Sunday, June 8, 2008

More about Charles Fawcett

By Kate Jackson Kate.Jackson@Mirror.Co.Uk 23/02/2008

A note by the Author of the blog: Contessa Isabella Vacani

Thank you Kate Jackson for the journalistic piece on Charles Fawcett. What did Charlie do from 1960 to 1980? I know to a certain extent but that part off his life will appear in a book written by me. 

The Dolce Vita Years in Rome are not mentioned at all by Kate Jackson. His deep and abiding friendship with Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, Michelangelo Antonioni and Pier Paolo Pasolini and Sergio Leone have not even been dipped into.

Then there are his exploits in the Congo. Indiana Jones is a poor wannabe attempt to be Charles Fawcett, assuming the producer and director ever had the rare honor of meeting Charlie. And Charles helped thousands of disenfranchised and hunted Congolese and Europeans. I don;t think he made one bloody farthing. Diamonds, rubies, gold, sapphires, and cash was his for the asking AND THE TAKING.......but Charlie had really learned all there was to know about the Mastership Game. It wasn't about power or wealth or charisma, it was about mastering yourself. a By wanting nothing you obtained everything. 

There are the Moroccan Years. King Mohammed and his son the late King Hassan respected and I would even venture to use the word hebekh - love as far as their feelings for Charlie were concerned. King Hassan's sisters adored him.

I met Prime Minister Hoveyda of Iran through Charlie. The late Shah Pahlavi entrusted him with what was left of his tattered government when he fled the country in 1978. Hoveyda was a gentleman, but in a Revolution such as the one the Imam(Ayatollah Khomein ) was conducting, Hoveyda had to be executed. Khomeini did not show him the same compassion he had extended towards Khomeini when he convinced the Shah in the 1970's to spare his life and send him into exile. And where did he go? To Saddam Hussein's Iraq for a few years and then to France.

The Expeditions Charles made with Andres del Amo to the Amazon from Madrid as a launching point are never talked about. I saw many photographs taken of these particular adventures.

It goes without saying that the tribesmen Charlie respected in Afghanistan bore no resemblance to the thugs, assassins and merchants of drugs, slaves and death which Charlie Wilson (the U.S. Congress) and the Saudis assisted with billions in armaments.

To my family and to me, Charlie's most rare and precious quality was the fact that he was very much his own man. He was an artist who knew how to mix colors and therefore knew that the use of only black and white in works of art are almost not pleasing to the eye. They are too stark. Life is usually a long series of grays except for Charles. He had vermillon, purple, gold, bright greens and blues. 

I know that for many years Charlie agonized over the fact that he could not be with his daughter. I seem to remember a period when he had no clue where Marina was.

"Somewhere in Argentina, but it's a vast country."

 I think she was deliberately kept from Charlie. That is the only time that I remember seeing a glimpse of anguish in his eyes. 

 Charlie was uncompromising in his integrity and in his spirituality throughout his life. That is why I understand from the depths of my soul why April Fawcett will never adjust to the loss of her husband and soul mate. Why should she? Who could even come close to that tower of humanity that was Charles Fawcett.?

Now you can have a go at Kate Jackson's excellent article about Charlie but I am sure that she did not really know him. Few people did although he came in contact with men and women and too numerous to mention.

Contessa Isabella Vacani  


Adventurer, freedom fighter, liberator, film maker, jazz musician - no one could accuse Charles Fawcett of not living life to the full.

His story spans the globe, taking in major wars, breathtaking feats of daring, risky rescue missions and more than a hint of celebrity and spice.

You probably won't recognise his name - although Charles was a hero, he was modest with it. Yet most novelists would be hard-pressed to dream up a plot as extraordinary as the life of this incredible man, who has died aged 92. His funeral took place in London this week.

"What he wanted more than anything was to help humanity," says his widow, April Ducksbury, who lives in Chelsea, London.

"He would rescue anybody - it didn't matter who they were. People felt safe with Charles because they knew he really wanted to help them."

If you've seen the film Charlie Wilson's War, you'll remember Julia Roberts' character Joanne Herring talking about a friend's documentary footage of the Afghan war.

That friend was Charles Fawcett - whose film helped persuade America to provide the mujahedeen with arms to fight the invading Soviets - and it was narrated by his pal, Orson Welles.

"He thought he was a Jack of all trades and master of none," recalls his film-maker friend Pierre Sauvage. "It wasn't true at all - Charles had many talents. He believed everything was in our reach, nothing seemed to intimidate him."

Born on December 2, 1915, in Waleska, Georgia, Charles was orphaned at six. He, his brother and two sisters were raised by aunts in South Carolina. At Greenville High School, he learned to wrestle and play American football.

In his teens he ran away to Washington DC and, at 15, he claimed to have begun an affair with his best friend's mum, declaring: "If that's child molestation I would wish this curse on every young boy."

His wanderlust kicked in early and he set off around the world - working his passage on steamers to the Far East via the Panama Canal.

On returning to the US he picked up trumpet tips from Louis Armstrong and honed his wrestling skills before heading to Europe. He scratched a living by wrestling in backstreet theatres in Poland until the start of the Second World War.

Believed to have joined the Polish army, Charles was only in barracks for a week before he fled the Nazis.

