Remembering Morley Safer and The Count

On September 15th,  Ariane attended the tribute to her friend Morley Safer, the CBS correspondent, who passed away in May at the age of 84. At Morley’s request, their mutual friend Wynton Marsalis lead a New Orleans second line – a true jazz tribute.

You may not know it, but Morley was really into food and wine. His famous 60 Minutes piece about The French Paradox –  the fact that the French eat a lot of fatty foods and drink a lot of wine, yet enjoy better heart health than their American counterparts – was actually inspired by Ariane.  ariane-daguin-letter-to-morley-safer-french-paradox

Ariane found a copy of one of the letters in their original correspondence, which put him on a plane to France (he was a true Francophile) to investigate further.  And here is the piece which ran on November 17, 1991 and rocked the world.  This piece was often cited in coverage of his passing, as in this Food Republic article, which credits Safer for boosting American interest in red wine. (Thank you, Morley!)

Ariane also uncovered a file that documents an elaborate prank which she and Morley pulled on a few people in the pétanque community.  Anyone who knows Ariane knows her obsession with pétanque, and it’s something she and Morley shared.  For some reason the two of them invented a fictitious French Count, and began to arrange for his visit to the United States. This ruse had a few people completely convinced that they would host the Count, who was coming to play in a pétanque tournament. Because the Count de Montesquieu was obsessed with the game of boules, just like his friends Ariane and Morley.

The correspondence – this was all before email, so the entire thing was on paper and faxes – still brings delighted laughter from Ariane as she reads it.  The story unfolded from July to September of 1992, with dozens of letters in Morley’s hand, sent from foreign hotels around the world. It seems that anytime he traveled, which was often, he wrote a letter back to the states, sharing more details of the Count de Montesquieu’s life and itinerary, as well as the requirements for his pending visit.  A three-page biographical sketch of the Count’s life and wives (there were three), typed on stationary with a crest that Morley created, gives color to the character, and shows a flair for fiction that a journalist seldom gets to  indulge. Morley was a consummate storyteller, and he and Ariane engaged fully in the creation and promotion of this character.

At a certain point they had to kill off the imaginary Count, as the story grew more elaborate and the date of his arrival in the United States drew closer.  A fax from the Count’s son, Aristide, carried the bad news.

count-de-montesquieu-death-letter-morley-saferThe Count was their little private joke, and even 5 years after the “death,”  Morley followed up as the son and heir, Aristide. Note the  custom stationary with the Montesquieu name and crest. This was more than a prank; it became an amusing exercise in alter ego for Morley, first as the Count and then his son. note-from-aristide-de-montesquieu-morley-safer

In one of Ariane’s photo albums was a note and a few snapshots of Morley, posing as the Count at his pétanque court.morley-safer-as-the-count-w-wife-2-photos

note-from-morley-safer-the-count-photos

So not only did we lose Morley Safer in May of this year, but we lost, for a second time, the Count de Montesquieu.  May they both rest in peace, and play many pétanque tournaments in the hereafter.

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