James Lipton defends one-time 'pimp' job in France

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By Randee Dawn

So, as many people learned for the first time Wednesday, the venerable host of the long-running "Inside the Actors Studio" was, for about a year, a pimp in post-WWII Paris.

OK, so maybe not a "pimp," per se. James Lipton sat down with Matt Lauer on Thursday to talk the semantics of prostitution-related jobs -- and about "Studio," which aired its 250th episode Wednesday night.

"A 'pimp' is an American word," he said. Instead, he noted, in France the term is 'mec,' and "the difference between a pimp and a 'mec' is profound," he added.

As he explained, "A pimp exploits and often abuses his women. And it's just the reverse with a 'mec.' A 'mec' works for his women."

Also, he noted, at the time he was "very young," it was just after the war and employment was virtually impossible to come by -- for French and foreigners alike. He wanted to stay in France, and this was how he made that happen -- legally, as prostitution was regulated in the country.

Lauer seemed genuinely shocked, claiming he'd never heard this in all the 20 years they'd been friends. Lipton reminded him that he'd talked all about it in his memoir, "Inside 'Inside,'" which published in 2007. "I'm shocked, shocked that everyone is shocked, shocked!" he laughed.

But it wasn't all about the old days -- Lipton talked about one of the greatest moments he'd ever had on "Studio," which was when Bradley Cooper sat down with him for an interview. "I was his dean, he was my student," said Lipton. "He was the first of our graduated students to come back and sit next to me on my show and the two of us burst into tears and we had to stop (filming) before we could continue."

The man loves his work.