portrait of Fern Bedaux by Nicholas Becker
Some may recognize the name. Devoted client of Balenciaga, American ex-pat in France, Chatelaine of Cande, wife of Charles Bedaux collaborator ( some might say shrewd businessman), witness to history? Whatever her name evokes, Fern Bedaux was for a time on top of the world-a world of husband Charles Bedaux's making.
A LOVE MATCH
Charles Bedaux established a management consulting firm in Cleveland the following year the pair married and within a decade its success- would multiply into a string of businesses across the States, Europe & Africa, Australia & the Orient. Fern would work by his side as his personal secretary and give him an entree into a world he longed to enter. After a move to New York in 1920 and living at the Plaza & the Ritz, the pair established themselves in a spacious apartment on Fifth Avenue with a view of Central Park.
Charles Bedaux was the leading contributor of scientific management & the concept of rating assessment & timing Labor, leading to critical-but controversial improvements in employee productivity. This concept would make him a millionaire & give him the freedom to create an empire. Bedaux's slick appearance belied the fact that he had been little more than a young pimp in Pigalle district of Paris. Those days were long behind him by the time he met and married Fern (his second wife). His first wife had provided him with American citizenship and a son-Charles Jr.
Charles Bedaux & Fern Lombard were in love, but that didn't preclude him from having affairs, taking both wife and mistress along the way in his glorious adventures. The devoted Fern became an expert tennis player, golfer and was skilled at shooting -all pursuits to please her husband. She was an achiever-accomplished.
A friend remarked, 'she was so much finer than he, and so perfectly trained, that when you saw the Bedauxs together it was like watching a thoroughbred paraded or a lead by her squat groom.' (from Americans in Paris:Life and Death under Nazi Occupation by Charles Glass) Mrs. Bedaux, a follower of Christian Science, surrounded her husband with 'unceasing affection' according to Bedaux's brother and he felt her great intelligence and 'fine psychology' were invaluable to Bedaux's success.
SCENES FROM THE CHAMPAGNE SAFARI
His Bedaux Canadian Sub-Arctic Expedition- the grand title he gave his expedition to cross the wilderness of Northern British Columbia, set out from Canada in 1934 with wife and mistress. The Expedition-filmed by Hollywood cinematographer Floyd Crosby, Bedaux hoped to make a wild financial success of the venture and the release of his movie. Neither succeeded, but thanks to Canadian director, George Ungar much of the film can be seen in his 1995 biography of Bedaux aptly entitled, The Champagne Safari.
Fern, center, Bedaux at far right
the Ménage à trois
Fern Bedaux and Bilonha Chiesa
All the above images are from the Champagne Safari-screenshots from Bedaux's original film reels.
The Expedition included Bedaux's wife, Fern and his mistress, Bilonha Chiesa, an Italian Countess. Fern's Spanish lady's maid, Josephine, was along for Fern's comfort along with her $7000 mink. Along with the ladies, amongst other supplies for the Expedition, there were 400 pounds of books, Charles was reading War and Peace nightly to Fern,(what he was reading to Bilonha is unknown), also fine crystal & china for dining, the ladies wardrobe-and a designated horse for their shoes alone. There were cowboys too-great for filming rugged scenes along the way.
The following year Bedaux took another caravan of six cars over 9,500 miles of the Algerian and Tunisian deserts.
In 1936, Charles Bedaux said, "My wife and I are still in love with love."
Fern saw her husband as a suave but rugged man-why wouldn't other women be attracted to him? Their relationship was typical of a French marriage of the day-doting wife and hostess and fetching mistress. They were an elegant couple- much of that presence was Fern's no doubt. Fern obviously understood her husband, overlooked his affairs and felt she lived a charmed life. She adored him. The marriage was filled with mutual adoration and it seems-along with reading-a lot of reading. Charles would read to Fern for hours -she ensconced in a negligee lounging in bed.
SCENES FROM THE WEDDING OF THE CENTURY, CANDE
Château de Candé photographs by Sophie Delaveaux
(There was also an estate in North Carolina, a hunting lodge in Scotland & property in North Africa.)
the main salon- The Red Salon at Cande
with walls covered with a red silk damask woven in Tours
The Library of Cande was designed for Fern, along Bedaux's specifications to architect Lafargue and the gallery of the library by Piaget.
