“A fabulous book of real knowledge.” “Fascinating, fast moving, illuminating ride.” “A wild ride of a book.” Such are the comments on Amazon for Tanya Constantine’s book, Out of My Father’s Shadow: Sinatra of the Seine, My Dad Eddie Constantine. Constantine, a local Rohnert Park resident, published the book in April 2019 although she wrote it 30 years ago, first as a biography of her father. Over the years she modified it to show his life from her perspective and publishing company Feral House finally picked it up.
“It’s about my tumultuous relationship with my father who was a big movie star in the 50s and 60s in France,” says Constantine. “It’s about the psychological difficulties I had, being the child of a celebrity. It’s not your ordinary experience. It’s very specific to people who are in the limelight and their children have a really unusual situation to deal with. It’s insecure, you never know what’s going to happen next, and usually the parent is a little narcissistic like my father was. It creates a very difficult childhood.”
The book however does not just share the difficulties of this kind of childhood, but demonstrates some of the excitement and adventures Constantine lived as well. Her father, American born, was also a singer and when Constantine was 11 years old she recorded a duet with her father called “The Man and The Child” (L’homme et l’enfant) that sold over two million records on the Barclay label. Before her father reached stardom in France and Germany, Constantine traveled around Europe with her mother, a professional ballet dancer with the Ballets des Champs-Élysées. As early as four years old she had a little role in the ballet “La Nuit” but was not allowed on stage in London since children under the age of 12 were not allowed in theatres at that time. She has memories of being relegated to hotel rooms while her mother was on stage.
When Constantine was five years old, her father, who was living in New York City and making a living singing radio jingles, moved to France to join his family. He started singing on the radio in France and made a name for himself. But it was not until he had a love affair with French singer and actress Edith Piaf who used him in a play that his career really took off.
“Then a producer discovered him and used him in a movie, Egypt by Three,” says Constantine. “That did not make him a star but that film was seen by another director who was looking for a character type to play an American FBI agent in France. When this director saw him he called him in for an audition and he got the main role in his first film, La môme vert-de-gris, released in the USA as Poison Ivy. That first film was such a hit. It broke all records. In his career, the statistic is that he sold 400 million movie tickets.”
He soon purchased an estate outside of Paris where he entertained international celebrities on weekends. Their household evolved into a crazy atmosphere as fame created pressure, fear of loss, and resentment, and Constantine ended up running away from home before the age of sixteen with a man who later became her first husband and father to her two children.
“People would stop in the street and mass around him and pull on his clothes to get a piece of him,” says Constantine. “It was pretty traumatic to witness that. As much as people think it’s really romantic and glamorous to be a movie star, it is not. It’s very, very difficult.”
There was one scary instance when Constantine was nine years old where her father wanted to see an audience’s response to a movie and brought along his wife and daughter. Unfortunately they waited too long after the movie finished and when the lights went on and he was recognized the crowd went wild. Constantine and her mother managed to get out but it was not until guards finally came to retrieve him that her father could get away from the mob.
Approximately 46 years ago Constantine left France for good and moved to Los Angeles where she met her current husband. They have been living in the San Francisco Bay Area for the past 43 years and in Rohnert Park for the past five years. She has worked as a stage director, singer, dancer, commercial photographer and as she says, “now an author!”