December 05, 1977 12:00 PM

All the appropriate titles—Three’s Company, One Day at a Time, What’s Happening—have been preempted. So suffice it to say that this is about actress Charlotte Rampling, 31, and recall that when last heard from (PEOPLE, Feb. 3, 1975) she was fresh from choosing press agent Brian Southcombe over male model Randall Lawrence, thus breaking up their London ménage à trois. Charlotte was also saying she had had Brian’s baby “to keep us together.”

Since then the green-eyed British colonel’s daughter has replaced hapless Southcombe with a new man: Jean-Michel Jarre, 29, a celebrated French composer of electronic music.

They met in May 1976 at dinner in a friend’s restaurant, Chez Nano, in St.-Tropez. Rampling and Southcombe were living nearby in apparent bliss with their son, Barnaby. Sampling the fondue Chez Nano that balmy evening, Southcombe, a New Zealander public relations consultant who helped guide Charlotte’s career, could hardly have dreamed that in less than a week he would be saying goodbye to his partner of 11 years and wife of four.

“After that meal,” says Jarre, from a sofa in Charlotte’s rambling apartment in the fashionable Eighth Arrondissement, “the next time we were together was two days later here in Paris. After that there was no need for further discussion. We have been together since that time.”

They went public early in their affair, appearing together at the Cannes film festival where Charlotte was a judge. Jarre slept in her room, and whenever they went out an avalanche of photographers pursued them. Rampling was under heavy career pressure at the time. With an uncertain record (Georgy Girl was her best-remembered credit), she had starred in the sadomasochistic Night Porter, then rejected “a variety of extraordinary women’s roles—perverse, degenerate, frightening.” Three roles she did play added little to her professional stature. One was Jackpot, with Richard Burton as co-star, which ran out of money after 70 minutes of film were in the can. The second was Farewell, My Lovely, a humdrum private-eye film with Robert Mitchum. This year she appeared with Richard Harris in a whale epic, Orca, which bellied up.

And yet today, eight months after bearing Jarre’s child, David—a half brother for Barnaby, now 4, and Jarre’s 3-year-old daughter Emilie by his estranged wife—Charlotte seems undisturbed by her flagging career. Though she is pale, the chain-smoking and nervous foot twitching that once characterized her are gone.

Is this new demeanor the result of the change in partners? (Her divorce is final. Jarre’s from a Paris public relations woman is not.) “I can’t begin to explain,” she says. “I could write a whole book about it if you want, but it concerns so many different elements, all mixed together…” Her voice trails off as she gropes for a summarizing phrase. “It comes out with certain results that I can’t begin to tell you, really. Perhaps it’s something that even I haven’t absorbed yet.” (For his part, Southcombe says, “I still love Charlotte and I’d have her back tomorrow if she’d come. But it seems to be over.”)

One notable difference about this new partnership is the status of the man. When she was with Southcombe, Charlotte was the star. He was Mr. Rampling. At the time of Chez Nano, Jarre too was relatively unknown, but he was a musical innovator whose time was coming. It has arrived.

He is the hottest performer on Europe’s pop music scene right now. An alumnus of the Conservatoire de Paris and the son of movie score composer Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago), Jean-Michel released an electronic music album, Oxygene, a year ago. It consists of synthesizer tracks that he composed, performed and produced. The album and a single have sold more than three million copies around the world. (The LP hit the U.S. in September and has climbed to number 78 on Billboard’s charts.)

Composers, especially electronic ones, are something new to Rampling. “I’ll never know where the music comes from,” she marvels. “I often wonder why he doesn’t suddenly sit up in bed and start singing or whistling something. He never does. The music just goes through his head all the time. When he is working he shuts himself in the studio for weeks on end. I don’t hear anything till the job is finished.”

Jarre nods: “I know what I am aiming for but I prefer to compose in private. There I can spend eight hours at a time working out the musical statement.” He has a convert’s passion about the role of electronic music. While reading for a degree in French literature at the University of Paris, he enrolled with the Groupe de Recherches Musicales of Pierre Schaeffer, the French guru of synthesizers. Jarre left after three years, charging that avant-garde sectarianism was just as lifeless as that of the Conservatoire. That same year, at 22, he wrote a stunning electronic ballet score, Aor, which created a minor sensation at the Paris Opera.

Now he creates new kinds of sound and helps create new instruments as well. On Oxygene he plays four synthesizers and a battery of new devices, one of which, the Rhythmin’ Computer, was built to his order. For this reason Jarre likes to compare himself to the 17th-and 18th-century founders of classical music. “When one of those pioneers heard a sound in his head, he popped around the corner to an instrument maker and asked him to invent the clarinet,” he says. More seriously, he observes, “Beethoven becomes an electronic composer when his music is played on the radio or through amplifiers. I’m just using the instruments of my time.”

Jarre and Rampling’s thinking comes together in the “New Philosophy” of Jean-Michel’s friend, essayist Bernard-Henri Lévy. Lévy has outraged the French Left with his criticism of static ideologies and especially of Marxist theory.

The need, according to the New Philosophy, is for individuality, compassion and experience. To Charlotte and Jean-Michel that means marriage. “We have been busy, but next year we plan to get married,” he says. They are already looking for a house—in the country, for the children’s sake. “There are those who say that marriage is a restrictive formalism,” Jarre adds. “In fact, marriage predates religion and law. It is a celebration of love between two people which is at the very base of our Western civilization.”

Charlotte agrees, and says she is looking forward to “being fulfilled and developing as a woman and a wife and a mother.” Could their life together be La Petite Maison dans la Prairie?

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