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France Honors Israel Horovitz

On April 3rd, 2012, Antonin Baudry, Cultural Counselor and head of the French Cultural Services conferred the insignia of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters on Israel Horovitz at the French Embassy in New York.  Israel Horovitz presented a short play in French and English for the occasion. Mr. Baudry welcomed the guests with the following speech.

Ladies and gentlemen! “Now we have a special “ encore” – our medal ceremony is about to begin.”

Tonight, we have the pleasure of honoring one of the greatest artists of our time.

His life is worthy of a novel, or rather of a play. He is an actor, stage director, playwright and a screenwriter. And his prolific talent has led to more than seventy plays and thirty screenplays, translated and published all over the world.

Ionesco called him: [QUOTE] “notre doux voyou américain” [END QUOTE]  (our dear little American rascal).” I prefer to call him “our dear American friend”.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome once again Israël Horovitz.

Our “show” will be short, and has a very happy ending, as tonight our honoree receives the insignia of Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the highest rank of this prestigious award.

Without further ado… our dear Israël Horovitz,

In the first “act” of your life, we find the story of a gifted, young man. Your first exposure to theater was a revelation, and the starting point of your career. At fourteen, you attended a performance with your parents of “The Grapes of Wrath” directed by Lloyd Richards. The play was so compelling that, by the end, you actually wanted to leave with the family on stage rather than with your own!  From that moment forward, you found your vocation.  And your perseverance and talent did the rest.

You wrote your first play, The Indian Wants The Bronx, at sixteen, and it was performed a year later in Boston finding immediate success. Your triumphs have continued to this day with the production of hugely successful plays and screenplays. Line, for instance, is now in its 39th year of performance, at the 13th St. Repertory Theatre!

More recently, the 70/70 Horovitz Project, created by NYC’s Barefoot Theatre, crowned your international prominence.  Beginning on March 31st 2009, your 70th birthday, and lasting an entire year, 70 of your plays had productions and readings by theatres in more than twenty countries around the globe.

And so I ask, how shall we characterize your rich and diverse work?

Ionesco (yes him again!) once said: [QUOTE] “Israël Horovitz is both realistic and sentimental.  I let you imagine how fierce he can be.”  [END QUOTE] One could not dream of a better compliment from Ionesco.  Your work is related to the tradition of the Theater of the Absurd.  But you have added your unique style: a touch of American realism blended with a fierce and edgy humor, which all together creates an exulting denunciation of the vices of humanity.

The second act of your life, dear Israël, could be entitled “Ma vie française” (My French life).  Indeed, since the very beginning, you have always had a special relationship with France.

Your first encounter with Paris was a kind of “coup de foudre” (love at first sight), as you have said, and you immediately felt you would spend a great part of your life in France.

As a young American student, strolling through the streets of Saint-Germain des Prés, you searched for the ghost of Hemingway, Joyce… and for Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company bookstore, at number 12 Rue de l’Odéon. Instead of ghosts, you ran into Simone de Beauvoir sitting at the terrace of the Café de Flore. 

So, since the very beginning there was this story of seduction between you and France.  And tonight, to confer the insignia of Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres upon you is to officially recognize your “love affair.”

But when we speak of your relationship with France, friendship is also important. And the memoirs you recently published, entitled A New Yorker in Paris (Un new-yorkais à Paris) are as much a tribute to your French friends as they are the most humorous and tender of self-portraits.

And talking about friendship, I must mention your first encounter with “Sam”, or Samuel Beckett, at La Closerie des Lilas, in Montparnasse in the late 60’s.  [QUOTE] “I prefer rats” [END QUOTE] is the first thing he told you, referring to one of your plays (Rats). This awkward introduction was the beginning of a long-term friendship, both personal and literary, since Beckett was as much a father figure as a source of inspiration for your work.

Even today, dear Israël, you divide your time between the United States and France, often directing French-language productions of your plays.  Many of the greatest actors on both sides of the Atlantic have performed under your direction, including Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Jane Birkin, Pierre Dux, and Line Renaud… Your talent is acknowledged as much in France as here in the United States, as shown by the tremendous number of awards you have received, including the Prix du Jury at the Cannes Film Festival for your Screenplay The Strawberry Statement, the Prix de Plaisir du Théâtre, just to name a few.

But your commitment to my country goes beyond artistic productions. You also share your professional experience in both France and America by teaching a master class in screenwriting at Columbia University and La Fémis, France’s national film school, as part of a student exchange program between the two institutions.

In short, dear Israël, you are the most froggy of Americans.  France is so much a part of you that you often say: “In a former life, I must have been a snail.”

And what about the third act of your life? It is still to be written, it is what comes next. And my dearest wish, Israël, is that we continue writing it together.

You once said, talking about A New Yorker in Paris:  “In my life, when I have a kind of experience that makes a good story, I tend to make this story a little better each time I tell it.”

These words deeply resonate with us as we attempt to write and recount the story of French culture abroad. Thanks to you, dear Israël, our story is better each time we tell it: you are the most-produced American playwright in French theatre history, you are a part of it, you are a part of us.

Israël Horovitz, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.