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Three Days in Cannes: Hitchcock, Altman and Me

It’s May 1972. I’m at Nice airport in the south of France.

“Stefan, what are you doing here?”

Behind me is the towering figure of Clyde Packer with a new GF. I went to school with Clyde and his younger brother, Kerry. The Packers own Australian newspapers, magazines and a network of TV stations.

“Going to Juan-les-Pins, shooting a TV series with Graham Kerr, the Galloping Gourmet. It’s called The Wet Set and I’m booked to spend a year on his boat sailing around the world.”

“Cool. This is Julie. Stefan makes documentaries for Channel 9. We’re staying at the hotel Eden Roc. Here comes our driver, give him your bag.”

Jet Set to Wet Set

It’s only a short trip from Nice to Graham’s boat. As we clamber aboard, Graham goes into hyperdrive. The 71-foot yacht is his baby and he’s keen to show her off.

They leave but their chauffeur soon returns.

“Bon soir, Monsieur Packer would like you to join him tonight at Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc.”

“I’m sorry, tell Mr. Packer we have a previous engagement.”

“Why did you say that?” snaps Treena, Graham’s wife. “I really want to go. We’re doing nothing tonight.”

I want to go, too. The Eden Roc is probably the best and most expensive hotel in the world.

Graham has a solution, “Phone Tricia, tell her to fly down. We’ll go for a sail around Cap d’Antibes, drop into the hotel and book a table.”

Next Morning

I catch a bus to Nice airport to collect Tricia. Oh no, it’s not the highway bus but a slow one that goes to all the local villages. I’m late, very late.

As the bus pulls into the airport, I spot Tricia in a bright yellow open sports car with a young man. I shout, scream, run after the car. They stop. I throw myself into the narrow backseat.

“Hi! I’m David Whiting, showbiz correspondent for Time magazine. My card. The Striped Shirt Company, Chicken on Sunday. We’re going to the Cannes Film Festival!”

“No, we’re not! We’re going to Juan-les-Pins near Antibes.”

“Nope. Cannes it is. Once around the Croisette and I’ll take you to Antibes.”

Follow the Yellow Sports Car

Hitchcock is in town for the premiere of Frenzy.

David seems to know everyone. He drives slowly, shouting over the Croisette footpath.

“Hi, Jane!”

“Hi, David! We’re going to Altman’s boat! Why don’t you and your friends join us?”

Minutes later we are on board. There’s a party going on. Robert Altman is sitting alone at a small, round table. He’s pleased to see us; total strangers. We chat. He tells us about making MASH and his troubles with the studio.

“I really like you both. You must come to my party tonight at the Mantel in the old town—and tomorrow, the premiere of my new film, Images.”

The hotel Eden Roc can wait. I must phone Graham. Little do I know what’s in store.…

To be continued next month.