AT THE CHÂTEAU DE CANDÉ among his diplomatic and unofficial guests, Charles Eugene Bedaux seemed an unlikely dean of the American community in Paris. Three years before welcoming the embassy and hundreds of displaced Americans into his home, he had left New York in disgrace. Time derided him as ‘a Mephistophelean little Franco-American efficiency expert’. The description was accurate. ‘Mephistophelean’ Bedaux had charmed his way to a vast fortune by teaching American industrial barons how to earn more money without extra expense. ‘Little’ Bedaux then weighed only 112 pounds and was 5 foot 7½ inches tall. ‘He reminded himself of Napoleon, because, among other things, both of them were short,’ wrote the New Yorker’s Janet Flanner, who met and interviewed him before the German invasion. ‘Franco-American’ Bedaux was born in France in 1886 and became an American citizen in 1917. As Time noted, he was an expert in industrial efficiency, having refined Charles Winslow Taylor’s late nineteenth-century time and motion techniques to extract the maximum from workers. Bedaux’s life, the Chicago Daily Tribunecommented, was ‘a real Horatio Alger story of a poor boy climbing to riches’. Associates called him ‘Charles-the-Man’.
Charles Eugene Bedaux, third of four children of a railway engineer and a seamstress, grew up near Paris at Charenton-le-Pont. Leaving school early, he broke away from his family to hawk for business at the cabarets-cum-brothels of Montmartre in the north of Paris. When a woman shot and killed Bedaux’s employer, a pimp named Henri Ledoux, he left France on a cattle boat for New York. Arriving aged 19 in 1906, he took a variety of low-paid jobs, including bottle washer in a saloon and sandhog, lugging sacks of earth, on the Hudson River Tunnel. That lasted a month, until the bends or exhaustion drove him above ground. He taught French at Berlitz in Philadelphia and took odd jobs all over the Midwest, Oklahoma and Colorado. In 1908, he applied for US citizenship and voted, he said later, in the presidential election for Republican William Howard Taft. Also in 1908, he took a job at the Mallinckrodt Chemical Works in St Louis, Missouri, and married a local beauty queen, Blanche de Kressier Allen. A year later, they had a son, whom he named Charles Emile after his father.
At Mallinckrodt, Bedaux said later, he had a revelation: ‘I soon found that engineers had assigned units of measurement to power of all sorts –fuel, water, electrical. Why, I wondered, couldn’t a wholly scientific and mathematical measurement of manpower be ascertained?’ He devised this measurement himself and called it the ‘B’, for Bedaux, unit –sixty units of labour per hour, based on the average worker’s output, above which workers should receive extra pay. An Italian industrial engineer, A. M. Morrini, recruited Bedaux as interpreter on a trip to Europe with a group of consultants who were marketing the older Taylor efficiency system. When the Great War began in 1914, Bedaux was in France with Blanche and Charles Emile. He enlisted in the French Foreign Legion and, after an accident crushed his foot, he was discharged without seeing battle. Back in the United States, Bedaux founded his own company to advise on industrial efficiency. American labour unions would soon condemn the ‘Bedaux System’ as a ‘speed-up’ process that treated workingmen like machines to be measured and exploited to the maximum. Bedaux called it the ‘proper use of manpower for faster output with fewer men’. This was the era of streamlining, when Italian futurists and American industrialists alike were casting away the extraneous, the decorative and the unnecessary–in favour of undiminished speed and efficiency. In 1936, Charlie Chaplin would mock such industrial regimentation in his classic film Modern Times. Its villain was a manager called ‘Mr Billows’, a Bedaux-like efficiency demon and inventor of the ‘Billows Feeding Machine’ that force-fed workers on the assembly line to save time on lunch-breaks.
Bedaux’s mission, he explained to his engineers, transcended mere business: ‘Let us be the missionary. It is no longer our part to coax a man to install this or that efficiency method on the strength that it will save him money. Let us make him understand that he must do it if he loves his business, if he loves his home, if he loves his workers, if he loves his flag.’ With this spiel, the Charles Bedaux Company signed Campbell’s Soup, Gillette, Eastman Kodak, DuPont and Goodrich Rubber. Workers did not share their employers’ benevolent view of Bedaux. The American Federation of Labor claimed that his system, ‘stripped of its pseudo-technical verbiage, is nothing more than a method of forcing the last ounce of effort out of workers at the smallest possible cost in wages’. John L. Lewis’s rival Committee, later Congress, of Industrial Organizations called it ‘the most completely exhausting, inhuman “efficiency” system ever invented’. At a textile plant in Rhode Island and other factories, workers went on strike when management imposed his recommendations. With labour discontent and employer satisfaction, Bedaux’s fortunes increased.