The walls of the Dining Room in Cordoba leather
The largest suite of rooms at Cande were devoted to the chatelaine. The woodwork and the fireplace in Fern's suite are in the Louis XV style. Wallis Simpson remembered Fern as very beautiful and kind, and as having a certain "vogue for French style & fashion." (The Duchess of Windsor The Uncommon Life of Wallis Simpson by Greg King) Fern gave up her suite of rooms to the soon to be Duchess when she fled Britain to await her divorce and the outcome of the King's ultimate decision to abdicate the British throne. Cande's celebrity was born out of this visit and the marriage of the Duke to Wallis Simpson.
Detail of a Balenciaga gown, 1955 from Fern's collection-now at the V& A
The dressing room and wardrobes are filled today with some of Fern's clothes. The compartments were planned specifically for holding Fern's extensive wardrobe- Patou,Chanel, Schiaparelli,Balenciaga. Fern was considered one of the ten best dressed women in the world during her day. Along with pieces of her wardrobe at Cande, some pieces were donated to the V& A and the Costume Museum at Bath.
photograph by Sophie Delaveaux
The exquisite Art Deco bathroom of Fern is one of eight baths Bedaux installed to modernize the Chateau. Blue glass mosaics cover the walls- and practical luxuries were added- a tub that filled and emptied in a minute and towel warmers.
The Music Room of the Chateau was the site of the Windsors religious ceremony, while the library was used for the civil ceremony. Cecil Beaton was on hand to document the events-here Wallis stands in the room in front of a makeshift altar in the Music Room.
The Wedding Party
above, Fern, is at right of the Duke, and below Fern appears just behind the Duke at right
Bedaux was riding high-but oddly enough it was through his increased interest in politics-an influence of his friendship with the Duke, that seemed to mark his downfall. His close ties to German industry and his arranged tour for the Duke to see German working conditions miscalculated dreadfully. The reaction and its backlash in the States from Labor was the beginning of the end for Bedaux. An ill fated trip arranged to the United States for the Duke with the same intent ended in Charles and Fern slipping out of the country under assumed names and Charles suffering a nervous breakdown. The pair sailed home and Charles recovered his health and ego.
The pair navigated Vichy France unscathed, socializing with all parties. Bedaux set up Cande as an American Embassy, a sort of neutralist haven, at one point sheltering 500 refuges Americans, French and German comfortably-with champagne in hand. Bedaux's ultimate downfall was in not choosing sides-the moral side.
As American citizens the Bedaux stayed in Europe after America entered the war in 1941. A string of opportunities too great to be missed before the States entered the war and afterwards, found Charles charged with treason by his country and imprisoned in Miami Florida in 1942.
"My attention was drawn to a woman who was sitting on the edge of a cot with an ermine wrap around her feet. She was passing around a five-pound box of chocolates to her friends. I learned that she was Mrs. Charles Bedaux, at whose chateau the Duke of Windsor married Mrs. Simpson. Mrs. Bedaux said in a very loud voice that she did not expect to be with us long, and that she was waiting for Otto Abetz, Nazi fifth columnist in France before the war and the new Nazi Ambassador to France, to come and get her and her sister released. Next morning a group of French collaborationists, obviously personages high in treachery, arrived with an important German in uniform. They were very respectful to Mrs. Bedaux, helped her pack her things, and out she swept, while the rest of us were enraged at this exhibition of the power of social and political influence." (from The House Near Paris: An American Woman's Story of Traffic in Patriots by Drue Tartière & M R Werner.)
The couple never saw each other again, and more than a year went by with no word from Charles. He would commit suicide in February of 1944.
There had been a 25 year marriage- a series of great adventures, a "Fern Lake" and a "Mt. Bedaux." She had always felt he would never lead her into anything that he could not get her out of. He left her Cande and her memories, and books-
Soon after the liberation of Paris, Fern remarried- to a U.S. Colonel, no less. The marriage didn't last and Fern defiantly returned to the name Bedaux. The Chateau was virtually abandoned in the 1950's by Fern, but not Bedaux's business methods and she took on the revitalization of the Bedaux business name. It's obvious her survival skills were great-far beyond those of needed on the Champagne Safari.
Fern Bedaux apparently thrived and revived Cande. She left the Chateau to the French Republic.
Both Charles and Fern are buried in Mount Auburn cemetery in Cambridge Massachusetts .
research and read more:
the extensive trail of Charles Bedaux here
images of the Chateau interiors are from here
the portrait of Fern Bedaux by Nicholas Becker and the detail from here
the film Champagne Safari is streaming at netflix