Fiona Lewis Reclaims her Life in “Mistakes Were Made (Some in French)”

Fiona_Lewis1“Writing the story of their own life allows the author to parse their story into examinable segments while continuing to engage in the act of communion and creation.” —Kilroy J. Oldster

Self-examination is supposed to be the motivation behind memoirs. However, in an age where self-examination sometimes renders reveal-all memoirs that titillate the senses but rarely illuminate or celebrate life’s journeys, Fiona Lewis’ “Mistakes Were Made (Some in French)” is a beautiful distillation of a life lived in full, cinematic color with all its fallacies and triumphs.

From her childhood in the proper, but repressive England of the 1940s and 50s to her life as a model and actress in the swinging 60s—many may remember her from her 1968 spread in Playboy parodying James Bond’s “Casino Royale” girls—to her married life to a top Hollywood director in the 80s, Fiona Lewis, while restoring a broken chateau in the south of France, reflects back on her life lived at full tilt.

Fashion Reverie was given the opportunity to speak with Fiona Lewis soon after the release of “Mistakes Were Made (Some in French).”

Fashion Reverie: Why this book at this time in your life?

Fiona Lewis: Ten years ago in my fifties, I had a kind of midlife crisis. I had bought a dilapidated chateau in the French countryside. While I was there, I started reflecting on what had happened to me in my life and getting older. I started to write about everything I had done and what happens to a woman who is getting older and everything seems to be in the past and not so much in the future. So, what do women do at that this critical time and reinvent themselves and their lives?

This topic is a universal topic that many women experience as they are aging and their children have become adults. Many women have to do something and create an adventure to change their life.

FR: How did you come up with the title of the book, “Mistakes Were Made (Some in French)”?

Fiona Lewis: The title just came to me. As I was writing about the affairs I had had and also going through a bad marriage, I was thinking about the mistakes that people make in life with bad relationships and missed opportunities.

FR: This book is set against the backdrop of you restoring this dilapidated grand chateau in the south of France. You go back and forth in the memoir from childhood to restoring this grand chateau. One chapter will be a reflection on your life while another chapter will be about this restoration project. Why this juxtaposition and all the back and forth?

Fiona Lewis:  When I started writing this memoir, I started reflecting on everything that had happened in my life and though I was happily married and I had a very privileged life, something was missing. I didn’t understand why I was unhappy and unsettled. At the same time I was restoring this chateau, working with very incompetent French handymen. So, while writing this memoir I decided to go back and forth between life reflection and restoring the chateau.

FR: Your husband was opposed to your restoring this French countryside chateau, yet, you continued on, why?

Fiona Lewis: I thought in the end that he would enjoy the process. If you live in Los Angeles, you are not used to ruins, and that is where we were living at the time. When my husband first saw the chateau it was a complete wreck and he couldn’t understand why I would take on such a project. Also, my husband didn’t speak French.  He loved living in LA and he couldn’t imagine why someone would want to live in the middle of the countryside in France.

Still, I thought it would be good for him and that he would relax in the countryside and grow to love it.  And of course, I am a bit stubborn and I wanted to provide to my husband that I could make a go of this wrecked chateau.

FR: You grew up in the swinging 1960s, yet, there was a lot of ambivalence about the sexual freedom of that time. You experienced some of that ambivalence. Could you talk about the burgeoning sexual freedom of the sixties and your lack of ease with this new freedom? 

Fiona Lewis:  The change from the 1950s to the 1960s was so radical. Everyone was running around and having affairs with a slew of people, but of course we were ill equipped to handle this new sexual liberation or deal with the consequences. Most of us were properly raised young ladies from the 1950s which carried with it lots of expectations. Though we were having a lot of sexual escapades, we still expected flowers the next day, which mostly didn’t happen. It was very odd. We really weren’t ready for this new freedom.

I don’t think much has changed. Women are still looking for romance. In the 60s, we are so busy being hip and groovy that all we were really doing was having sex. And women’s liberation is so much more than that. That came later.

We didn’t speak out at that time that this new freedom wasn’t working for most women because women didn’t speak out at that time. And in England, the British never say what they’re thinking, you just try to be the cool and carry on. Many girls were unhappy, and I was one of them. We really didn’t have skills to adapt. It was an interesting time and for our parents it was a horror. Our parents wanted us to get marry and have children, not run around in a miniskirt. Everything changed very, very quickly.

