A brush with Che Guevara

cheguavara

In 1960 I was in Buenos Aires for several months filming The Blonde From Buenos Aires, starring opposite the handsome French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont. During WWII, Jean-Pierre had fought the Nazis with the Free French forces and was very left-wing in his politics. Being on the left was a somewhat dangerous thing in post-Peron Argentina, then the hideout for Nazis who had fled Germany.

Jean-Pierre was married to Marisa Pavan at the time, but she was never in Buenos Aires during the months we were filming. Jean-Pierre and I had a sweet but casual love affair. We stayed in the same hotel, where I had a large suite to accommodate Perry and his nurse as well as myself. Jean-Pierre’s suite had a fabulous canopy bed with curtains that closed, making you feel like you were in a luxurious sheik’s tent.

mamie_buenosaires3

On one occasion we went to see a then-controversial movie by a left-wing French director, The 400 Blows, directed by Truffaut, if memory serves. The theater was unbelievably crowded and people were shoulder to shoulder jostling to get in. It was a frightening crowd scene and I wanted to run, but Jean-Pierre guided me into the theater and we found seats. Part way through the movie, the house lights went on and armed soldiers rushed down the aisle. They announced there was a report of a bomb in the theater. The audience rushed out as the soldiers began searching the movie house. When I stood up to leave, Jean-Pierre pulled me back into my seat.

“It’s fake,” he said, “they’re just trying to get everyone to leave.” When I told him I had no desire to sacrifice my life for French cinema, he only laughed. “Sit down. It’s a great movie.”

I retreated to the ladies room until the lights went down again. When I returned, there were few audience members, but Jean-Pierre was still in his seat.

Jean-Pierre and I had many lunches and dinners together. We were invited to a dinner party at the home of a prominent left-wing writer and activist, where Jean-Pierre said we would meet someone special. Their home was a huge, well-appointed top floor loft in a downtown B.A. building. We sat at a long table for one of those extended late dinners so popular in Latin America. Through my little knowledge of Spanish I could understand some of the conversation and occasionally some of the guests would engage me in English.

The guest of honor for the evening was a polite young man with a scraggly beard, introduced to me as simply “Che.” We made pleasant conversation for a few moments with his halting English and my elementary Spanish before he moved on. He was under the watchful eye of his wife that night.

It was a momentary brush with a revolutionary character. Che was quite charming and unquestionably handsome in our brief encounter, with no hint of his true place in history. I would not realize until some years later that he was the Che Guavara, whose charismatic style, ruthless actions, and connection to Fidel Castro shaped Latin America and the United States.

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