The newly rich Bedaux jettisoned beauty queen Blanche Allen for socialite Fern Lombard. At 5 feet 11 inches, Fern stood 3½ inches taller than Bedaux. She was also several rungs higher on the social ladder. A native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a Christian Scientist, she was the child of a rich industrialist, belonged to the socially pretentious Daughters of the American Revolution and introduced Charles to millionaires with whom he now had a personal, rather than purely business, connection. Among them was ‘Colonel’ Archibald Rogers, whose property in upstate New York adjoined the Hyde Park estate of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then assistant secretary of the navy. Charles married Fern in 1917, the year he gained full US citizenship and the United States declared war on Germany. The next year, his first Charles Bedaux Company opened in Cleveland, Ohio. His ex-wife married another millionaire and moved to California with Charles Junior, whom Bedaux rarely saw during his childhood.
Charles and Fern moved to New York in 1920, living in suites that they furnished at the Plaza Hotel and then the Ritz. They also bought a large apartment on Fifth Avenue with a view over Central Park. His first offices were downtown at 17 Battery Place. Wherever he had a long-term consultancy, Bedaux rented a grand house nearby. He claimed later to have lived in twenty-four of the then forty-eight American states. He leased an estate in Marblehead, north of Boston, from the Crowninshield family, one of whom, Frank, edited Vanity Fair. The Paris-born Boston Brahmin Frank drew Bedaux into a fashionable and literary world that included Ernest Hemingway, Babe Ruth, financier Bernard Baruch, drama critic Alexander Woollcott and the beautiful playwright Clare Boothe. Bedaux became a figure in the speakeasies and nightclubs of Prohibition-era New York, where he indulged his erotic appetites. He kept an apartment in Greenwich Village for a succession of mistresses. Fern came to accept his infidelities so thoroughly that she brought women to him and occasionally took part in their trysts. ‘Men, women, children, and animals all found Bedaux attractive,’ wrote Janet Flanner, who thought he had a ‘worldly, boldly battered face, dominated by his fine, dark eyes.’ Bedaux, using his wavy brown hair to good effect, exuded Gallic charm, dressed in the finest flannel suits that his tailor could stitch and suavely smoked fifty cigarettes a day.
In 1924, Bedaux founded the Washington-Lafayette Institute to improve relations between the United States and France. He brought business and political contacts onto the board. Two members of President Calvin Coolidge’s cabinet, Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover and Postmaster General Harry New, belonged, as did the former commander of American forces in France, General John ‘Black Jack’ Pershing. The institute worked out of Bedaux’s company premises on Battery Place, until he moved his offices uptown to an oak-panelled storey of the new and more glamorous Chrysler Building.
The Bedauxs, who had no children together, thrived on adventure. No journey was too exhausting or too expensive, and every trip was a new honeymoon. On tyres made by his client Goodrich, they drove across the African continent, east to west, then the full length from the Cape to Cairo, pausing in Southern Rhodesia to inspect mines at their owners’ request. They sailed a schooner across the South Pacific, rode ponies into Tibet and made the first long-distance car journey from the mountains of British Columbia through uncharted brush to Alaska. Much of their route provided the basis for the Alcan Highway that later linked Alaska to the state of Washington. Bedaux loved inventing –patenting a crêpe-soled shoe, data-storage on film to replace paper and several children’s games.
Bedaux’s business empire expanded beyond the United States–to Britain in 1926, then to France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Holland. In a speech to American businessmen, he reflected on the expansion of commerce beyond national borders: ‘A man loves his country. He makes laws for the glory of his flag. He traces the outline of a national ideal he would like to live up to, but his stomach, his need for trade are essentially international. He is a patriot, and a sincere one, but when his money is concerned, he blissfully commits treason.’
