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Escaping Greece with the cash...

(Photo by Jacques Léonard.)

One of the most fascinating bits of research for the book The Contortionists is from the unpublished memoir of Jacques Léonard, who became a renowned photographer. His family was kind enough to share some pages with me. When Vicki Ross and Robert Lamouret travel to Australia in 1949, Léonard is hired as Lamouret's assistant. They and he go to Athens, Greece, after Australia. They see Maurice Chevalier as they're checking into the hotel where they will perform. Chevalier says he hasn't been paid. They go ahead and perform for three months, but are wary. Finally Léonard says Vicki and Robert should go ahead and leave the country. He stays and stays and stays. The manager keeps trying to give him an airplane ticket home, but Léonard cashes it in each time. Finally the manager gives him a suitcase full of cash. But Léonard senses trouble ahead. He converts the money to $100 American bills. He knows he will be stopped at the airport, so he puts the money in a series of plastic packages that he inserts into prop crates. The crates are then sent to France under an assumed name. At the airport he and his bags are searched--thoroughly. Nothing is found, so, in the end, the inspectors have a drink with him, then let him fly away. When he arrives in Paris, Robert is a mess of worry. Léonard leads him to the warehouse where the crates are waiting. Robert asks for the key to the lock. Léonard grabs an ax and splits the crates apart. Money packets rain down. Robert's eyes are full of tears...

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