In the next of our exclusive interviews for 56Paris, we talk to acclaimed American journalist and author Mark Seal.


Having spent many years in Paris, he offers an array of insights into our city – from Kate Hudson’s favorite place to get hot chocolate, to the story of Hemingway’s bartender.


But it’s his experience of the historic neighborhoods of Paris that we’re sure our readers will find the most fascinating.



A knack for captivating stories


Mark Seal is a veteran author and journalist with a knack for captivating stories.


A contributing editor at Vanity Fair since 2003, his diverse portfolio ranges from exposés on Bernie Madoff and Ghislaine Maxwell to diving deep into the world of sports legend Tiger Woods. He’s twice been a National Magazine Awards finalist.


Mark is also a veteran chronicler of Hollywood, uncovering the secrets behind iconic films such as Pulp Fiction and the theft of the entire shipment of Oscar statuettes before the 2000 Academy Awards. And his latest book, about Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, is already popular with French readers and critics.


An American national, Mark has spent many years reporting and writing in Paris, and has an abiding love of the French capital.



The latest book from author Mark Steel


56Paris: Hello Mark. Tell us about your latest book, Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli: The Epic Story of the Making of The Godfather.


Mark: It’s the story of how the classic movie, The Godfather was made, including the dramas over its director, cast, crew and filming. Also, how individuals allegedly associated with the real Mafia tried to block the production in New York City, in the belief that it would stereotype Italian Americans, only to change direction and support the film once they met the producer and made certain concessions.


I’d written a story about the making of the movie for Vanity Fair magazine in 2008, entitled The Godfather Wars: How the clash of Hollywood sharks, Mafia kingpins and cinematic geniuses shaped a Hollywood masterpiece.


I was able to use some of the interviews from that article – along with many more – for a book published on the 50th anniversary of the movie in 2021.



56Paris: Your book was recently awarded the French Cinema Critics Award, what is that?


Mark: It’s an annual award given by the Syndicat Français de la Critique de Cinéma (French Federation of Cinema Critics), comprised of “leading figures in French cinema, from journalists to film critics.”


The Syndicat named the French edition of Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli the best foreign book on cinema in 2024 – for which I am forever grateful.



56Paris: Did you always want to be a writer?


Mark: Since age 13, when I was living in South Texas and struggling to write something for a class, and, suddenly, a flash of inspiration hit – and I haven’t been the same since.



56Paris: How did you get into investigative journalism?


Mark: After spending many years as a police reporter, a music writer, a features writer, and a travel writer for various newspapers and magazines, I began writing for Vanity Fair magazine in 2000.


I soon gravitated to stories that had a news angle, which often involved investigative journalism.



Uncovering the history of Hotel Lutetia in Paris


56Paris: What inspired you to write your piece about the Hotel Lutetia in Paris for the Smithsonian? Were you expecting to discover what you did about the hotel’s history?


Mark: I had long heard about the hotel’s World War II history, but didn’t know the depths of it… However, you can’t miss the Lutetia, which for so many years sat in disrepair on the Blvd. Raspail.


Now, after an extensive renovation, it’s the only palace hotel on the Left Bank. Its history is now covered in marble and glass, with a plaque on its beautiful angel-festooned exterior mentioning its past.


As I wrote in the Smithsonian magazine in 2019, the hotel was once “a Cinderella overlooked and overshadowed by her fabulous stepsisters on the Right (Bank) —the Ritz, the Crillon, the George V, the Plaza Athénée and the Bristol—which flaunted their dominance while the Lutetia remained mostly silent.”


Now, it’s made something of a valiant return.



Developing work for the screen


56Paris: Your book The Man in the Rockefeller Suit is currently in development to become a feature film or television series. Is this your first experience in taking your work to the screen?


Mark: In 2015, I wrote a Vanity Fair article, The Over the Hill Mob, about the aging thieves who pulled off the biggest burglary in British history. It became a basis of the 2018 film, King of Thieves, starring Michael Caine, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent and Ray Winstone.



Tales from modern Paris


56Paris: You wrote about Kim Kardashian’s jewel theft in Paris for Vanity Fair. Do you think that when the story broke people retained the fact that where she was staying was not actually a hotel?


Mark: The location is the Hôtel de Pourtales, a luxury residence comprised of nine suites and two rooms near the Madeleine church.


