The British writer Eric Ambler was attached to Huston’s team. Harris describes Huston as screaming, “Filthy little shit! Dirty Jew bastard!” at Jules when their Jeep, driven by Jules, gets stuck on a bridge targeted by German artillery and attributes these quotes to Ambler’s memoirs. Ambler never actually wrote the words “Dirty Jew Bastard” in his book. Had Huston called Jules a dirty Jew bastard, even under battle conditions, and really meant it, it is highly unlikely, knowing Jules as I did, that he would have had Huston as his Best Man when he married Joan’s mother in 1945. Jules and Huston eventually fell out over a business deal but Jules never spoke badly of Huston to me.
The team came under mortar and small arms fire a number of times during their time in San Pietro. A German counter-attack was expected. In one film sequence, it is clear that Jules has been blown off his feet by an explosion. They also came under rifle and machine gun fire and Jules saved Huston’s life on a couple of occasions. Significantly, Jules never made any references to heroics. He was very quiet when speaking of the war.
Perhaps Huston embellished his stories of derring-do afterwards, like Hemingway and many an old soldier, but there was no mistaking the look in Jules’ eyes six decades later as he remembered San Pietro and the dead, amongst other things he saw. He showed me some very explicit still photos he had kept. As a veteran myself, the symptoms of PTSD manifested by Jules seemed very obvious. Perhaps Jules Buck was not bipolar, as we are supposed to say nowadays. Perhaps he was suffering from PTSD, which nobody talked about until quite recently. But Harris’ book proved useful as firelighters.
When the time came for the Condé Nast axe to fall on Joan, she was packed off to rehab in the desert although she was neither a junkie nor a boozer. According to Joan, Jonathan Newhouse wished to save her from such a fate. Knowing Newhouse, he was without any doubt entirely sincere, but Joan would never return to her desk at French Condé Nast. Her job was given to Carine Roitfeld, who took the magazine in a different direction.
Rumors abounded at the time. Some said Joan was shooting up in the executive toilets. They said the glass vials of homeopathic vitamins in her handbag contained smack or morphine. Others said that Joan had punched CEO Gardner Bellanger in the mouth during a final, stormy meeting. There was little love lost between Joan and Gardner at the end and it was a hilarious story but, like Joan, Gardner always said the tale was nonsense. Others simply said Joan was insane and needed to go. As they used to say in the Dublin of my childhood, opinions are like arseholes: everyone has one.
All the same, rehab worked for Joan, who realized that she was indeed addicted to something that was bad for her health, as she explains in her book. It is a warning that many of us would do well to heed. Moreover, Joan was formally diagnosed by the clinic’s headshrinkers as not being mad or bipolar, the latter being an everyday fear for someone with a bipolar parent or, to be more precise, a father diagnosed and, implicitly, stigmatized as a manic depressive.
When I think of Jules, I don’t think of the angry man he sometimes was, even if I still enjoy the memory of the waiter running away from the octogenarian he’d been foolish enough to diss. I think of the cheeky Brooklyn kid inhabiting the body of the old man he could never be. Jules was very proud of his daughter and of her editorship of French Vogue. He once said that she had turned out very well in spite of the fucked-up childhood he had imposed on her. He was being rather hard on himself. As The Price of Illusion shows, his daughter was just as proud of him, and still is. It is a fine, beautifully written, and moving book and is very much more than a former Vogue editor’s memoir. It reminds us of Americans like Jules Buck at a time when we really need to be reminded of them. It is also a testament to its author’s readiness to pay the price of illusion when the bill arrived.