Claudine Longet, a French singer/actress who got somewhat famous, but also infamous, in the US has been almost all but forgotten by the general public, partly due to the fact that since the mid-’70s she has intentionally tried to stay in the shadows. Those who do have her somewhere in their memory banks, lie mainly in two categories of entertainment or ‘entertainment’ followers. They are either fans of a series of her really sophisticated clutch of albums and singles that showcased her seductive voice, or remember her for her co-starring role with Peter Sellers in The Party, one of the rightfully most re-played comedies ever, or maybe those that are followers of all the high-profile murder trials, since Longet was not only a part of one, but she was the one accused and convicted.
…a French singer/actress who got somewhat famous, but also infamous in the US has been almost all but forgotten by the general public…
Of course, there’s always that third group that remembers both, reminding us that in every image there’s always more shades of grey than there are solid white or black linings. But then there’s a bit more to Longet’s story, from her marriage to the ’60s superstar Andy Williams, friendship with assassinated presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy, to the fact that while her music was no major success at the time of its release, is constantly being resurrected by a series of reissues that continues even today.
From a Las Vegas Dancer to the Main Stage
Longet moved from France to the US in 1961, where she joined the Las Vegas version of the famous Paris show Follies Bergere. She soon became the lead dancer, and even sooner she met and married Andy Williams, one of the biggest pop stars at the time. That certainly opened doors for her, as by the mid-’60s, after devoting a bit of time to family life, she started appearing in popular TV shows of the day like Combat!, Hogan’s Heroes, Run for Your Life, and The Rat Patrol.
Still, it was her appearances on her husband’s TV show that started to get her noticed primarily as a singer. Herb Albert personally signed her to his then flourishing A&M label, and between 1966 and 1970 Longet recorded a series of albums that were laced with some of the best, sophisticated pure pop around. They sold quite well at the time – her debut Claudine even reaching #1, selling over 500,000 copies, with her two follow-ups also charting, somewhere around #30.
…her singing voice and obvious French accent embodied what the listening public outside of France perceived as the archetypal female French singer of the time…
Longet’s musical charms were two fold – the first was that her singing voice and obvious French accent embodied what the listening public outside of France perceived as the archetypal female French singer of the time – mainly France Gall, Francoise Hardy, and even Brigitte Bardot, all rolled into one. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Longet had the looks to match.
The second was the fact that she was surrounded by a team of top arrangers and producers that knew exactly how suave pop should sound, turning everything from “Meditation,” the Antonio Carlos Jobim Bossa Nova classic, to the Rolling Stones’ “Lets Spend The Night Together” into perfect vehicles for Longet’s voice, which exuded joy and sadness all at the same time.
From Peter Sellers to Bobby Kennedy
In 1968 Longet was the co-star alongside Peter Sellers inThe Party, one of Blake Edwards’ best comedies, and the scene where she sings Henry Mancini’s “Nothing To Lose” is one of the more memorable moments of the film, serving as a brief relief from Seller’s constant hilarious routines.
“Nothing To Lose” is one of the more memorable moments of the film…
1968 was an eventful year in many respects. She and Williams were really good friends with the senator and presidential candidate Robert ‘Bobby’ Kennedy (one of her children with Williams bears his name), and in fact, on the night of the California primaries when Kennedy was assassinated, the two families had plans to go to a trendy disco. Longet and Williams were even at the same hotel, and when they got the pre-arranged signal from Kennedy during his televised speech that the plans were on, they started to heads towards the hotel lobby. While on their way Bobby Kennedy was shot.
1968 was an eventful year in many respects. She and Williams were really good friends with the senator and presidential candidate Robert ‘Bobby’ Kennedy…
From there on, things seemed to be on the way down for Longet. Even though in 1970 she started recording for Williams’ Barnaby Records, with nothing changing either in concept or quality of her recordings, the couple separated, with the divorce finalizing in 1975. Her last official release, Lets Spend The Night Together came in 1972, with tracks from two recorded but unreleased albums surfacing only in 1993.
From Music to Murder to Re-issue Queen
After her divorce, Longet got into a relationship with then sports celebrity and Olympic skier, Vladimir ‘Spider’ Sabich. Sometime in March of 1976, Longet was arrested for Sabich’s murder. What ensued was one of the more prominent murder trials of that decade, something like the ’70s OJ Simpson trial without CNN or E!. Longet was aided by a string of lawyers, mainly hired by her ex, Andy Williams.
In the end, Longet was convicted on lesser charges of misdemeanor criminal negligence, actually accepting her defense that the gun accidentally discharged while Sabich was trying to show her how it worked. Soon afterward, Longet promptly disappeared from the public eye, not reappearing since, but in the meantime marrying her defense lawyer Ron Austin, with whom she still lives with to this day.
Sometime in March of 1976, Longet was arrested for Sabich’s murder. What ensued was one of the more prominent murder trials of that decade…
Her practical disappearance did not do anything to dampen the demand for her recordings. Even some of her recent reissues have fetched hefty sums on eBay and Amazon, prompting a renewed reissue series of her music and albums proper in 2018.
Still, any time you put on any of Longet albums and hear that soft voice and intricate arrangements, somewhere in the back of your mind those shades of grey start to prevail again.