Malou, mon chéri

Caleb Miller

Love, war, death, Nazis, Hollywood, wives, girlfriends and llamas: It seems far-fetched, but these disparate elements are but a small selection from a life that is stranger than fiction. At age 90, the French-American John Tschirhart has seen enough to fill an epic motion picture. In fact, that is exactly what he intends to do. He’s even considering two.

Born in San Antonio to French parents, John grew up in pre-World War II France unaware of his dual citizenship. When the Nazi occupation began, John’s American citizenship became a serious liability. After two scares with the Gestapo and a letter from the American embassy, John repatriated to the USA in 1941, leaving behind the love of his life, the beautiful Malou. Eager to return, John joined the United States Army Air Corps and became a B-17 bombardier, while Malou joined the French Underground. Two days before the liberation of Paris, John received the worst news of his life: Malou was dead.

While John grieved terribly, life went on and so did John — to Hollywood as a producer and actor, to Vietnam as a foreign service officer and to Libya as an English teacher during Muammar al-Gaddafi’s rise to power. Today John lives in southwest Austin with a young couple for housemates and three llamas for companionship.

Here, in a cluttered office strewn with artifacts from bygone days, John works tirelessly on his greatest project, an autobiographic film chronicling the love of his life, Malou, and the terrible war that tore them apart. Though he needs nearly $9 million to complete the project, John is adamant about the film’s worthiness.

With a youthful twinkle in his eye befitting a much younger man, John says, “This is a truth. This is fact. Fiction cannot beat that.”