‘Brave’ and My Audition to be Madame Picasso

Guest Blog: The moral of this tale if that our fate lives within us

“Brave” brought back my feelings of being engaged to Pablo Picasso’s son Claude, whom I wanted to marry. My father, my mother and my sister had wanted me to marry him as well. Of course money, property and prestige and their desire for my well-being were their motivations, just as Queen and King Magus’s in "Brave" were for their daughter Merida.

When Picasso died in 1973, under the moonlight in the graveyard of the Chateau des Vauvenauges, Claude asked me to be his wife. At this time, Claude’s mother began a massive lawsuit for Picasso’s estate, all of his paintings and seven castles. 

When I met Claude in 1971, he was penniless, while I was a top model photographed for the covers of Newsweek, Cosmopolitan and New York. I was a success financially. Feeling sorry for Claude, whose father had tried to arrest him as a young teenager and had exiled Claude from his life, I offered to support him. His grandmother was wealthy but gave him no money.   Claude wore my ex-husband’s clothing — and some of mine. 

In 1974, Francoise Gilot bought me a wedding dress and won her lawsuit against the French government. Claude, Paloma and Maya would be rich. Still, the flow-through from the government did not happen quickly, and for one year we lived off of my savings.

Claude began to change. I began to feel pressure from the family Picasso to dress a certain way and to be careful not to do anything that would tarnish the Picasso image. In "Brave,"  Merida felt pressure from her parents, the King and Queen. But the Picasso family’s image was one of illegitimate children not recognized by Picasso. This reason I disclose in my new memoir. Suddenly the clothing I bought for myself had to be approved by Claude, yet I was paying for this clothing with my money. Like Merida, my freedom was being erased.

In 1975, my wedding dress was dusty. From Paris, I called home to my mother in Philadelphia to find out about my father. In 1955, my father had been given a needless lobotomy to find out the reason for an uncontrollable twitch. During the operation the doctors discovered he had been suffering from Parkinson’s and apologized. My father, Herbert Emile Wagner, had worked at the Philadelphia National Bank and been known as an employee who never made a mistake. "Death of a Salesman" could have been his story.

“How’s Pop?”, I asked mother.

“Didn’t you get my letter?  He tried to commit suicide. Carbon monoxide. He’s in the Lankenau Hospital.”

“I’ll be home tomorrow,” I said through my tears.

I turned to Claude and asked, ”When are we getting married?”

He was silent.

“You’re doing to me what Picasso did to your mother!", I shouted.

He slammed his fist into the wall.

“If you want me, I’ll be in New York,” I said as I grabbed our toy poodle, Tutu, and boarded the first plane in the morning.

I had stood up to Claude, to his subjugation, to the rules of the Picasso family which left no room for my identity. I had to find courage to be brave. What really devastated me was that my father had wanted me to marry Claude, but I had to choose between my father or staying in Paris, which meant feeling as though I was auditioning for Madame Picasso. My father won without a second thought.

My lovely agent Ruth found me crying in my bed, “Stop the self-pity,” she said. “Columbia Pictures wants to test you for a movie, "The Fan Club." Raquel Welch, Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren have turned down the part. Do you want to fly to Hollywood to test?”

Suddenly I was on a plane for the unknown. As in "Brave" I was going to take a risk, to go to Hollywood alone. I had to find the stamina to face this town and its many suitors, but in my heart I hoped Claude would adjust to his position as head of the Picasso estate. He needed time, I told myself. Time.

Today Claude is the administrator of the Picasso estate, owns an island in Greece and is a billionaire, while I am a professor of creative writing at Temple University and will be teaching acting here in the spring. Enfin I am grateful we did not marry because I would not have had the experiences I have had in my struggle for independence which I’ve turned into a memoir and a novel. I continue to utilize my experiences in my writing and in reviewing books and movies and have learned experience is priceless.

"Brave" reminded me of my journey to break free of tradition and for my standing up for my independence. "Brave" is amazing, a feminist cartoon and a joy to behold. "Brave" is the story of a woman who wants to be liberated from the shackles of tradition. Merida is our heroine, a princess of the marrying age whose royal parents are determined to arrange her marriage.

She watches her chosen suitors and is repulsed at the selection. A competition between these three bullies and imbeciles is arranged in the form of an archery competition. ”I’m Merida,” she announces. “I’ll be shooting for my own hand.” Her mother is horrified. “This whole marriage is what you want. Trying to make me be like you. I’ll never be like you.  I’d rather die than be like you.”

Merida wins the archery competition and beats out all three suitors, which should mean that she has won the right to her own future. Her life. Her freedom. Her prowess with the bow and arrow humiliates the suitors and metaphorically proves them unworthy of her. Still the Queen wants Merida to marry. Driven by a thirst for independence and freedom, Merida escapes the castle and hordes of neighbors celebrating what they expect to be an impending marriage which will benefit their families socially and financially. 

“I want a spell to change my fate. I want the right to choose whom I marry.”

Merida jumps on her horse and gallops into the forest to find an answer to her trap of wanting her mother’s love and still to defy her by not abiding by the Queen’s wishes. She comes upon a witch’s lair and asks her to give her something to put a spell on her mother. The witch bakes a dessert and Merida gallops back to her castle to give this cake to the Queen.

Sure enough the Queen takes a bite and turns into a kindly bear. The rest of the film is about Merida defending her mother-bear from her husband the King, who sees the bear as a threat. 

Merida tries to explain to her father about the magic spell put on her mother, but he will not listen.

The moral of this tale if that our fate lives within us. You only have to be brave enough to see it.

This Pixar animated story is multilayered — not only for children, but adults. Especially those who impose their wishes, as well as material and social needs, upon their child by insisting the child have the same values.

"Brave" deserves to be a box office success, which is almost a guarantee. See it and enjoy it with both children and adults as this mixed audience tries to find a better way to love each other and to relate by giving each other the right to freedom. To independence. To choose.  Forget public opinion — follow your heart and all will be healed.