In the tradition of Henry James and Ernest Hemingway, Pierre Salinger, who turned 50 this month, is enjoying his role as America’s ranking expatriate—though he does not think of himself in such exalted company. Born in San Francisco, the bilingual son of a French mother and a German-Jewish father, he says, “I think the whole concept of national borders is outdated. Still, for the first time in my life, I have time here to reflect, to write, to be with my family.”
Contemplation and domesticity-aside, Salinger has been demonstrably busy in Paris with his portable electric typewriter. For two-and-a-half years the pudgy, amiable ex-newspaperman who was John F. Kennedy’s press secretary has written a popular column in the TIME-like L’Express. Using his insider’s knowledge, Salinger instructs the French in the mysteries of American politics. About once a month he returns to the U.S. to touch base with such oracles as Henry Kissinger, Ted Kennedy and other pols and pals from the New Frontier. Between columns, Salinger has written his third book, an engaging account of his life as a journalist and politician called Je Suis un Américain (I am an American). It will be published in the U.S. this fall under the title Never Look Back (a quote borrowed from legendary black pitcher Satchel Paige).
Salinger lives on the Rue de Rivoli with his 36-year-old second wife, Nicole, and their son, Gregory, 9 (three children from his previous marriage live in California). Since Nicole is an active journalist herself—she helped produce a French TV documentary on Ted Kennedy last year—and Gregory attends the demanding Ecole Bilingue, Salinger occasionally has time to play resident American bon vivant. Last month, for instance, he tripped off to Cannes to serve as vice-president of the film festival jury. It was not all vin et fleurs on the Mediterranean—dinner parties often spawned painful questions from Kennedy bores. Salinger recalls, “I really lost my temper when a French woman sitting next to me wanted to know why Rose had lied in her book about Teddy, ‘since everyone knew that the girl who drowned was pregnant.’ There I was at the table of honor telling this woman to shut up about things she knew nothing about.”
Memories of those glittering thousand days pursue Salinger wherever he goes, whether flying into JFK airport or strolling through Europe’s myriad JFK plazas. Nonetheless, Salinger seems relaxed and happy for the first time since his tenure as Kennedy’s Fourth Estate Falstaff. That is not surprising, considering the years which followed the President’s assassination. Salinger lost humiliatingly in the 1964 California senatorial election, then was buffeted in several business ventures. He was for a year a vice-president of National General Corporation, a California film production-distribution company which later foundered, and later endured great personal embarrassment as chairman and director of GRAMCO, a financially plagued conglomerate.
Today Salinger lives on the income from two previous books—a memoir, With Kennedy, and a thriller, On Instructions of My Government—his column, and his TV and lecture appearances, which have made him something of a cult figure among French youth. Though socially he is the picture of the urbane jet-setter, he is as concerned as ever with American politics—especially where Ted Kennedy and the Democratic party are concerned.
“I sincerely believe that Ted does not want to run for President,” says Salinger. “We had a long talk about it last fall before he announced his decision. But yes, I can see him emerging from the convention as the only alternative to Wallace.” And if that happened? “Of course, if Ted feels he needs me, I’ll go.”