After hitch-served hiking to Paris, he joined the Ambulance Corps.

An affable man, he befriended a relative of the commander-in-chief of occupied France and socialised with senior German officers - all the while passing back information to the French Resistance.

By impersonating a German ambulance crew, he helped free a group of British prisoners of war who were under French guard.

Next he joined the RAF, but had to quit as a Hurricane pilot after falling ill with tuberculosis. Charles spent most of 1943 recuperating in an Arizona TB clinic before rejoining the American Ambulance Corps in Italy, in 1944.

Towards the end of the war, he served with the French Foreign Legion.

He also married six Jewish women to provide them with an American visa so they could leave their concentration camp.

His bravery earned him high praise from Jewish groups for his role in helping defeat the Nazis. And in January 2006, at Holocaust Memorial Day in Cardiff, Charles was honoured by Tony Blair for helping rescue so many victims.

Speaking from his wheelchair on stage at the Millennium Centre, Charles said: "I thought we could make a difference. It's a responsibility people have."

But although he appeared fearless in the face of danger, April says he was often terrified. "In Marseilles, in 1940, he worked alongside American humanitarian Varian Fry to rescue refugees," she says. "He didn't feel he had great protection and it was a very dangerous city."

"He said later he was scared all the time of being taken by the police, but he never showed it."

And he was the most scared during the Greek civil war - when he avoided the ban on foreign involvement by disguising himself as a journalist to fight the Communists.

Once the Second World War ended, Charles reinvented himself as an actor, appearing in around 100 B-movies. His final screen appearance will be in Pierre Sauvage's And Crown Thy Good, about Varian Fry's mission in Marseilles.

His movie star friends included everyone from Orson Welles to William Holden. He co-starred with Sophia Loren and was the lover of one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood, Hedy Lamarr.

"He was an extraordinary ladies' man," recalls Pierre. "He was handsome and a devil of a charmer - it's thought he met his Waterloo in April Ducksbury."

In 1956, Charles helped to rescue refugees from the Hungarian uprising. Then he spent three years in the Belgian Congo, during the civil war in the early 60s, where he flew out those who were unable to escape the fighting. But it was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, in June 1979, that signalled his longest mission.

Without a second's thought, he told his fiancee he was off to help the Afghan resistance fighters - April had to wait another 12 years to marry the love of her life. Fortunately for Charles, one of the things April loved about him was his desire to help other people and she was happy to wait. They finally tied the knot on March 30, 1991.

April says: "He said he wouldn't marry until the Afghan war was over.

We had an Afghan wedding at a house in Los Angeles and were married by a Muslim mullah. It was the most appropriate thing we could do."

Charles's heroics earned him a slew of decorations including the French Croix de Guerre and the American Eisenhower medal. Sadly, all of them were stolen en route to Washington for President Reagan's inauguration. He finally "retired" at 75.

"After the Afghan war he felt his time was over," says April. "He was 75, he couldn't do anything else on the big cases. He felt the world was in a terrible mess. He didn't know what else to do."

Despite being a recognised hero, there was one area in which Charles felt he didn't shine - as a father.

He had little to do with Marina von Berg, his only daughter from a past relationship, until they were reunited when she was 21.

"Charles felt very sad that Marina wasn't in his life," says April. "But he didn't know what to do. He felt he'd been a hopeless father - he was embarrassed to intrude in her life."

Towards the end of his life, Charles successfully fought cancer. But it was an overactive thyroid and its treatment with radioactive iodine which finally felled this great man. "The treatment made him lose his immediate memory," says April. "He couldn't write or have discussions with me any more.

"It was a terrible shame and very sad to see. He loved life, he was always so interested in everything. In the end, he just gave up."

On Wednesday, April and Marina travelled to Paris - a city Charles adored - and scattered his ashes in the Seine.

"People say I'm lucky to have spent 47 years with him, but that's not much consolation now he's gone," says April. "He was a very kind, very good and very generous man. A real hero."

1915 Born in Georgia Dec 2

1921 Orphaned, taken in by aunts

1930 Age 15, has affair with pal's mum

1932 Travels to Far East via Panama

1935 Trumpet tips from Louis Armstrong

1936 Wrestles in theatres in East Europe

1939 Joins Polish army.. leaves after a week

1940 Joins war ambulance corps

1942 Trains to fly RAF Hurricanes

1943 Is treated for TB in Arizona

1945 Joins Foreign Legion, fights in Alsace

1945 Marries six Jewish women

1948 Fights in Greek Civil War

1949 Begins acting in B-movies

1956 Rescues Hungarian refugees

1957 Makes Boy On A Dolphin with Sophia Loren

1960 On rescue missions in Belgian Congo

1980 Goes to Afghanistan to fight mujahedeen war against the Soviets

1991 Marries April after 30-year engagement

2008 Dies on February 3

1 comment:

  1. Dear Isabella,

    Thank you so much for telling us more about your relationship with the remarkable Charlie Fawcett, and for posting the UK Mirror obituary. I can't wait to read more, especially the book you refer to which you mention that you are writing. Those of us who met and knew Charlie are so fortunate to have shared precious and unforgettable moments of our lives with him, and to have known this incredible man.




Isabel Van Fechtmann

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