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Cinema: Bachelor’s Children

2 minute read

When Ferdinand de Lesseps set out to build the Suez Canal in 1859 he was a dignified widower of 54, who had had five sons by his first wife. Five days after the canal was finished in 1869 Ferdinand de Lesseps married again. By his second wife he had six more sons and as many daughters. Of the 17* de Lesseps offspring seven were still alive last week.

When Twentieth Century-Fox set out to make a $2,000,000 picture about Ferdinand de Lesseps last spring, Producer Darryl Zanuck entrusted the leading role to 23-year-old Tyrone Power, who barely looks his age. Instead of portraying him as a domestic hero, Suez not only failed to give Ferdinand de Lesseps any children but even failed to indicate that he ever married.

Surviving descendants of Ferdinand de Lesseps are naturally numerous. When one of them saw Suez in London last fortnight he called a family meeting in Paris to decide whether to sue Twentieth Century-Fox. Remembering that Princess Irina Youssoupov had received some $900,000 damages from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for having libeled her in Rasputin and the Empress, Twentieth Century-Fox officials hastily offered to show the picture to all the de Lesseps before it was publicly released in France.

Last week in Paris, 28 de Lesseps, including Ferdinand’s two surviving sons, Mathieu and Paul, attended the family preview. When it was over, despite the implied reflection on themselves and their parentage, the de Lesseps were not shocked enough to bring suit, suggested a few minor changes. Relieved, Twentieth Century-Fox officials agreed to make them.

* TIME last fortnight erroneously reported only ten.

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