When the sad news came that my friend and colleague Jacques le Sourd, the longtime theater critic for the Gannett newspapers, had died in London at age 64 of an apparent heart attack, I couldn’t help but feel that at least his untimely death occurred in an appropriate setting.
Paris-born, Jacques always belonged more to the Old World than the New, and so I was glad that he had returned to Europe, had come full circle and gone home, as we all will someday.
In a sense he was like a character out of Edith Wharton, Henry James – or, a favorite of his – W. Somerset Maugham, someone the modern world had passed by, or who had passed it by, who longed to return to a life where men wore jackets and ties, and cocktails were served at an appointed hour. After the death of his adored mother, Evelyne Powers – who was the great love of his life and for whom he cared as well as any child could a parent – and the loss of his job at Gannett, he seemed to become unmoored in New York. If you read his fine obituary by our friend and colleague Peter Kramer of The Journal News, you’ll get the sense of a man who found safe harbor in London, and for that I’m happy.
When I first met Jacques, I was a rookie reporter, and he dissed me for something I can’t remember – for which he was rebuked by Kathie Beals, the arts critic who was a mentor to me and a second mother to him. Jacques was like that. He could be cutting – particularly if you were one of the hapless performers – or editors – who fell short of his dignified standard.
But his pointed sense of humor was made delicious by his willingness to turn it on himself. We called him the Vampire le Sourd, after the Vampire Lestat, because like Anne Rice’s seminal character, he was très ancient regime. “That’s me, baby,” he would say, chuckling over the phone during a long, gossipy conversation that usually ended with the Vampire signing off, “It’s time to climb back into the sarcophagus.”
Sometimes Jacques – a Capricorn born on Jan. 6, the Feast of the Epiphany – would refer to himself as the Capricorn-y mountain goat, plodding up the hill “one hoof in front of the other.” Writing for him was a craft and something of a trial to be endured and burnished. He found escape in friendship, conversation and socializing, including lunches at The Zodiac at Neiman Marcus or The Cobblestone in Purchase. We were a kind of Westchester version of The Algonquin Round Table – Barbara Nachman, Elaine Gross Flores, Ross Priel, Linda Lombroso, Mary Shustack, Mitch Broder, Jeanne Blumberg, Marshall Fine, Jacques and myself – arguing over the news of the day, laughing at our circumstances and ourselves.
The end was gradual. Endings often are. Slowly, Gannett laid many of us off – permanently. I remember the day the ax fell on Jacques. “Well, Geege,” – he always called me that after the Gannett editors’ habit of calling me by my initials, GG – “Well, Geege, it’s happened. They’ve called me to come up and hand in my computer.” I was faintly hysterical. But Jacques handled it with aplomb, arriving at the office in a limousine.
That was Jacques, too – very comme il faut, an idiom that’s hard to translate into English but that means doing the proper thing. Our last meeting was very comme il faut. We dined at Shun Lee, a Manhattan restaurant he loved, me in my not-so-little black dress, he in a blazer, Hermès tie and pocket square.
We had to sit side-by-side, because that’s what people did, Jacques said. And we had to have the shrimp with broccoli as an appetizer and the Peking duck as a main, because that’s what you ate at Shun Lee. Looking back on it, I’m glad we did.
As we ate, I realized our roles had reversed themselves. I was no longer the raw recruit but a middle-aged woman to whom he could turn for advice. We had moved beyond Wharton and James to enter Tom Wolfe territory or Joan Didion country. But then again maybe not.
Over the course of the evening, I told him I was writing a novel about male athletes who were rivals and lovers (the just published “Water Music”). As I described it to him, he smiled and told me that wasn’t what gay sex was like.
“Men aren’t romantic,” he said.
Jacques always said I was a gay man trapped in a woman’s body.
I always thought he was an 18th-century gentleman trapped in the body of a 20th-century journalist.
Au revoir, mon ami.