Within ten years, Bedaux’s nineteen offices around the world were advising 500 companies in the United States, 225 in Britain, 144 in France, forty-nine in Italy and thirty-nine in Germany. The seizure without compensation of his German company in 1934, a year after Adolf Hitler assumed power, led Bedaux to ingratiate himself with the Nazi hierarchy. He used Austrian friends, the brothers Count Friedrich and Count Joseph von Ledebur, to contact the Nazi leadership. The young counts and their four other brothers were well connected, their grandfather having been a finance minister under the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. Friedrich met Bedaux at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in 1929, two years after his wedding to Iris Tree, an English actress and daughter of Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree. Later in 1929, he travelled with Bedaux through Spain and France and arranged for his fishing trip in the South Pacific. He also took charge of the native bearers and equipment for Bedaux’s African crossings. His brother Joseph ran a land agency in Vienna and was married to Gladys Olcutt of Boston. Of the six brothers, only Joseph was pro-Nazi. Bedaux made Joseph his Berlin agent to contact the appropriate Nazi officials to reverse the company’s nationalization.
For two frustrating years, Bedaux negotiated with the Germans. He approached a German banker, Dr Emil Georg von Stauss, whom the Nazis had placed in charge of nationalized firms including Lufthansa and Mercedes. Through him, Bedaux became intimate with a sculptress favoured by the Nazi leadership, Annie Hoefken-Hempel. Bedaux commissioned her to make busts of himself and Fern at 5,000 Marks, about $2,000, apiece in June 1935. Next came his sponsorship of an exhibition of her work in Paris where busts of Hitler, Goering and Bedaux were displayed alongside her sculpted nudes. Frau Annie introduced Bedaux to Labour Front director Dr Robert Ley, Hitler adjutant Captain Fritz Wiedemann and Dr Hjalmar Schacht. Schacht, in addition to being her lover, was minister of economic affairs and head of the German central bank, the Reichsbank. Although the acquaintances blossomed, the Germans did not give Bedaux back his company.
In 1937, Bedaux hosted an event at Château de Candé that opened doors in Germany while closing others in America. It began with a letter from Fern’s old friend, Katherine Rogers. Katherine was married to Herman Livingstone Rogers, son of Franklin Roosevelt’s upstate New York neighbour Archibald Rogers. Herman Rogers and his brother Edmund had accompanied Bedaux on his British Columbia expeditions. By 1937, Herman and Katherine were living on the French Riviera that American millionaires like Gerald and Sarah Murphy and Frank and Florence Jay Gould had already made fashionable. Theirs was the privileged world that F. Scott Fitzgerald depicted in Tender is the Night. That winter season, the Rogers’s Villa Lou Vieu near Cannes became a refuge for Mrs Wallis Warfield Simpson. Wallis was ‘that woman’, the twice-wed American divorcée for whom England’s King Edward VIII abdicated his throne in December 1936. She and Katherine Rogers, herself divorced before she married Herman, had been friends since 1916. At Villa Lou Vieu, while reporters camped at the front gate, Wallis awaited her final decree of divorce from British shipping heir Ernest Simpson. Protocol imposed by Buckingham Palace did not permit Mrs Simpson and the former monarch, now the Duke of Windsor, to meet while she was Simpson’s lawful wife. The duke was waiting in Austria at the Schloss Enzesfeld of Baron Eugene de Rothschild and his American wife, the former Kitty Spottswood.
In the letter that Katherine Rogers sent to Fern Bedaux in early 1937, she asked Fern to invite Wallis to the Château de Candé. Its 1,200 walled hectares were more secluded and discreet than her beach villa near Cannes. Fern and Charles agreed, and Wallis moved with the Rogers to Candé in early March. Bedaux told a journalist, ‘My wife and I believe that when two people sacrifice so much for love they are entitled to the admiration and the utmost consideration of those who still believe in this ideal.’ He explained to another that, although he did not know Wallis Simpson, ‘my wife and I are still in love with love’.
He was probably telling the truth. Fern and Charles displayed profound affection for each other twenty years into their marriage. His many affairs had not reduced Fern’s ardour for him, and he told friends that life without her was unimaginable. She had learned tennis, golf and shooting to an expert level to please him. Every year, his birthday was ‘the most precious day of the year’ to her. To outsiders, their marriage was inexplicable. One of Fern’s friends told Janet Flanner, ‘She was so much finer than he, and so perfectly trained, that when you saw the Bedauxs together, it was like watching a thoroughbred paraded on a lead by her squat groom.’ Charles’s brother Gaston wrote that Fern surrounded Charles with ‘unceasing affection’ and ‘knew how to help him with her judgement and her fine psychology’.
