Almost a year ago, my sister and I braved Times Square on a Saturday. It wasn’t the kind of thing we’d normally do, but after reading and editing drafts of Michelle Moran’s Madame Tussaud, I had to visit the modern museum, and I knew my sister was the perfect companion for a field trip to the tourist epicenter of Manhattan.
Armed with my camera, we planned to photograph ourselves with various celebs: my sister dancing next to Beyoncé or in serious conversation with Gandhi; me, being thrilled as Tyra declares me America’s Next Top Model, or (more importantly) with Marie Tussaud.
We arrived on a sweaty June day and were relieved to enter the chilly air-conditioning of the multi-story museum, a stark contrast to Tussaud’s humble beginnings on the Boulevard de Temple in late eighteenth century Paris. I’d been living in Marie Tussaud’s world for months now, working closely with Michelle on every draft to the point where the French Revolution felt more alive to me than the current news cycle.
I was schooled in the ways of wax head and figure-making, which brought an education to our outing. As we posed Saturday Night Fever-style next to John Travolta, I excitedly informed my sister that in Tussaud’s sculpting days, teeth would have been sold by men on the street who had recently plucked them from an ailing—or not—person’s mouth in exchange for a few sous.
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We walked through many rooms and spent time with the Osborne family, Ru Paul, Miley, Pope John Paul II, Elton John, and one of my favorites, Britney Spears. What I loved about seeing Brit was that she has been outfitted with a mechanical heart—one can actually see her chest move up and down as if she’s breathing.
This seems clever to a modern viewer, but imagine walking into Madame Tussaud’s Salon de Cire over two hundred years ago and seeing the same thing. Marie Tussaud had a mechanical heart inserted in the wax figure of Madame du Barry, the notorious mistress to Louis XV, which was one of the highlights of the Salon in the late 1700s. This is the kind of great historical nugget Michelle brings to life so vividly in Madame Tussaud.
Madame Tussaud is a book I didn’t want to ever end. In fact, it was quite longer when we first began the editing process—mostly because Michelle is a fact-finding guru and has a way of immersing you in the time period with the most delicious of details.
Although not alive to have actually visit the Bastille, I feel I’ve toured the grounds and cells; I can nearly taste Marie’s mother’s spaetzle; I know the shock and horror of the first time a mob arrived at her Salon, demanding Marie make a model of a recently guillotined head; and, materialistically, I desperately want Rose Bertin to make me a dress (you’ll understand when you read the novel!) There are so many stunning, real historical details on the pages of this book, not to mention a beautiful, tragic, and ultimately hopeful story.
When my sister and I arrived at the final room of Madame Tussaud’s Time Square, I saw her: Marie Tussaud. She wears a simple white dress with a subtle blue floral pattern and she’s been sculpted later in life, not the woman in her twenties and early thirties who occupies the pages of Michelle’s book. But I knew her instantly.
She tilts her head to one side while holding out a hat, as if she’s about to set it upon icy Napoleon who’s standing a few feet away from her. Her expression is proud and peaceful, a woman who has overcome incredible hardship. I bent slightly and placed my head under the hat and for a moment, I was a waxen celebrity as my sister paparazzied like a pro.
If you’re in the Los Angeles area, don’t miss a very special book launch with Michelle Moran at Madame Tussauds, Hollywood.
And in case you missed it, check out this great post about Heather Lazare modeling for the new Jean Plaidy covers!