James Lipton used to be a pimp in Paris in the 1950s: ‘I did a roaring business’

First of all, did you know that James Lipton is 86 YEARS OLD?! OMG. In case you are about to drop a “WHO?” truth-bomb on me, James Lipton is the sycophantic host/questioner of Inside the Actors Studio. ITAS has been running for years and years on Bravo, so I’m sure most of you have seen at least one episode. The dude asking the questions is James Lipton. And he’s 86!!! I thought maybe he was in his 60s. I have to give him some credit – he’s pretty well-preserved for 86. Anyway, Lipton has a new interview in Parade (to promote the 250th episode of ITAS) and it kind of blew my mind for several different reasons. First, James Lipton was literally a pimp. In the 1950s. In Paris. That didn’t make any sense to me until I looked up his age – he turned 24 years old in 1950, so I guess that makes sense. I mean, the timing makes sense. The fact that he was literally a pimp makes NO sense. Here are some highlights from his Parade interview:

Parade: Your 250th show is coming up on Bravo. What do you have planned?
Lipton: “The 250th is different from any show we’ve ever done. I have brand-new interviews with Conan O’Brien, Barbara Walters, Christopher Walken, Ellyn Burstyn, Sugar Ray Leonard, Jennifer Lopez, Dave Chappelle, Jay Leno, Spike Lee, Katie Couric, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro — we’re going to their homes, their workplaces.”

The show has played for 19 years. Who did you most want on the show who turned you down?
“Marlon Brando. He was reclusive in the last years of his life. He said, ‘I’m never going to do your show. The [Actors] Studio’s always taking credit for me. I was trained by Stella Adler.‘ I said, ‘So was I. Come on. We’ll talk about Stella.’ I’ve had a pretty good roster of guests without Marlon.”

Of the people you’ve interviewed, who was best?
“What I’ve waited for is that one of my graduated students has achieved so much that he walks out and sits down on that chair next to me. It happened when Bradley Cooper walked out on that stage. We looked at each other and burst into tears. It was one of the greatest nights of my life.”

What are the criteria to be a guest on the show?
“Does this person have anything to teach my students? Period.”

How do you recognize a good actor?
“Would you recognize your sister in a crowd? When you’ve seen 1,000 auditions, and somebody is different, you notice it. When you see it, you spot it immediately.”

After you graduated from high school in 1944, your first big acting role was playing the Lone Ranger’s nephew on radio. Yet you actually wanted to be a lawyer. Why?
“I was going to be a lawyer because that was as far away from my father’s lunacy that I could imagine. He was nuts. He abandoned us. I was afraid of being like that.”

You wanted stability?
“Yes. I came to New York after the Air Force to get the law degree. But I thought, ‘I’d better take some acting classes if I’m going to earn a living so I can be a lawyer.’ Stella Adler accepted me for her [drama] class. About five years later, I said to myself, ‘Stop kidding. You don’t want to be a lawyer. This is what you want to do.’”

Is it true you were a pimp in Paris in the 1950s?
“I was. It was only a few years after the war. Paris was different then, still poor. Men couldn’t get jobs and, in the male chauvinist Paris of that time, the women couldn’t get work at all. It was perfectly respectable for them to go into le milieu.”

“Young women desperately needed money for various reasons. They were beautiful and young and extraordinary. There was no opprobrium because it was completely regulated. Every week they had to be inspected medically. The great bordellos were still flourishing in those days before the sheriff of Paris, a woman, closed them down. It was a different time.”

How did your involvement come about? You became friends with one of the prostitutes in Paris?
“We became great friends. When I ran out of money, I said, ‘I have to go home.’ She said, ‘No, you don’t. I’ll arrange for you.’ So she arranged for me to do it. I had to be okayed by the underworld; otherwise they would’ve found me floating in the Seine.”