The Duke of Windsor joined Charles and Fern at Candé in April, when Mrs Simpson’s divorce decree absolute was granted. With the permission of the British government, but with no members of the royal family present, Edward and Wallis were married at the Château de Candé on 3 June 1937. Among the sixteen witnesses to the civil and religious ceremonies, along with Herman and Katherine Rogers and Winston Churchill’s son Randolph, were Charles and Fern Bedaux. Bedaux’s wedding present was an Annie Hoefken-Hempel statuette entitled L’Amour.
In the meantime, Bedaux and the duke developed a friendship, as Bedaux saw it, between ‘the ex-sandhog and the ex-king’. They played golf together at Candé during the day and had long talks at night. They shared an interest, from however lofty a distance, in the lives of working people. Bedaux made his living studying work practices, and the duke had earned a reputation in Britain as the Prince of Wales with sympathy for Welsh coal miners. Friedrich von Ledebur, who met the Windsors at Candé, believed that the duke was the first to kindle Bedaux’s interest in politics. Until then, his only concerns had been business and sport. The duke desired to see how the working classes lived in Hitler’s new Germany. Could Bedaux, with his industrial and political contacts in Berlin, arrange a tour? Bedaux suggested that the duke expand his inspection to include the United States and other parts of Europe. He approached Robert Murphy at the American Embassy in Paris and Dr Robert Ley in Germany on the duke’s behalf. Subsequently, the duke met Fritz Wiedemann, one of Hitler’s three adjutants, in Bedaux’s permanent suite at the Paris Ritz to settle details of the German visit.
The semi-royal tour of Germany began in Berlin on 11 October 1937 and lasted twelve days. Although the duke visited industrial plants using the Bedaux system, his procession through Hitler’s Germany was primarily a triumph for Nazi propaganda. Photographs of the duke and duchess with Hitler, Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels were published around the world. Bedaux, who had not accompanied the Windsors to Germany, laid the ground for a month-long American tour to begin in November. Bedaux asked IBM head Thomas J. Watson to sponsor the Windsors in his role as chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce, and Watson accepted. (Watson had enjoyed a private meeting with Adolf Hitler the previous June, after which he attended a Nazi rally. The German government was IBM’s second largest client.)
Cruising into New York on 1 November, Bedaux faced uniform hostility to the Windsor tour from American labour, the press and the State Department. Workers’ unions in Wallis Simpson’s home town, Baltimore, led the national campaign against a couple who had just been entertained by the Nazis. One Baltimore labour leader, Joseph P. McCurdy, accused the Duchess of Windsor of not having shown, as a young woman in Baltimore, ‘the slightest concern nor sympathy for the problems of labor or the poor and needy’.
The prime target of labour venom was the Windsors’ sponsor, Charles Bedaux. Some of Bedaux’s American clients cancelled their contracts to shield themselves from the bad publicity. A few engineers resigned from the Bedaux Company, and his board of directors demanded that he dissociate himself from the firm that bore his name. Stunned by the reaction to what he imagined would be a public relations coup for himself and the Duke of Windsor, he agreed to yield control, but not ownership, of his American companies. His successor was Albert Ramond, another French-born American, whom Bedaux had hired. Bedaux retained non-voting shares and gave his power of attorney to his loyal secretary, Isabella Cameron. At the same time, the State Department announced, at Britain’s request, it would deny royal protocol to the Duchess of Windsor. The battering of Bedaux did not let up. The Internal Revenue Service issued him an income tax demand, and a former mistress lodged a suit against him for breach of promise. The multiple humiliations forced Charles and Fern to slink through a side entrance of the Plaza Hotel to avoid the journalists and the ex-mistress, drive to Canada and sail to France from Montreal. The Windsors, who were waiting in Paris with trunks packed to board theCherbourg for New York, cancelled.
