Claudine Longet, the angelic actress of The Unforgettable Party who murdered her partner and inspired a song by the Rolling Stones

The songs never lie. Or perhaps they just distort reality. The tango “Griseta”, for example, a classic in the voice of Carlos Gardel: “Francesita / That you brought pizpireta / Sentimental and flirtatious / The poetry of Quartier / Who would have thought / That your poem by Griseta / Only one stanza would have / The silent agony / Of Margaret Gauthier”. A tango-song from the golden age that painted like no other how difficult it was for a European immigrant girl, especially beautiful and refined (“sentimental and flirtatious”, in her lyrics) to lead an independent life, not depend on men and at the same time end, succeed by your own means.

Sixty years after that song there was another girl. French, never “French”. That she was not called Griseta, but Claudine Longett. It was the unforgettable beauty with the subtle French accent who starred in that one night delirium called the unforgettable party with improv champion Peter Sellers. There, before saying goodbye to her, while the most unlikely and hilarious Hindu in history gallantly took her to the door of her house and gave him her hat, Longet (Michele Monet in the film) sang. And she loved it. A soft song, half French song, half bossa nova and sung in sleepy, Californian English: “Nothing to loose”. A little gem composed by Henry Mancini with which the Parisian hypnotized Sellers’ Hindu, the guests at the party and the entire audience.

Claudine, beyond that charm that she immortalized on screen, became the protagonist of a police case that is still remembered today in the charming ski resort of Aspen, where the rich and famous retire to ski on their winter vacations. In 1976, Longet brandished the imitation Luger revolver and shot her boyfriend, Vladimir Sabich, to death while he was bathing in the mansion they shared with her children.. Claudine admitted the crime. She had (unlike her song that launched her to fame) everything to lose. And yet she only spent four weekends in prison.

Claudine Longet, born in 1942, started dancing as a teenager in Paris nightclubs. Daughter of health professionals (her father had a company that manufactured X-ray machines), she went from dancing at the Folies Bergère a few blocks from the Seine, to animating the nights in the casinos of Las Vegas. In those days, when she was stranded on the side of the road because she had a flat tire, a seductive man, one of the essential singers and figures of American TV, got out of her car to help her. Or at least that’s what they and their legend told. It was Andy Williams, whom Ronald Reagan called a “national treasure.” He was 32 years old. Claudine, 18. They married the following year.

Shortly after, and while raising the three children she had with Williams, Longet participated in her husband’s TV show (one of the most successful in the US) she began a career in film and TV in series such as Combat Y the name of the game. She also began to sing accompanying stars like Tom Jones or Bobby Darin on television, songs that could be part of the soundtrack of a Martin Scorsese movie or the preannouncement of his violence.

Then came the records. Her childlike and finite voice, her Japanese anime eyes (“I fell in love with her rabbit eyes,” Williams said), her smile, and her pearly teeth that seem to defy the number 32, are the perfect complement to her performances. . Longet had a timeless splendor, as if a magical DNA linked the beauty of Julie Ormond, Lorraine Bracco and Audrey Hepburn, all the way to her.

From 1967 to 1971 he recorded six albums. He didn’t sing tangos, of course, like Griseta, but songs by the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Tom Jobim and Leonard Cohen. A discography of no more than four albums. Short, sweet, perfect. Nursery rhymes for adults. the first disc, Claudia sold 500 thousand copies. Neither Edith Piaf, nor Francoise Hardy, nor Carla Bruni were as successful in the United States. Perhaps not even her producers knew it, but Claudine was creating what was known as easy listening modern, putting 40 years before the albums of Bossa n’… (add the artist or genre in question).

Already moved from Las Vegas to California, the couple of Longet and Williams became more and more recognized. A hypnotic wild card that attracted. Both were close friends of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and his wife, Ethel Kennedy. In the mid-1960s, the couple received the Kennedys at their residences in Bel Air and Palm Springs.

On June 4, 1968, the day of the California Democratic Party presidential primary, presidential candidate Kennedy and his wife arranged with Williams and Longet to visit The Factory nightclub in Los Angeles. According to Williams, Robert Kennedy told them that he would make a hand signal at the end of his televised speech at the Ambassador Hotel to confirm his meeting.

Shortly after midnight on June 5, Longet and Williams were watching Senator Kennedy’s televised primary victory speech in the same suite as the Kennedys. When Williams ran into the hotel ballroom, Kennedy stopped short of waving at him: A man had shot him, and minutes later he would lose his life.

Robert Kennedy, after being shot

Longet and Williams attended the funeral and with a choir sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Longet and Williams named their third son Robert (born August 1968) in honor of their late friend.

Already in the early 1970s the couple separated on friendly terms (they ended up divorcing in 1975). And in 1971, at an event in California, Longet met another star but from the world of sports: Vladimir “Spider” Sabich, who competed in the 1968 Winter Olympics, and was a professional ski racing champion in 1971 and later. in 1972. Longet was 34 years old, Sabich 31. Witnesses from the moment they met said that the crush was “thermonuclear fusion”.

