June 2008

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Nana Mouskouri & Frank Hardy

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz
Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

When the Grecian songbird Nana Mouskouri embarked on her first Australian tour, in 1976, she was greeted with rave reviews and the adulation of fans. Among the raven-haired nightingale's keenest admirers was a communist writer almost 20 years her senior.

Frank Hardy had been a public figure for decades. His roman à clef Power without Glory had created a publishing and legal sensation and become the must-see television series of the year. But the Dead Are Many had won him international plaudits, and his yarns about finagling dustmen and mug punters had carved him a niche as the oracle of the lumpen proletariat.

Despite his notoriety and success, Hardy was not a happy man. Socialist realism, lefty navel-gazing and shaggy-dog stories cut no ice with the Australian literati. Money ran through his fingers. The comrades were jack of him, his marriage was over and his lovers had deserted him. Pushing 60, he needed a new muse.

Nana Mouskouri's wistful stage presence, easy-listening vocals and geeky glasses had made her one of the biggest-selling acts in the world. She'd never heard of Frank Hardy.

When the tour reached Sydney, he arranged a backstage introduction, then deluged her with phone calls. Eventually she suggested they meet in Paris, her home since the early '60s. Hardy "snatched at the idea, like a prisoner who suddenly thinks of a plan to escape".

Their rendezvous took place at the Café de Flore, that most famous of intellectual hangouts. By then, Nana had boned up on Hardy's books and they'd talked at length on the phone. She was 41, recently divorced, the mother of two young children and "so anxious that my throat was dry".

Hardy was "agitated, a little out of breath, constantly fiddling". They talked matters of the heart. For all the novelist's "indefinable attraction", though, Nana didn't like being rushed. But, yes, she would see him again. He moved to the south of France, breathed deep the artistic atmosphere and accompanied Mouskouri on her European tours. She gave him The Little Prince. He called her ‘Pilgrim' and knocked out a novel in 23 days beneath her face on a garlanded poster. But when he declared his love, she demurred, opting instead for her business manager.

The grande affaire spent, Frank Hardy returned home. He died in 1994, obstreperous as ever. That year, Nana Mouskouri was elected to the European Parliament on a right-wing ticket. After 450 albums in 15 languages, she's still wearing the glasses.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

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