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Bernard Pivot, Host of Influential French TV Show on Books, Dies at 89

Bernard Pivot, Host of Influential French TV Show on Books, Dies at 89


Bernard Pivot, a French tv host who made and unmade writers with a weekly ebook chat program that drew tens of millions of viewers, died on Monday in Neuilly-sur-Seine, outdoors Paris. He was 89.

His demise, in a hospital after being recognized with most cancers, was confirmed by his daughter Cécile Pivot.

From 1975 to 1990, France watched Mr. Pivot on Friday evenings to resolve what to learn subsequent. The nation watched him cajole, needle and flatter novelists, memoirists, politicians and actors, and the subsequent day went out to bookstores for tables marked “Apostrophes,” the title of Mr. Pivot’s present.

In a French universe the place critical writers and intellectuals jostle ferociously for the general public’s consideration to develop into superstars, Mr. Pivot by no means competed together with his visitors. He achieved a form of elevated chitchat that flattered his viewers with out taxing his invitees.

During this system’s heyday within the Eighties, French publishers estimated that “Apostrophes” drove a 3rd of the nation’s ebook gross sales. So nice was Mr. Pivot’s affect that, in 1982, one in all President François Mitterrand’s advisers, the leftist mental Régis Debray, vowed to get “rid” of the ability of “a single one that has actual dictatorial energy over the ebook market.”

But the president stepped in to stanch the ensuing outcry, reaffirming Mr. Pivot’s energy.

Mr. Mitterrand introduced that he loved Mr. Pivot’s program; he had himself appeared on “Apostrophes” in its early days to push his new ebook of memoirs. Mr. Pivot met Mr. Mitterrand’s condescension with good humor. The younger tv presenter’s emblems have been already evident in that 1975 episode: earnest, eager, attentive, affable, respectful and leaning ahead to softly provoke.

He was acutely aware of his energy with out showing to enjoy it. “The slightest doubt on my half can put an finish to the lifetime of a ebook,” he instructed Le Monde in 2016.

President Emmanuel Macron of France, reacting to the death on social media, wrote that Mr. Pivot had been “a transmitter, fashionable and demanding, expensive to the center of the French.”

Mr. Pivot’s demise made up the entrance web page of the favored tabloid newspaper Le Parisien on Tuesday, with the headline, “The Man Who Made Us Love Books.”

Still, “Apostrophes” had its low moments, which Mr. Pivot got here to remorse in later years: In March 1990, he welcomed the author Gabriel Matzneff who, grinning, boasted of the form of exploits that 20 years later put him below ongoing legal investigations for the rape of minors. “He’s an actual sexual training teacher,” Mr. Pivot had mentioned with good humor whereas introducing Mr. Matzneff. “He collects little sweeties.”

The different visitors chuckled, with one exception: the Canadian author Denise Bombardier.

Visibly disgusted, she referred to as Mr. Matzneff “pitiful,” and mentioned that in Canada, “we defend the fitting to dignity, and the rights of youngsters,” including that “these little ladies of 14 or 15 weren’t solely seduced, they have been subjected to what’s referred to as, within the relations between adults and minors, an abuse of energy.” She mentioned Mr. Matzneff’s victims had been “sullied,” most likely “for the remainder of their lives.” As the dialogue continued — Mr. Matzneff professed to be indignant at her intervention — Ms. Bombardier added: “No civilized nation is like this.”

At the top of 2019, with the accusations in opposition to Mr. Matzneff accumulating, the outdated video drew outrage. Mr. Pivot responded: “As the host of a literary tv present, I’d have wanted an excessive amount of lucidity and power of character to not be a part of a liberty which my colleagues within the written press and in radio accommodated themselves to.”

On his present, there have been generally confrontations between rivals; typically it was simply Mr. Pivot and a visitor. Six million individuals watched him, and almost everyone needed to be on his present.