Sabich had charisma, beauty and natural sympathy. And, of course, talent. She had a statuesque beauty, but human. A Ryan O’ Neall of the sport America loved. He had won the ski world cup in 1968. His recognition and fame were such that Robert Redford was inspired by Sabich to play David Chapellett in the film death’s descenta 1969 classic about the world of professional skiing.

Claudine Longet and her partner, Spider Sabich
Claudine Longet and her partner, Spider SabichMatt Green – Michael Ochs Archives

Before long, Longet moved into Sabich’s mansion in Aspen, Colorado. They were the most glam couple in a city that North Americans call a “chill Los Angeles”. Liberal like few areas in the country, Aspen was beginning at that time to be a popular refuge for celebrities.

Around this time, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson was running unsuccessfully for sheriff, and recently moved folk singer John Denver was writing several songs about Aspen. In the 1970s, Aspen (which today has no more than 7,000 inhabitants) was a substitute for California as a countercultural space and permissive and liberal use of drugs.

Sabich’s fame, his charisma, his magnetism, allowed him to attend and be invited to all kinds of parties. Witnesses indicate that the athlete, who came from having a hectic single life, began to dislike the presence of Longet and his three children. A few days before the tragedy, Longet threw a liquor bottle at her head when he learned that her partner was planning to go to a stripper party.

Claudine Longet, before the tragedy in Aspen
Claudine Longet, before the tragedy in AspenBettmann – Bettmann

“Claudine! Claudine!”, was what he said Longet’s eldest daughter, Noëlle Williams, heard on March 21, 1976. That night “Spider” Sabich returned from training and entered his house ready to take a shower. Longet approached less than 2 meters and shot him with his imitation Luger pistol, caliber 22. In the trial he confessed that before shooting him he asked him: “Would you tell me how this works?”, and immediately he said: “Bang! ! Bang!”.

Longet shot her boyfriend, who died within minutes, while the ambulance was taking him to the Aspen hospital. Only pulling the trigger doesn’t always mean being the culprit. Because what followed was one of the most famous media trials of the time, although today there are few materials left to account for it.

During the trial, Longet defended himself, alleging that his partner told him that “he would not shoot himself with the safety on”. Which then she pulled the trigger, panicked and tried to revive Sabich to no avail. The autopsy contradicted her: at the time of being shot, the skier was on his back.

A defense witness said the lock on the gun was faulty, leading to the belief that the accident was possible. The prosecution was unable to have a good case due to endless procedural flaws. Longet’s intimate diary -which showed that the relationship was in decline- or the blood tests that showed that the singer had consumed large amounts of cocaine and alcohol, were discarded evidence. The same thing happened with the testimony of the policewoman to whom Longet said, a few hours after the murder: “I killed him, I killed him.”

In Aspen there was no talk of anything else. It was the drama of the year. Journalist Hunter Thompson wrote that it was like “fouling your own nest,” referring to how the case ruined the city’s reputation for freedom. Saturday night Live did comedy skits with Chevy Chase, in which a female marksman (obviously alluding to Longet) shot down skiers in a slalom race; at the request of Longet’s attorney, the show had to take that skit off the air.

Longet with his attorney, Charles Weedman
Longet with his attorney, Charles WeedmanBettmann – Bettmann

Sabich’s ex-girlfriend testified that they had dinner a few days before his death and that he told her he wanted to leave Claudine. The prosecution said it was a clear homicide, but that the investigation had been marred by police imbecility. After two months the jury found her guilty: negligent homicide. She had to serve a month in prison in the term that she wanted; she did it for a year serving her sentence only on weekends. During her stay in the Pitkin County Jail she painted her cell in bright primary colors because she found it “drab and uninspiring,” according to Sheriff Dick Kienast.

Even the Rolling Stones wrote a song about the case, “Claudine.” The theme was not published until the reissue of the album Some Girls, in 2011: “Claudine’s back in jail (again) / She only does it on the weekends / Claudine / Oh, Claudine / Now only Spider knows for sure / But she doesn’t talk about it anymore / Is he, Claudine? / There is blood in the chalet / And blood in the snow”.

A few years after the trial, Longet married her defense attorney, spent time in Mexico and returned to Aspen, where she currently resides, rumored not far from where she lived with Sabich. According to GQ magazine journalist Robert Chalmers, she can sometimes be seen shopping. The French woman is 80 years old, she never sang again and many of her albums were reissued and are available on Spotify and other streaming services. But not the song “Nothing to loose”, which says and does not lie: “Both you and I have seen / what time can do / We will only harm ourselves / if we build dreams that do not come true”.

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Claudine Longet, the angelic actress of The Unforgettable Party who murdered her partner and inspired a song by the Rolling Stones

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