately there was this Irish American lady from Warren, Pa., who kept following me around, so I never could sit down with them and get their real stories. It was a time of turmoil on the continent.
I almost had a duel with movie producer Walter Wanger over "Joan of Arc." James Hagerty, Eisenhower's press secretary, took me to task for writing a spoof of his press briefings, and I got caught crashing a fancy costume party in Venice dressed as Louis XIV.
I mention these things not to brag, though anyone who has ever worked on the Paris Herald Tribune tends to do a lot of that sort of thing, but rather to show you why I'm so happy to be part of the 100th-anniversary celebration.
You cannot return to Paris after having lived there for 14 years without getting teary-eyed. To celebrate the anniversary of the Trib I want to go back to all the fleshpots and low life I knew when I was a boy columnist. The trouble is there's this Irish American lady from Warren, Pa., who keeps insisting since she was the only one who would eat with me in Paris 38 years ago she has a right to tag along.