Bedaux suffered what was undoubtedly a nervous breakdown, diagnosed as arterial thrombosis, and spent months convalescing in a Bavarian hospital. The threat to his health was sufficient to break his heavy smoking habit of the previous thirty years. The treatment led to a dependence on sleeping pills–mainly a German-manufactured barbiturate, Medinal.
Germany, regarding Bedaux as a close friend of an ex-king whom it was cultivating, offered to return his company if he donated $20,000 for reinvestment and $30,000 ‘penetration money’ to Dr Robert Ley’s Labour Front. Payment of this barely masked bribe worked, up to a point. The Nazis restored the company, but they withheld royalties on his consultancies. Six months later, they took the company back, again without compensation.
When France and Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, Bedaux announced he would not make profits from the conflict. His promise may have had more publicity than practical effect. The French assigned him to study and improve their inefficient production of arms during the eight-month drôle de guerre, or phoney war, that preceded the German invasion of May 1940. As he had done with American clients like the Ford Motor Company, Bedaux analysed French ordnance production to reduce inefficiency, rationalize the supply of raw materials, increase labour productivity and deliver finished products without delay. The factories under Bedaux’s direction more than doubled their arms output. To the French, his methods were impeccably American and might have helped their army had they been implemented over years rather than months. Bedaux went to Britain, where he urged the military to pool resources with France and to standardize equipment to fight effectively with the French army on the battlefield. The British, who distrusted him over his involvement with the Windsors, ignored him. French Armaments Minister Raoul Dautry, himself an industrialist, sent Bedaux to Francisco Franco’s Spain to obtain steel for the manufacture of French weapons. The French Ambassador in Madrid, Maréchal Henri-Philippe Pétain, who had known Bedaux since 1926, afforded him introductions to Spanish politicians and businessmen. When Bedaux discovered that Spain lacked sufficient coal to fire its steel furnaces to meet French demand, he travelled to French Algeria to see whether the Kenadsa coal mines could make up the shortfall. On 7 June 1940, he flew back to Paris from Kenadsa to persuade Armaments Minister Dautry to make coal deliveries to Spain a government priority. With Spanish steel, France could produce the weapons it needed to match the Germans. But, by the time he was due to see Dautry on 12 June, the French army barely existed. That was when his brother, Gaston, called and persuaded him to leave Paris.
The Charles Bedaux who returned to the Château de Candé in June 1940 as host of France’s American community had redeemed his reputation after the Windsor affair. The embassy, in leasing Candé and granting him diplomatic status, had effectively given him US government approval. And the French government had shown its trust by assigning him to enhance France’s fighting capacity. His standing with the German occupiers had yet to be measured.
At the end of June, German officers invaded the Château de Candé and requisitioned it for the Wehrmacht. Charles Bedaux’s diplomatic protection and his neutrality as an American citizen did not save his chateau from becoming, like many others, a German barracks. Maynard Barnes and other embassy personnel retired to Paris. German officers replaced the Americans in the main bedrooms and at the dining table. Charles and Fern displayed the same hospitality to their new guests as they had to the old.
From the beginning of the Armistice, Bedaux organized local businesses, civil servants and labourers to rebuild the battle-damaged and fire-ravaged city of Tours and its nearby factories with assistance from the American Red Cross. Bedaux oversaw much of the work himself with Marcel Grolleau, a former lumberjack whom he had hired in 1927 after seeing him at work in a forest near Candé. Grolleau, 22 when he met Bedaux, had since become a Bedaux engineer and, unbeknownst to Bedaux, was active in the nascent resistance to German occupation. German privations impeded reconstruction. Not only did the Germans seize heavy equipment, they took most of France’s petrol supply for their army. Bedaux and Grolleau turned wood from the forests of the Loire Valley into charcoal for gazogene to run cars and machinery. Gazogene, less efficient and smokier than petrol, fuelled the few French cars that the Germans allowed on the roads.
Bedaux in the late summer went to Paris, where he discovered that the German Stadtkommissar’s Office of Locations had seized the Hôtel Ritz on the Place Vendôme. Having lost their permanent suite to the Germans, Charles and Fern were reduced to a smaller hotel nearby. Most of its other guests were German officers. The German army also evicted Bedaux company engineers from their homes in Paris to make room for soldiers. A few of the engineers went to Candé, and others moved with their families into Bedaux’s offices at 39 avenue de Friedland, between the Arc de Triomphe and rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré. Bedaux had once again to placate the Nazis, this time to reclaim his employees’ houses.