Fashion_Reverie16FR: You modeled in the 1960s with Jacqueline Bisset, and you talk about in the book that you and Jacqueline were roommates. And though both of your were slender, you both were busty and the look of models were beginning to change. Could you talk about that time?

Fiona Lewis:  Jacqueline and I were not really that successful as models in England because it was the Twiggy era in which models had long slender legs and were flat chested. We were on chronic diets to stay thin. We even took laxatives, I am afraid to admit. We would try to strap ourselves in and flatten our breast, but it didn’t really work because we didn’t have those types of bodies.

We did have a little success but our look was not the current trend. We both had curly hair, so we were constantly ironing our hair to make it straight. We were doing our best, but later we both kind of slipped into acting, which you could do in those days. It’s much more difficult now.

FR: You knew the iconic British photographer Terry Donovan when he was just starting out. Could you speak about your experience with him?

Fiona Lewis: Actually, Terry Donovan was Jacqueline Bisset’s boyfriend and that is how I met him. In the 1960s in England, the class barriers came down. Cockney boys were suddenly photographers and designers, and it was very cool to have a cockney accent, when before it wasn’t. Terry Donovan was one of those cockney photographers that were very good and he did fantastic black and white photographs. And the cockney boys were thrilled to be taking out nice middle class girls because they had never been able to take out middle class girls before.

Terry would arrive in in his Rolls Royce and honk on the horn for Jacqueline to come down and she would be in the process of ironing her hair. We lived in this horrible, tiny flat because we had no money. I would always be cooking something on the hot plate.

I remember one time when he came over, I was cooking bacon and eggs, which is all we could afford at the time. And Terry Donovan exclaimed, “Blimey, you’re going to stink up the Rolls.” He was larger than life and so was David Bailey.

Fiona_LewisFR: You acted in some of Roman Polanski’s early films and you were involved with him romantically. What was it like working with him in the late 1960s?

Fiona Lewis:  When I started acting his Polanski’s films our affair was over and he was already in love with Sharon Tate. I played the small part of the barmaid in Polanski’s “The Fearless Vampire Killers,” and Roman taught me that when acting on screen, you have to take everything way down. You have to say your line almost in a monotone, never giving anything away. He was very good with actors. At the time, he spoke with a very thick French accent because he didn’t speak English very well.

FR: What I gathered from the book that in spite of your romances and heady love affairs, you were very unsure of yourself, not able to enjoy the moment. Where to you think this insecurity came from?

Fiona Lewis:  The kind of English family that I grew up in where my father was a judge, was not a demonstrative or affectionate family. The English don’t express themselves very much and they don’t coddle their children, so it’s hard to grow with a lot of self-confidence. When you don’t have self-confidence, being attractive doesn’t help because being pretty doesn’t always build self-esteem. I knew a lot of English women who grew up the same way I did, and end up sort of adrift.

You are always searching to get that self-worth from a man, which is never a good thing. That can lead to bad romances and relationships. For me, that was a hard thing to learn.  Looking back now, I realize that the best way to have a good relationship is not to need the other person to make you feel good about yourself.

FR: Of all the careers you’ve had, which career paths have you enjoyed the most, and why?

Fiona Lewis:  I have enjoyed writing the most, because when you are an actor you are always waiting for that next job and waiting for casting directors to choose you, unless you are a big star. When you are a writer, you control what you do every day. It is a very solitary life, but that suited me fine. I can create things without trying to get someone’s approval until the very end.

Images courtesy of JRB Communications

Images courtesy of JRB Communications

FR: Did this memoir serve as a kind of catharsis, and if so, why?

Fiona Lewis:  It does because I changed what the book was going to be about several times. I realized what is important in life and not to regret things that happened or didn’t happen to me. You do have to go forward everyday. If you have a relationship, you have to reinvent that relationship and not let it grow stagnant.

It is important to have perspective and to look inward, instead of looking outward all the time. I learned from this memoir to be grateful for what I have. You cannot do anything about the past, but you do have a say in your future.

FR: What do you want readers to get from  ”Mistakes Were Made (Some in French)”?

Fiona Lewis: I would like women to see the journey and if they see themselves in any way to identify with things that I have learned and not feel alone. And of course, enjoy the book. This book takes place with my current husband who I was having problems with at the time and through a process of self-examination, I was able to rebuild my marriage.

“Mistakes Were Made (Some in French)” is published by Regan Arts and is available were books are sold.

—William S. Gooch

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