The French word “hôtel” in this instance means mansion, of which an annex in a courtyard was converted to guest rooms, without some of the security features typical of luxury hotels in Paris. Once something of a secret hideaway for many VIP guests, it’s now fairly famous.



56Paris: Was Paris the reason that you wrote your book Celebrated Weekends?


Mark: It was part of the book, published in 2007, based on a magazine column in which celebrities spoke about what they love most about their favorite cities.


Three individuals in the book spoke about Paris – Elizabeth Hurley, Phillipe Stark and Kate Hudson, each detailing where to go and what to do in ‘their’ Paris.


A few favorite things from the interviews: Kate Hudson loves the hot chocolate at Angelina – and Elizabeth Hurley the spaghetti Bolognese at the Ritz.


Also, the designer Philippe Stark described his favorite motorcycle route. He said, “I love to ride along the quay close to Pont Neuf at night. Riding along the highway of the quay, the Voie George-Pompidou, you pass along the Seine. You have the feeling that Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Because it’s like a theater set, it’s perfection.”



56Paris: Has Paris inspired you to write about events here, such as the story of Alexandre Despallières and his husband Peter Ikin?


Mark: I was able to traverse the streets he walked, visit the places he lived, from an apartment building in the Paris suburb of Bois-Colombe to a lavish apartment on Quai Voltaire (from the exteriors), and speak to the various individuals he convinced into believing he wasn’t merely an astonishingly handsome and cunning young man from Bois-Colombes, but an exceedingly accomplished and wealthy business mogul, who was later charged with the sudden death of Warner International Music executive Peter Ikin.


Alexandre died in Paris in 2022, before going to trial. You can listen to my Audible Original story on under the title, Love Until Death.


First experiences in Paris


56Paris: Where are you from originally, and what first brought you to Paris?


Mark: I’m originally from Alabama, then Texas. I first visited Paris as a tourist in 1982. Then, as a writer in 1989, with magazine stories including the fight between the super chef Paul Bocuse and the food critic Christian Millau; Hemingway’s bartender; Regine of nightclub fame; a young singer who, in one single night would race between venues to perform in the Folies Bergère, the club at the Ritz, and Le Duc des Lombards; the wild tale of a Dallas magazine publisher who moved his magazine to Paris, and more.


Also a story entitled, 24 Hours in Paris, an hour-by-hour, dawn-to-dawn, fast-paced adventure through the City of Light.



56Paris: How does life here differ from in other cities you have lived in?


Mark: I love that it’s six to nine hours ahead of the US, so you can get a head start. I love that you can walk for miles and see so much that you have never seen before. I love that, as opposed to where I’m from, you don’t begin a conversation, even with a complete stranger, without saying, “How are you today?” (Took me a while to learn this). I could go on… and on!



56Paris: What was your first apartment in Paris?


Mark: It was a small rental on Rue Jacob, old and musty and magical.



Parisian adventures and hidden history


56Paris: What is your favorite part of Paris?


Mark: In no particular order: the Pont Alexandre bridge at dusk; the Eiffel Tower from afar; the fish restaurant Helen and the time warp Le Voltaire and the Chinese restaurant Lao Tseu on the Boulevard Saint Germain; walks through the Tuileries and the Luxembourg Gardens; and Café Flore and the Hotel Costes, two places where I almost always find inspiration…



56Paris: What is the best (hidden) part of French history that most people won't know?


Mark: That a seemingly ordinary train can become a time machine, enabling you to travel back in time from the city, which is only an hour by train through “the splendors of French history,” according to the author Ina Caro.


In her fantastic 2011 book, Paris to the Past: Traveling Through French History By Train, Ms. Caro beautifully chronicles 25 of her “favorite train trips from central Paris.” Don’t miss this book – and the adventures through French history that she took with her husband, the legendary Lyndon B. Johnson biographer Robert Caro.



56Paris: If you were to give advice to people just starting their own Parisian adventure, what would it be?


Mark: Keep an open mind – and, as I do on every arrival – don’t assume you know anything.



56Paris: Where can our readers best find your books?


Mark: On Amazon, as well as real bookstores in Paris – if they’re in stock – the English bookstore, Smith & Son on rue de Rivoli, Shakespeare and Company and sometimes Librairie Galignani. Or via my website



56Paris are here to help


The interview with author Mark Seal is just one in our new series of exclusive interviews. Head back to our blog page to read the others.


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