Jacques Lanzmann

Novelist, lyricist and editor of 'Lui'


Jacques Lanzmann, writer, editor and lyricist: born Bois-Colombe, France 4 May 1927; four times married (seven children), died Paris 21 June 2006.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, France ruled the roost when it came to erotica. US publishers even stuck tricolour flags on the covers of titles like Chère and Dreamé (sic) in order to attract the casual buyer. The launch of Hugh Hefner's Playboy in 1953 changed all that, promoting men's magazines from under the counter to the top shelves and going on to sell millions of copies a month.

Ten years later, Daniel Filipacchi, the fashion photographer turned publisher of Salut les Copains, and Jacques Lanzmann, a jack of all trades turned novelist, put a French twist on the idea and came up with Lui, the "magazine for the modern man". They hired the writer Françoise Sagan and humorist Jean Yanne as contributors, put the sex symbols Brigitte Bardot and Jane Fonda on the cover and shook up a country which had been used to models with airbrushed pudenda in the pages of La Vie Parisienne.

Lanzmann edited Lui between 1963 and 1968 and published 40 novels but he is best known in France for the lyrics he wrote for the hit singles recorded by the dandy-ish singer and actor Jacques Dutronc. Looking like a proto-Damon Albarn, Dutronc, the future husband of Françoise Hardy, stepped out of his A&R role at Disques Vogue in 1966 and charmed France with the pseudo-protest songs "Et moi, et moi, et moi" and "Les Cactus", the goofy "Les Playboys" and the evocative "Il est cinq heures, Paris s'éveille" - voted French song of the century in 1999 (Anne Segalem was Lanzmann's co-lyricist in that instance).

Whereas, in the Yé-Yé era, artists such as Johnny Hallyday or Claude François were often content to just adapt US or UK hits in French, Dutronc and Lanzmann created their own hybrid of British beat and garage rock - compare and contrast the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" with "Le Responsable", with the lyricist always happy to add a dose of cynicism or sexism - "J'aime les filles", "L'Hôtesse de l'air" - to match the singer's cocky, cheeky persona.

Predictably, in the Sixties, Dutronc's songs didn't travel as well as those of Françoise Hardy or Richard Anthony but, in 1973, Mungo Jerry, the British group led by Ray Dorset, scored their third biggest hit with "Alright, Alright, Alright", an adaptation of "Et moi, et moi, et moi", and the singer is a favourite of the Francophile trio Saint Etienne and now has a tribute band in the UK simply called Les Dutronc.

Born in Bois-Colombes, near Paris, in 1927, Jacques Lanzmann was an awkward teenager teased for his strawberry-blonde hair, his stutter and for being Jewish. When his parents divorced on the eve of the Second World War, he found himself working as a farmhand in the Auvergne area of France. In 1943, he joined the Resistance with his older brother Claude (who went on to direct films such as the nine-hour 1985 epic Shoah).

Caught by the Germans and due to face the firing squad despite being only 16, Lanzmann was so "determined not to die while still a virgin" that he escaped. Back in Paris after the war, he drove trucks, worked as a welder and on a building site. He also began painting before travelling all over the world and ending up in Chile, where he mined copper.

While he was away, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre read the manuscript his brother Claude had submitted on his behalf and Jacques Lanzmann's first novel - La Glace est rompue ("The Ice is Broken") - was published in 1954. The following year, he wrote Le Rat d'Amérique (translated as The American Rat, 1959), a fictionalised account of his time in South America, and became a theatre critic for Lettres Françaises.

In the Sixties, he wrote filmscripts and worked as a journalist and broadcaster before launching Lui. He penned 70 songs for Dutronc and dozens more for Zizi Jeanmaire, Régine, Mireille Darc, Sacha Distel and Sylvie Vartan; and was also responsible for the French adaptation of the musical Hair. In the Seventies, he became a professional gambler and wrote a couple of best-sellers, but he failed to pay his taxes and went globe-trotting again. He published his last autobiographical book - Une vie de famille ("A Family Life") - earlier this year.

A self-made man with a very French - and, in later years, very white - handlebar moustache, Lanzmann took to the internet with gusto and wrote his own blog. He was married four times and remained restless. "Only a big love story would have made me stay put in one place, but it didn't happen like that," he said.

Pierre Perrone

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