Early in September, Bedaux chanced upon his old friend and former employee, the Austrian Count Joseph von Ledebur, in his hotel. Ledebur, now a Wehrmacht Rittmeister, or cavalry captain, had served in Poland. In the more desirable posting of Paris, he was delighted to see Bedaux. Bedaux was close to Joseph and his younger brother, Friedrich, although they were not on good terms with each other. Friedrich had condemned Joseph for wearing a Nazi emblem on his lapel in 1939. Bedaux arranged for Friedrich, who was avoiding military conscription by the Wehrmacht, to escape from Germany that August. In Berlin a week before Hitler’s invasion of Poland, Bedaux had given Friedrich false identity documents and a car to go to Holland. Friedrich said later that Bedaux was with him in Amsterdam. The Bedaux Company’s Dutch headquarters provided him with extra large clothes–the gangly Friedrich was 6 foot 9–for his disguise as a sailor. Alexandra Ter Hart, who managed the Bedaux office, drove him to Rotterdam harbour, where he signed on as an ordinary seaman on a ship bound for the United States. An excellent horseman and polo player, Friedrich took jobs in California, where he had lived intermittently since 1928, on ranches and training horses for Hollywood movies. Bedaux, who flew to Paris on one of the last civilian planes from Berlin before war was declared, said that he regarded Friedrich von Ledebur as more of a son than his own son.
Meeting again in newly occupied Paris, Bedaux and Joseph rekindled a friendship redolent of possible benefits to them both. After Bedaux related his woes about his engineers’ confiscated homes, Ledebur arranged for Bedaux to see Heinrich Otto Abetz, Germany’s Francophile ‘ambassador’ to France. (Under the Armistice, France and Germany had no formal diplomatic relations in advance of a full peace treaty. Abetz was married to a French former secretary of pro-Nazi journalist Jean Luchaire, Suzanne de Brockere. He functioned as ambassador in the old German Embassy, the Hôtel de Beauharnais, at 79 rue de Lille in the 7th Arrondissement. His opposite number was General Léon de la Laurencie, ‘Delegate General of the French Government in the Occupied Territories’, ostensibly Vichy’s ‘ambassador’ to the Germans in Paris.) Abetz had last seen Bedaux in 1939, when he arranged an interview for him with Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop concerning Bedaux’s unpaid consultancy fees. Bedaux now found Abetz willing but unable to help in an occupied Paris governed by the military. The ambassador had little choice but to refer Bedaux to the army, which showed no interest in his problem. Bedaux refused to give up. Marcel Grolleau recalled this time in his employer’s life: ‘Bedaux was more dynamic than ever under this pressure. He worked non-stop to see that all engineers and associates were taken care of. Much of his time was taken with protecting the interests of Jewish clients.’
The Bedauxs, despite losing their Ritz suite, maintained an active social life among German officials and the upper class French who had no qualms about mixing with the conquerors. The theatres, music halls and restaurants of Paris entertained the old rich, the rising collaborationist elite, newly wealthy black marketeers and Germans from the army and civil service. Jean Patou, working from the eighteenth-century Parisian palace where the Duc de Talleyrand had kept one of his mistresses, went on making dresses for Fern Bedaux and other rich matrons as he had before the occupation. For those with a financial buffer against the hunger that German rationing had imposed on most Parisians in September 1940, the dinner parties went on and on. Occupation restrictions did not affect the Bedauxs or most of their friends. They exchanged invitations to country weekends, lunched at Maxim’s and dined at La Tour d’Argent. Charles and Fern were regulars at the house of leading collaborationist Fernand de Brinon, whose Jewish stepson, Bernard Ullmann, recalled, ‘This millionaire, French naturalized American, boasted of having free access to Hermann Goering.’ Among the beau monde French couples who hosted the Bedauxs were André Dubonnet, a First World War French flying ace, race car driver and alcohol heir, and his American wife, Ruth. During a dinner party at Dubonnet’s in late September, Bedaux met the wife of François Dupré, owner of Paris’s George V, Regina and Plaza Athenée hotels. Ferevies Dupré, when Bedaux mentioned the problem of his staff’s houses, introduced him to a German official named Dr Franz Medicus. As assistant director of the Department of Administrative Economy with the military rank of general, Medicus controlled property, including that of Parisian Jews, seized by the Nazis. He invited Bedaux to dinner in the Majestic, the Nazi-requisitioned hotel where he lived.