Did you represent more than one girl?
“Yes, a whole bordello. I represented them all, but her especially. I did a roaring business, and I was able to live for a year. The French mecs didn’t exploit women. They represented them, like agents. And they took a cut. That’s how I lived. I was going through my rights of passage, no question about it. It was a great year of my life.”

Do you think people should buy sex?
“I really don’t. I think if you can’t earn it on your own, then you don’t deserve it.”

What is your greatest achievement?
“No question about it — marrying Kedakai.”

How did you meet your wife?
“We met at the ballet. I took one look at her and I fell madly in love. I called her the next day and asked her to have dinner with me. Nine months later we were married.”

Why has your marriage lasted 40 years?
“Because Kedakai is a masterpiece.”

[From Parade]

The “Parisian pimp in the 1950s” is a weird story, right? Granted, I didn’t know much about James Lipton’s personal life before today, but I guess I assumed a fairly average actorly background, not some “rich” experience as an official and authorized pimp at a Paris bordello. Sigh… those were simpler times, right? Except they weren’t!

Photos courtesy of WENN.

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31 Responses to “James Lipton used to be a pimp in Paris in the 1950s: ‘I did a roaring business’”

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  1. Lucy2 says:

    Wow, that was…unexpected.
    I can’t believe he’s 86, and still does as much as he does.

  2. mkyarwood says:

    This guy is great. He’s in the new season of Arrested Develoment and I never realised he was SHORT. He’s so short. But his presence is so big in the Studio (plus, he’s always sitting). It seems like being a pimp there taught him the value of a real relationship!

  3. Cherry says:

    I was coming here just to yell at Lipton for bragging about how he used to exploit women, which is a terribly creepy thing to do (the bragging- let alone the exploiting), and men should cut the hell out doing that, it ain’t cool. (Looking at you, Snoop Lion.) But I feel like he knows he’s in the wrong, you know? ‘It was perfectly respectable for them.’ ‘There was no opprobrium because it was completely regulated.’ ‘It was a different time. ‘French mecs didn’t exploit women.’
    That said, I don’t buy this story for a second. I really think he made it up. Please: ‘I had to be okayed by the underworld; otherwise they would’ve found me floating in the Seine.’ Sure, grandpa. That totally happened.

    • Ponytail says:

      What I find difficult to believe is that Paris had a *sheriff*. Who was a woman. The papers are all about Paris getting its first mayor this year, and somehow, although women couldn’t get jobs in the 1950s and had to turn to prostitution, there was one running (the gunslingers out of ?!) Paris. Hmm…

      • Cherry says:

        I know, right? So much doesn’t add up in this story. Also: ‘the women couldn’t get work at all. It was perfectly respectable for them to go into le milieu’- that has GOT to be a joke. No-where has it ever been ‘perfectly respectable’ for women to work as prostitutes. Let alone in France in the 1950s!

      • Myrto says:

        I LOLed at the “sheriff” bit. I mean, seriously, a sheriff? I know you tend to use the terms you know when you discuss a foreign country but it’s just so weird. There’s no such thing as a sheriff in France. Oh well.
        He totally made it up though. Women couldn’t get work?? It was perfectly acceptable for them to become prostitutes? Please. Nonsense.

      • Emily says:

        That’s a joke right? Bordel’s were HUUUGE in Paris… often it was very high class and ‘trendy’


      • Cherry says:

        Sure bordellos were huge in Paris- that doesn’t make Lipton’s story any more credible though. Personally, I think the old man saw some of these photos, too, and wishes he’d been part of that.

      • Xera says:

        Brothels were closed in 1946, so he couldn’t have been working for one in the 50′s. Marthe Richard who campaigned for outlawing brothels was city councillor Paris 4th district was herself a former teenage prostitute, women aviator, somehow spy dujring the first world war (or rather an extraordinary liar regarding her war activities), pretended to be a resitant during the second world war (actually joined the resistance after the Normandy landing), so she got elected on her false war time record. She was also the Prime Minister mistress, a jewell thief (went to jail in 1953), changed her mind on prostitution later in life and wrote a few fake autobiographies. In short she was even a bigger fantaisist than Lipton.

