Fiona Lewis was a model and actress in the sixties and seventies.
Her credits include Roman Polanski’s The Vampire Killers, Ken Russell’s Lisztomania, and Brian de Palma’s The Fury.
She is the author of the novel Between Men, and her writing has also appeared in the New Yorker, The Observer and the Los Angeles Times.
She may be (she candidly admits) the only woman in America who has written for the New Yorker and posed for Playboy.
Having lived a perfectly satisfactory life in California for over two decades, former actress and model Fiona Lewis wakes up one day in her fifties and asks herself, Is this it?
Is this the existence I’m meant to have?
She can hardly complain.
After all, her life has been full of adventure and privilege: London and Paris in the ’60s, Los Angeles in the wild ’70s.
Now, however, she feels lost, as if she were slipping backward over the edge of a ravine, abandoned not only by her old self, but by that reliable standby, optimism.
Realizing she has to find a way to reinvent herself, she impulsively––and against her husband’s wishes (Producer Art Linson – Untouchables, Sons of Anarchy) –– buys a rundown chateau in the South of France.
In Mistakes Were Made (Some in French) [Regan Arts; May 2, 2017]
Fiona Lewis writes about being alone in the depths of the French countryside as she contemplates her childhood, her affairs––Roman Polanski, Roger Vadim––her years as an actress in some good and some questionable films, and her first Hollywood marriage Bill Hayward, the son of movie star Margaret Sullavan.
As the renovation drags on, fighting with a band of impossible French workmen, she is forced to battle her own fears: her failure to become a real success, her inability to have children, and her persistent dread of getting old.
She also has to contend with her husband, producer Art Linson, who has no interest in the rural French life.
In fact, he resents her obsession with France, and with the house that seems to have such a hold over her.
And he’s not wrong.
He simply can’t understand why she’s not happy with her idyllic life in Los Angeles, with him, and why she suddenly needs to escape.
Some highlights from the book include:
Having grown up in boarding school and the English countryside, Fiona Lewis moved to London just as the Sixties was exploding.
She shared a flat with Jacqueline Bisset; they were models, then actresses.
Fiona “slipped into acting,” as one could in those days, she says, and her first real part was in Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers.
He taught her how to say the lines softly, to throw them away.
They started an affair; Roman then fell in love with Sharon Tate who also became a close friend of Fiona’s and subsequently she narrowly missed being in Sharon’s house on Cielo Drive the night the Manson murders occurred.
For all the talk about freedom in the Sixties, the start of women’s liberation, Fiona describes how unprepared girls in London were: the confusion between relationships and love, when the rules suddenly changed and how men and women were now supposed to be equal.
It didn’t sit well; there were many unhappy teenagers drinking and taking drugs to get through those liberated one-night stands.
You put on a good face, hiked up your skirt even shorter and told everyone life was cool and groovy.
Fiona went on acting: with Tom Courtney in “Otley,” with Oliver Reed in “Blue Blood,” and other films.
She carried on having affairs, looking for love
. There was Patrick John Anson, the 5th Earl of Lichfield, cousin to the Queen.
She spent many weekends at his stately home but even after his marriage proposal she couldn’t help seeing herself as horribly provincial––standing obediently in a soggy field on shooting weekends, holding Patrick’s flask of sloe gin, or having to curtsey to Prince Michael of Kent before dinner.
There was a last disastrous dinner with Princess Anne and that finished the romance.
During several summers she became friends with director Tony Richardson, staying in his house in the South of France with David Hockney.
Back in France she felt sane.
She married Bill Hayward, the son of movie star Margaret Sullavan.
Sullavan had been married to Henry Fonda and Peter was Bill’s best friend.
Leland Hayward, his father, was the producer of such classics as The Old Man and the Sea, The Spirit of St. Louis.
But the children of movie stars have a hard time following in their parents’ footsteps and the marriage was doomed from the start.
Fiona describes old Beverly Hills, the Hollywood parties, the dinners with Audrey Hepburn, the Jimmy Stewarts, the Billy Wilders, of people rolling emeralds across the dining room table and the despair of a marriage where love can’t survive.