individuality---panache! It's the quality we usually acquire
middle years when we no longer fear being different. Panache
lot older than that tired buzz word, charisma, and is more
original meaning was an ornamental addition, a tuft of plumes on a
helmet. Henry IV of England, Henry of Navarre, allegedly roused
troops with the battle cry, "Let my white panache be your rallying
point." I'll venture a guess that the expression "a feather in
your cap" evolved from the word's origin.
Pablo Picasso was visiting an exhibition of children's drawings and observed, "When I was their age, I could draw like Raphael, but it took me a lifetime to learn how to draw like them. You see, it takes a long time to grow young." (Picasso fathered his last child, Paloma, at age 68, and was painting on the day of his death at 92).
came late in life, partly
because I was a stutterer in my early years.
afraid to raise my hand in
class at the private boarding school my parents chose, even though I
answer to the teacher's question. I did
to be different. In
fact, the only thing I liked about the school was the uniform, a white
and navy blue jumper. We all looked alike, and
I found that comforting then. I thought about joining the army when I grew up, but I had learned in childhood that I was not good at following orders.
It takes self-assurance to develop your own style, the joie de vivre that usually comes with maturity. We can ripen at thirty, fifty, or seventy. It's not a dead end. "Maturity is a place you never actually reach," says Dr. Edward Stainbrook, founder of USC's School of Human Behavior, "Just be sure you're on the right road to do it. Check your direction, not the calendar."
It's all a conspiracy, you know, this age business. When the eternal Zsa Zsa Gabor was asked which of the Gabors is the oldest, the outlandish Hungarian replied, "Well, she'd never admit it, but it's Mama." Zsa Zsa's always had panache. Questioned on how many husbands she's had, Gabor inquired, "You mean apart from my own?"
I've always been opposed to counting age chronologically, even as a youngster. Coming from a theatrical family I noted that the actors we entertained at dinner parties always looked younger than my school teachers, though they were in the same generation. What made the difference was pizzazz, a grand manner, an outrageous sense of humor.
This is a fact: the whole world notion of slowing down, doing less, feeling older, and finally retiring came from Otto von Bismarck, first chancellor of the German empire. Life expectancy in Germany in the 1890s was in office. Only now is the figure being challenged and upped. (By the year 2000 one in eight Americans will be 65 of older).
People with panache don't seem to age. Their flair for life grows more colorful as they add new dimensions, accept new challenges, remain curious. You can dress and adorn your body, "…but style is the vehicle the spirit." So wrote English essayist Sydney Smith more than 150 years ago. And style is not the result of formal education or wealth. I've known grammar school dropouts who are sparkling stars, and Ph.Ds who are black holes with no ball of energy inside. And as Shakespeare's King Henry VI, Part II declares, "Whose large style agrees not with the leanness of his purse.
Mae West had it. Tom Wolfe in his white suits has it. Sensational Sophia Loren has it. Fred Astaire and Cary Grant had it forever. But some of the world's "most beautiful people" have no panache; there's no vitality, no inner glow.
can be shown in a
gesture. Audrey Hepburn told me a story about
her first meeting with Cary Grant (and Audrey
had in it spades!): "Stanley
"Charade" 1963) arranged this dinner so Cary and I could meet. I was a bit nervous, and I
just accidentally happened to knock
wine glass. Cary was wearing
pale gray flannel and it was red wine.
I ruined his suit! I felt just awful. And he knew it. He mopped it up very nonchalantly. The next day he sent me a box of candy to show he didn't mind, which was adorable." Now that's style!
You don't have to be a wit to have panache, but it helps: Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker, Groucho Marx, just for starters, still are frequently quoted. Sending a note to the hostess of a boring dinner party he attended, Marx wrote: "I've been to a lot of wonderful parties, but this wasn't one of them." A wealthy society matron in Houston, Texas likes to remark, "I married well and divorced better."
I think you're born with class, but you can develop panache. And keep developing it. Don't slow down; if anything, speed up. "The course of aging is not time-locked," says UCLA brain researcher, Dr. Arnold B. Scheibel. "It is possible for an 80-year-old to have a 30-year-old brain." The secret is use. "We know for a fact that dendrites are lost when they're not used," says Scheibel. "Keep challenging your mental and emotional capacities. Learn a new skill, study a new project, fall in love!"
The word famous cellist Pablo Casals was asked why in his 90s he was still practicing six hours a day. He answered, "Because I think I'm making progress." (Casals lived to age 97.)
You can have panache in any field. Gen. George
Patton had it. Donald Trump has it.
(Bill Gates does not have it.). Love him or hate him, Howard Stern has
it. People with
panache tend to be leaders, trend-setters, standouts from the
Elton John, Little Richard, and Tina Turner have it. Lauren Bacall had
it at 19 and still has it
over 50 years later. The late Princess Diana
had it, but Prince Charles never did. So if you have it, flaunt it, baby, flaunt
it. Vive le panache!
©Angela Fox Dunn (7-12-98)
Los Angeles, CA 90069
Biography: Angela Fox Dunn
Angela Fox Dunn has been a syndicated celebrity profiler for 18
years. She has interviewed some of the great stars: Fred Astaire, Lucille
Ball, Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope, Barbra Streisand, Michael Caine,
Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Robert Mitchum, and many others. Ms.
Dunn says the star who helped her the most was Lucy. "She was a giving,
generous, loving person. Like a cactus, she was prickly on the outside, but
soft and sweet inside. She gave me good advice and opened doors for me
to other stars. I owe a large part of my career to Lucy." Ms. Dunn's work, both star
interviews and service articles on a variety of subjects, has been internationally
distributed and translated into over 60 languages. She is a member of the
American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and is accredited by the Motion
Picture Association of America (MPAA).