Excerpt: 'The Strange World of Willie Seabrook' by Marjorie Worthington


Our “mission” to Timbuctoo having received the seal of approval of the Trocadéro Museum, Willie decided that it was only proper for him to give them a report of his findings. And so, with the help of our good friend Michel Leiris, one of the youngest members of the Trocadéro, Willie invited a distinguished group of stuffed shirts, as he called them, to a luncheon at Foyot’s. It was one of the best restaurants in Paris, located near the Senate and patronized by that august body. Before going to lunch, Willie’s guests were asked to meet at the Studio Delambre for apéritifs.

I was busy about clothes at that time, Willie having for once given me carte blanche to dress like other women and not like a Toulon market girl. A good friend, Suzanne Fabre, had sent me to one of those “little dressmakers” smart French women use, and I was having suits and dresses made that would have pleased my own fashion-conscious mother. I hated to spend time on fittings, but reveled in the results.

Suzanne’s dressmaker was way over on the Right Bank, and I took a taxi across Paris when I was finished. Never had the city seemed more beautiful to me. It had rained earlier, the pavements were glistening, and everything looked as fresh and beautiful as the flowers in the stalls behind the Madeleine. I had known what it was to be miserably unhappy in Paris, broke, sick, lonesome; but this morning I knew what it meant to feel well, prosperous, successful, and on top of the world. There is no worse city than Paris in which to be miserable – and no better place in which to enjoy a state of euphoria.

The minute Willie opened the door of our apartment for me I began to be worried. He was wearing the beamish, cherubic expression I had come to know meant he was up to no good!

“I’m glad you’ve come, Mink,” he said. “I want you to pour the drinks.”

I hurried upstairs, took off my hat, powdered my nose, and came down to the studio. Willie had all the bottles, glasses, and siphons arranged on a coffee table and I took a seat behind it. Only when I was settled did I happen to glance across the room to the corner under the balcony.

There, hanging by her wrists from a chain, was Mimi, one of the call girls of Montparnasse, who would do almost anything for money and who had her “homme d’affaires” or business manager. She was wearing a leather skirt that Willie had brought from Africa, similar to one that Lallah wore. She was naked from the waist up, and her bare toes just touched the floor.

Before I had time to say anything, the first of Willie’s distinguished guests arrived. He was typical of the others who followed soon after him, a dignified, elderly Frenchman in conventional

formal day attire, with a rosette or ribbon in his buttonhole, either red for the Legion of Honor, green for the Mérite Agricole, etc. They entered, smiling or bowing, murmuring polite phrases. They started walking across the room to where I was sitting, to bow again and kiss my hand. But on the way there was a double-take as their sharp brown eyes caught a glimpse of the half-nude girl suspended from the balcony. There would be an almost imperceptible gasp, then the eyes were quickly averted and the ceremony of being introduced continued as if nothing extraordinary had happened.

I poured Cinzano, Dubonnet, Amer Picon, or one of the other bittersweet apéritifs the French love. I added ice and soda or water, and smiled, and the smile felt as stiff as if I had painted it on with abrasive material. The talk was about Timbuctoo.

I was afraid that Michel Leiris, who was a little later than the others, would make some remark about Mimi when he finally arrived. But he was thoroughly French, too, and said nothing. When it was time for them all to leave for the luncheon at Foyot’s, they made polite farewells to me and filed out of the studio, Willie trailing after them with a smile of his own that was like the Cheshire cat’s.

I gave Mimi a stiff drink, cleaned up the mess of glasses, and went out to buy myself an elegant lunch at a nearby restaurant where I would be surrounded by normal people.

Excerpted from The Strange World of Willie Seabrook by Marjorie Worthington, published October 2017 from Spurl Editions.
Excerpted with permission of the publishers.