Actor turned local Francois Benard holding book reading, signing
Actor, screenplay writer and poet Francois-Marie Benard will read from his newest book of poetry Sunday afternoon at Tops'l community room above the pro shop.
"The Thread of Love" is a book of love poems and Benard will entertain his guests by reading for about an hour before signing copies of it and his first book of poetry, "The Dream of Life," which he published in January 2012.
Bénard, who now calls Santa Rosa Beach home, was born in Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, where his French Royalist family had self-exiled two centuries ago to escape the French Revolution.
"My father was instrumental in giving Madagascar independence," he said.
He lived in the jungle there, he said, for 20 years, before leaving to study acting and directing in Paris under the No. 1 acting coach.
While trying to reach his goal of becoming an actor, Benard worked varied jobs, including as the artistic director for Club Med, a financial advisor at Rothschild Bank, and as a reporter for L'Express Magazine.
He also studied in Rome and learned photography and mostly made a living as a photographer during that time.
In 1974, he moved to New York City and worked for Salvador Dali as a photographer and for an art director, and found some work on Broadway and in television.
"Working for Dali opened doors in New York," he said.
One door that was opened was meeting his wife Jo Ann, who was working under the screen name Lee Warrick on the soap opera "One Life to Live." He was appearing on "The Young & the Restless" at the time.
Benard moved back to France for a bit, a move that gave him his biggest commercial — for Paco Rabanne cologne.
"I was the first guy he used to advertise in his campaign and it was big at the European level with articles in every major campaign. It was sexy and won awards in all the countries. It really put me on the map. I did more than 100 commercials," he said.
But the franc was high and the dollar was low, so he returned to the United States, but this time to Los Angeles, where he met many of the big names and found more work in commercials and sitcoms.
He appeared on "McMillan & Wife" with Rock Hudson, "Charlie's Angels," "Scruples," "Dynasty," "Hart to Hart," "Falcon Crest," and "Jake & the Fatman," to name a few. He was also in the movie "Hostage Flight" with Ned Beatty.
In 1990, Bénard began writing screenplays; poetry followed in 1993. He finds inspiration for his poetry living at the beach.
Since moving to South Walton 15 years ago, Bernard co-founded the Emerald Coast Philosophical Society and is President of Benard Enterprises, LLC.
Here, he writes most of the time — sometimes poetry and sometimes screenplays — and helps his wife, who is a Realtor.
"I have written all my life," he says. "I have been writing poems since I was young for girlfriends and seriously about 20 years now. I have written more than 2,000 in all. I don't count any more. I used to write a poem a day and put it aside. Now it is time to deliver them."
He has been invited to read twice for students and faculty at FSU.
"I write a lot in the spiritual category. I have about 1,000 in that category. I was raised, trained and educated in religious schools and I'm very much a believer — but not religious. I am extremely spiritual. Even my love poems show spirituality," he said.
When Benard moved to South Walton he thought he would stay maybe three years, but he hasn’t been able to pull himself away..
As for the future, he says he doesn't know.
"I don't know if we will stay. It's great here for a poet, but I have written several screenplays and have options on them. I have 10 plays started. But I am not stimulated here to do that. I would love to perform my own work from my own material. I would like to go back to L.A. or New York and try one more time," he says candidly.
Bernard's readings will begin about 3 p.m. and he will read for about an hour, explaining the situation that led him to pen each poem. Scott Gilmore will play classical guitar, and guests can enjoy wine, beer, and hors d'oeuvres before and after the readings.
"It will be an intimate affair," he said. "It's all about love. Come and hear about me."
WANT TO GO?
Before moving to South Walton, Francois-Marie Benard enjoyed the spotlight in France, New York City, and Hollywood. Hear him read his poetry Sunday afternoon at Tops'l.