Get the latest from TODAY
Genevieve, a French chanteuse whose mangled English was a running gag on Jack Paar’s “The Tonight Show,” has died. She was 83.
The singer died from complications of a stroke Sunday in the Venice area of Los Angeles, where she had been living for about three months, her stepdaughter, Hilary Mills Loomis of New York, said Wednesday.
Born Ginette Marguérite Auger in Paris, she acquired the name Genevieve because her baptizing priest insisted that church rules required an infant’s name to include that of a saint.
She gained a following in 1949 when she opened a small nightclub in Montmartre called Chez Genevieve that attracted the avant garde. Singer Jacques Brel and hotel magnate Conrad Hilton were regulars, Loomis said.
Genevieve not only sang but cooked the food and served it.
“She was a wonderful cook. She cooked like a real Frenchwoman,” Loomis said.
She eventually got an agent and toured internationally, singing for the dictator Franco in Spain and Egypt’s King Farouk, Loomis said.
She began her roles on Paar’s show as a singer in 1957.
“I was on for two or three weeks,” she told The Easthampton Star, a New York newspaper, in 1985. “And one night I had a terrible fever, a flu.”
During a commercial break, Paar took her backstage “and explained to the audience that he was going to take care of this little French girl with a fever. Someone brought me a cup of hot rum and butter, and even though I could barely speak English we talked and I drank,” she said. “The audience started laughing. I realized I was getting drunk and saying funny things.”
She became a regular on the show for about five years. Paar died in January.
Genevieve essentially retired after she married Ted Mills in 1960. The couple moved back to France, but later moved to Washington, D.C., where her husband had a role in the Nixon administration. The couple eventually settled for two decades in East Hampton, N.Y., Loomis said.
Mills died in August.
Along with Loomis, Genevieve is survived by stepchildren Alley Mills Bean of Los Angeles, an actress best known for her role on TV’s “The Wonder Years,” and Tony Mills of Oakland.