        Prostitution has obviously never been a socially acceptable activity in France and women in brothels were completely exploited

      • Xera says:

        @ Emily
        It’s like saying that Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany demonstrates that protitution was commonplace and highly respectable in NY.

      • Cherry says:

        Thanks for the info, Xera! I felt something was off here, but it’s great to learn the real story. Maybe Lipton read one of Marthe Richard’s fake autobiographies and decided to take a page from it…?

      • Tiffany :) says:

        “Prostitution has obviously never been a socially acceptable activity in France”

        It is legal today in France. You can’t solicit in public, but prostitution is not illegal.

    • lady mary. says:

      @Cherry ,+1 for ur spot on observation,i rolled my eyes at ” the woman sherrif 1950 when women had no jobs that forced them into prostitution” comment,and even at this age he is not apologetic ,thats srsly vile

    • Cherry says:

      @Tiffany The fact that it’s legal doesn’t mean that it’s a socially acceptable activity… Prostitution is legal in my country (the netherlands) as well, but it’s not exactly a job you brag about at your aunt’s birthday party.

  4. lem says:

    i believe he discussed this on the episode of ITAS when Dave Chapelle interviewed him. it’s a pretty fantastic interview all around.

  5. Nibbi says:

    i vote for a pic/ more info on kedakai.

  6. Talie says:

    His age is crazy…he looks good! I would’ve thought 70.

  7. Em' says:

    For those who can read french : http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marthe_Richard
    Martha Richard was not a sheriff (there is no such thing in France) but she definitely was a big part of the law wiwh closed “les bordels” en France.
    Le law passed in 1946 thought, not in the early 50′s

  8. BorgQUeen says:

    Yeah. This is an old story. Like “Lem” says about, Lipton discusses at length when Dave Chappelle interviewed Lipton for an episode of ITAS. Google it. Its funny interview.

  9. MavenTheFirst says:

    What a despicable ass. Justifying the exploitation of women to make money for himself. If times were so bad, and he was 24, why wasn’t he using his own body?

    Hypocrite, louse, lowlife scum. Makes sense of his highfaluting veneer.

  10. poppy says:

    while prostitution was extremely common during and post war europe, i don’t believe it was all *good times* as he remembers them.
    europe was devastated and people were desperate. the army supplied condoms for a reason.
    the soviets just raped their way through eastern europe so being paid was better, certainly.
    still not certain how being desperate for money for food makes the choice an easy, carefree one.

    maybe he remembers this time fondly because he had to sell a little something of himself? j/k
    more likely because he was young. looking back is easier to do if you frame things a certain way; completely forget the pain and misery of those earlier moments.

    bitch is crazy. fascinating but crazy.

  11. Ag says:

    That’s an insane story. That’s all that I can muster on this topic.

  12. taxi says:

    Now I understand why I’ve always thought he was obsequious & smarmy.

  13. mabooski says:

    there seems to be much less vitriol reserved for james than there was for Snoop Dogg…quelle suprise?!

  14. Beatriz says:

    I’m a huge ITAS fan so this post is awesome :D . What’s so interesting about the show is that he doesn’t “discriminate,” he has some huge heavyweights like Al Pacino, De Niro and Newman, but has someone like J.lo who does fluffy Rom-coms.
    And about Brando,I think his declination is obvious, I mean this is a man who loathed acting, so imagine asking him to spend 1+ hour talking about it…

  15. Amy says:

    I feel like I already knew this… I’m pretty sure he’s said it before in interviews, but this may be the first time he’s elaborated on it. Pretty sure I read somewhere about this last year.

  16. R.M.O says:

    Why are people talking about this? This isn’t anything new. Anyone who is a fan of him, already knew this. You know the episode of Inside the Actors Studio, the one where Dave Chapelle hosted and James was the one being interviewed? He talked about it at length in that episode.