The friendship that developed between Bedaux and Medicus made Medicus one of the three closest people in Bedaux’s life–the others being his wife, Fern, and Friedrich von Ledebur. Both men had American connections: Bedaux as a US citizen, Medicus as son of a father with such affectionate memories of living in the United States that he gave his son the middle names ‘Horace Greeley’. Despite Medicus’s involvement in drafting the anti-Jewish Nuremberg laws of 1935 and in transferring French-Jewish businesses to Aryan ownership, Bedaux saw the Nazi functionary as a civilized scholar. Medicus had degrees in medicine and law and punctuated his French, English and German conversations with Latin and Greek aphorisms. He photographed France’s cathedrals in his spare time for a book he was writing. Bedaux excused Medicus for disposing of property stolen from Jews: ‘He is a man drafted and has to obey orders or die.’ Not everyone accepted Medicus’s self-portrayal as a gentleman-scholar forced to serve the Nazi cause. Even Pierre Laval, who became cordial with Ambassador Otto Abetz and other German officials, wrote in his diary, ‘During this preliminary period [autumn 1940] the Germans with whom I came into contact said nothing to which I could take offence, if I except General Medicus who reminded me that we had been beaten.’
After his first, jovial dinner in the lavish dining room of the Hôtel Majestic with Charles Bedaux, unconstrained by German rationing regulations, Medicus agreed to give Bedaux’s engineers back their houses. In return, Bedaux employed German army clerks in his avenue de Friedland offices. The Germans would thus have access to information on all of Bedaux’s clients, among whom were France’s most important industrial enterprises. Medicus supplied Bedaux with petrol ration tickets and ‘WH’ licence plates reserved for Germans, a cut above the ‘SP’, Service Publique, insignia granted to certain French doctors, actresses popular with the German high command and important allies of the occupation. Since 16 June, two days after the German arrival in Paris, all other cars had been requisitioned or otherwise banned from the streets of Paris. His dinner with Medicus at the Majestic committed Bedaux to work as much for Germany as for France. He convinced himself he was doing nothing wrong. To be safe, he kept Robert Murphy and other American diplomats informed of his activities.
It was not long before the Germans gave the Château de Candé back to Bedaux. American Embassy staff moved in again, and German officers stayed at weekends. The chateau became a salon for Germans, Americans and French, who mingled under crystal chandeliers with drinks served by footmen in livery. Dr Franz Medicus was a regular weekend guest. So was the Comtesse de Brinon, wife of Comte Fernand de Brinon. Before the war, de Brinon had written pro-Hitler propaganda in the French press and sent intelligence to Berlin while simultaneously accepting subsidies from Parisian Jewish bankers Rothschild and Lazard. De Brinon and Abetz had been colleagues in a pre-war Nazi-front organization, the Comité Franco-Allemand. The Germans declared de Brinon’s Jewish wife, Lisette, whose name at birth was Jeanne Louise Rachel Franck, an ‘honorary Aryan’. This attractive divorcée, whose first husband had been a wealthy Jewish banker named Claude Ullmann, had her first marriage annulled and converted to Catholicism to marry de Brinon. Her sons, Pierre-Jérôme and Bernard Ullmann, were not accorded Aryan status. Bedaux gave Pierre-Jérôme work under a false name to avoid Nazi scrutiny, while the younger Bernard remained with his mother. De Brinon himself found it inconvenient to be seen with his Jewish wife, although he maintained contact with her through Bedaux and other friends. (His wife’s absence afforded him more time with his secretary and mistress, Simone Mittre.) For her part, Lisette de Brinon socialized as comfortably with the Germans as she did with Robert Murphy of the American Embassy. Before the war, her circle of acquaintances included the Jewish socialist ex-prime minister Léon Blum and the anti-Semitic writer Pierre Drieu La Rochelle. Much of the French collaborationist set, who doted on their German masters, found a home at Candé. Charles Bedaux navigated among his French, German and American guests with less interest in their politics than in keeping their champagne glasses full and his eye open to business opportunities.