PARIS — The French press is convinced that actress Farrah Fawcett is too sexy and frivolous to portray Nazi-hunter Beate Klarsfeld in a television movie, but Klarsfeld does not agree.
Returning to Paris one recent afternoon from a trip to Vienna, where she protested against the alleged wartime activities of Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, Klarsfeld expressed confidence in Fawcett. Fawcett is in Paris for the filming of "The Beate Klarsfeld Story" for ABC-TV and several European television networks, including the French channel TF1.
"I am pleased," Klarsfeld, 47, said of Fawcett, 39. "Her age is very good. She's very handsome and a good actress and well known in the United States."
Klarsfeld has watched Fawcett only once during the shooting and does not expect to go back.
"I have not the time to stay there," she said, speaking in the office she shares with her husband, Paris lawyer Serge Klarsfeld. "They repeat everything again and again. It's also embarrassing for her to have me there. What can I do? She has seen me. She is an actress. Now she must give her own personal construction to the role. We are not going to embarrass her with advice."
The French press has been scathing in its commentary about the choice of Fawcett. A highly respected leftist news weekly, Nouvel Observateur, called it "one of the most ludicrous casting ideas of the last half-century."
Liberation, a chic leftist Paris daily, said: "Basing this production on Farrah Fawcett the way 'Holocaust' was based on Meryl Streep and Golda Meir on Ingrid Bergman makes it possible for one to fear the worst."
Le Figaro, a right-wing Paris daily, said: "From the beginning, it was hard to imagine the blond Amazon of Farrah Fawcett in the skin of a fierce and idealistic battler. And the few words we have heard from Fawcett have not convinced the most skeptical."
The film, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who co-directed the British TV series "Brideshead Revisited," began six weeks of shooting in mid-May in Paris and Germany and on the French Riviera.
Written by Frederic Hunter, a former Christian Science Monitor foreign correspondent, the television movie describes the life of Klarsfeld, a young German woman who marries a French Jewish lawyer, works to expose Nazis and tracks down Nazi Klaus Barbie in Bolivia in 1972.
Tom Conti portrays Serge Klarsfeld, and Geraldine Page plays a friend of the Klarsfelds' who was a victim of Barbie when he headed the Gestapo in the French city of Lyon in World War II.
There seems to have been no hesitation about casting Fawcett. Her enthusiasm for the role, according to producer William Kayden, was a key factor in attracting enough interest to put together the $5-million budget for the movie from Orion Television, ABC-TV, Silver Chalice Productions of London and others.
"ABC bought it," he said, "when I told them I could get Farrah."
The Klarsfelds are heroes to many French, however, and it is difficult for them to visualize Fawcett, known in France only as a star of the "Charlie's Angels" TV series, as Beate Klarsfeld.
"For France," Beate Klarsfeld said, "she is always one of those detective ladies. The producers made a mistake by not showing 'The Burning Bed' to a news conference in Paris."
"The Burning Bed" was a TV movie in which Fawcett played a battered wife who eventually murders her husband by setting his bed afire. Fawcett was nominated for an Emmy for her performance.
The single, early May news conference in Paris was disastrous. Executive producer Judith de Paul, the head of Silver Chalice Productions, ran the news conference and tried so hard to shield Fawcett from questions that she infuriated French journalists.
Liberation described De Paul as "a kind of Cruella (the villain of Walt Disney's "101 Dalmatians") with crow-black hair." The short replies that did come from Fawcett were given more meager translations by an interpreter.
Asked if she wanted everyone to forget "Charlie's Angels," Fawcett replied, "Yes, I'd like you to forget it." She also said she "knew very little about Beate Klarsfeld and Serge before. But I was shown the script, and I liked it."
In the main, however, Fawcett, who was badgered by shouted questions that were continually vetoed by De Paul, sounded inarticulate and sometimes missed the point.
The most relevant comment at the news conference came from Serge Klarsfeld, who told the press, "When we heard about the idea of the movie, we were pleased. All we wanted was that the script would be faithful. We read it and found that it was." Klarsfeld gallantly said that he also thought that Fawcett resembled his wife.
But although Beate Klarsfeld is a handsome woman herself with light-brown hair, Fawcett, at the news conference, hardly resembled the image that everyone has of the confident, active and articulate Beate. Klarsfeld, who did not attend the news conference but read the news reports, said later of Fawcett, in an admiring way, "She is very shy. She has no allure of the star."