And almost everyone was, together with French literary giants like Marguerite Duras, Patrick Modiano, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, Marguerite Yourcenar and Georges Simenon. On one episode, Vladimir Nabokov, featured to speak about his novel “Lolita,” demanded {that a} teapot full of whiskey be positioned at his disposal and that the questions be submitted upfront; he merely learn the solutions. On one other, a haggard-looking Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, not lengthy out of the Soviet Union, spoke by means of an interpreter.

Mr. Pivot instructed the historian Pierre Nora in 1990 within the journal Le Débat after the present had ended that his favourite packages had been with the greats whose residences he had been permitted to enter — citing the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, amongst others. “I left them with the spirit of a conqueror who had slipped into the non-public lifetime of a ‘nice man,’” he instructed Mr. Nora. “I left additionally with the scrumptious feeling of being a thief and a predator.”

Most of Mr. Pivot’s visitors have since been forgotten, as he acknowledged within the interview with Mr. Nora. “In 15 and a half years, what number of forgotten titles, lined over by different forgotten titles! But journalism, as I conceive it, isn’t essentially solely about what is gorgeous, profound and lasting,” he mentioned. Mr. Solzhenitsyn, he conceded, “made me really feel actually, actually tiny.”

The responses he elicited have been typically completely bizarre, humanizing his exalted visitors. “Literature is only a humorous factor,” Ms. Duras mentioned quietly, after profitable the celebrated Goncourt Prize in 1984.

The tv host wasn’t happy along with her comment. “But, however, how is it that you just create this model?” he pressed. “Oh, I simply say issues as they arrive to me,” Ms. Duras answered. “I’m in a rush to catch issues.”

A bunch of American writers appeared on this system, too: William Styron, Susan Sontag, Henry Kissinger, Norman Mailer, Mary McCarthy and others. The poet Charles Bukowski was on in 1978, drunken and downing bottles of Sancerre, molesting a fellow visitor and getting kicked off the platform. “Bukowski, go to hell, you’re bugging us!” the French author François Cavanna, a fellow visitor, yelled. On a later program, a youthful Paul Auster basked in his host’s reward of the American author’s French.

Bernard Claude Pivot was born on May 5, 1935, in Lyon, to Charles and Marie-Louise (Dumas) Pivot, who had a grocery retailer within the metropolis. He attended colleges in Quincié-en-Beaujolais and Lyon, enrolled on the University of Lyon as a legislation pupil and graduated from the Centre de Formation des Journalistes in Paris in 1957.

In 1958, he was employed by Figaro Littéraire, the literary complement to the newspaper Le Figaro, to put in writing the kind of tidbits concerning the literary world that the French press delighted in, and Mr. Pivot was launched. He had varied tv and radio packages within the early Nineteen Seventies, helped launch Lire, {a magazine} about books, and on Jan. 10, 1975, at 9:30 p.m., aired his first of 723 episodes of “Apostrophes.” Another program Mr. Pivot hosted, “Bouillon de Culture,” had a 10-year run, ending in 2001. In 2014, he turned president of the Goncourt Academy, which awards one in all France’s most prestigious literary prizes, a place he stored till 2019.

In 1992, Mr. Pivot refused the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest civilian honor, from the French authorities, saying that working journalists shouldn’t settle for such an award.

“My father was very modest,” his daughter Cécile, additionally a journalist, mentioned in an interview. “He didn’t need to have something to do with that.”

Mr. Pivot was additionally the creator of almost two dozen works, principally about studying, and several other dictionaries.

In addition to his daughter Cécile, Mr. Pivot is survived by one other daughter, Agnès Pivot, a brother, Jean-Charles, a sister, Anne-Marie Mathey, and three grandchildren.

“Do I’ve an interview method?” he requested Mr. Nora, rhetorically, within the 1990 interview. “No. I’ve a means of being, of listening, of talking, of asking once more, that comes naturally to me, that existed earlier than I began doing TV, and that can exist once I not do it.”

Aurelien Breeden contributed reporting from Paris.



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