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Perfect - but I'd like more cheesecake

Published 29 June 2008
News Review
780th article

Leslie Caron and Michael outside Auberge La Lucarne aux Chouettes in Villeneuve-sur-Yonne (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

I've always been very fond of actors. Ever since I sat in smelly cinemas in Letchworth and Hitchin as a schoolboy thinking, "That's where I want to be, with those people on the screen."

Alfred Hitchcock famously said, "Actors are cattle." To which I respond, "Oh, yes? Show me a cow that earns $20m a movie."

I was in the National theatre and Geraldine said, "Do you know who's next to you?"

I took a quick glance and said, "No."

Geraldine said, "It's Leslie Caron." One of my total heroes. She who co starred and danced with Gene Kelly in An American in Paris. She who starred in and was Gigi. She who danced with Fred Astaire in Daddy Long Legs.

I was all a-flutter. Should have looked closer. It was obviously Leslie Caron. Still lovely, still enchanting, as I discovered when we started chatting.

Leslie told me she had a little hotel in Villeneuve-sur-Yonne in Burgundy called Auberge La Lucarne aux Chouettes. It's a 17th-century warehouse where they used to make barrels and store wheat and wine, which was taken by barge to Paris.

Leslie restored it. "I'm a house saviour," she explained when I paid her a visit recently. She was accompanied by her Tibetan dog, a schitzu called Tchi Tchi. Leslie got him from a pound.

The place is enchanting. Right on the river and decorated with antiques. In the dining room it's all tools to do with grapes and barrel making.

The set lunch is €26. Ridiculously low. I asked Leslie one of my favourite questions, "If you could live your life again what would you do differently?" She thought about it.

"I asked Marlon Brando that," I said.

"What did he answer?" asked Leslie.

"He said he'd have killed his father and never got married," I told her.

Leslie thought more. She said, "I'd have taken MGM seriously."

"Explain," I said.

"When I arrived," she recalled, "they put me in a Vera-Ellen costume and had me photographed breaking through a hoop with paper saying 'A star is born'.

"At Christmas they had me dress like Santa Claus. In spring I had to pose with flowers. At Easter I'd hold a basket of eggs.

"They were cheesecake pictures. I rebelled. I didn't realise what you had to do to be a movie star.

"When I go to St Peter he'll say, 'Try again and do it better next time'."

"You had an incredible career," I offered. But Leslie thought if she'd played the game it could have been more.

I'd better tell you about the food. Fantastic, simple, exemplary. I started with lobster salad, went on to pigeon, Geraldine had turbot, and we finished with one of the best citron tarts of all time.

I'd already made a fool of myself by grabbing the warm pastry pre-lunch canapes and stuffing them down like a pig. My usual eating pattern. Leslie looked disapproving. "I thought you were going to choke," she said.

There are only four rooms at La Lucarne, so find the phone number and book. If you're in the area go and eat. It is totally enchanting.

I inspected a suite. The Australian who'd just arrived to stay in it wanted a signed photo of Leslie. That produced a major search at the tiny reception. They looked here, they looked there. Leslie signed a photo of a bed.

"He doesn't want a photo of a bed, Leslie," I said. "It's not even the bed in his room."

Eventually they found a photo of Leslie. "You look very miserable in that," I said.

"No, I look pensive," replied Leslie.

"It's not a good photo of you," I volunteered.

"You're not the first to say that," said Leslie.

Then she took us to the bar where there were posters and photos of her and her movies. "That's a rare shot of Fred Astaire not wearing his toupee," explained Leslie, pointing to a picture of them rehearsing.

"You need more photos here," I suggested. Leslie considered this.

One photo showed her with Baryshnikov and Nureyev. "I'm one of the few people to have danced with both of them together, at a gala in New York," recounted Leslie.

She's still acting, bless her. In 2007 she got an Emmy award for her performance in an episode of Law & Order. She accepted saying, "Finally I got to the podium. I was nominated for most promising newcomer in 1951. I'm so thrilled to have finally fulfilled my potential."

"Marvellous," I said when she recounted this, "Absolutely marvellous. Now what you need on the wall here, Leslie, are some of those MGM cheesecake pictures."

I'm not sure they're going up. If you're in Burgundy, visit Leslie's gaff and tell me.

Winner's letters

A fortnight ago you were £6m in debt. Last week you had £29m in the bank. Did you win the lottery?
Adrian Frost, Suffolk

Informing readers of your moderate wealth is frankly crass. You should recall the adage that a man who knows how much he is worth is in fact worth very little.
Peter Davies, Shropshire

Please put us out of our misery. Did you ever get to speak to Sue Moore? We have bets on it here. My money is on Sue Moore.
Brian Price, Chester

Have you considered the possibility that there may be no Sue Moore at all at Syndicate Asset Management? I've worked for a number of organisations with a Sue Moore figure, basically a name given out to identify incoming complaints so the old gits making them can be prevented from ruining everyone's lunchtime.
Kevan Browning, Surrey

It's time banks and financial institutions realised they're here for our benefit and not the other way round. Start a new campaign.
John Barcy, Devon

Why did arrogant Michael Winner choose veal last week if he thinks it's "always tasteless"? What nonsense, yet again. Top quality cote de veau and veal T-bone are gastronomic delights.
David Murdoch, Fife