How Franco-American can you get?

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Maybe not everyone in France was glued to their sets May 23 when the American series Desperate Housewives aired for the first time on a free access French TV station. But a lot—an awful lot—were. And it wasn’t all due to the usual media hype surrounding the arrival of a highly popular U.S. show boasting a bevy of good-looking women overwhelmed by, engaged in or dreaming about all sorts of hanky panky. An almost equal audience pull was the fact that one of the series’ stars, Texas-born actress Eva Longoria, is also the much publicized girlfriend of Franco-American pro-basketball star Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs. Parker, who helped take the Spurs to National Basketball Association (NBA) championships in 2003 and 2005, has been for four years now almost as dominant a figure on the sports pages of French newspapers as France’s uncontested football (soccer) hero, Zinedine Zidane. The Spurs are not championship contenders this year but that hasn’t diminished Parker’s popularity in France. Basketball shoes bearing his initials and jerseys with his number 9 on the back sell like wildfire in France and he is credited by some with boosting the sales of French basketball magazines by more than 5 percent. One major French basketball monthly aimed mainly at adolescents, for whom Parker has become an idol, has put him on the cover for 11 of 13 issues. Parker, who is only 24, was born in Bruges, Belgium. His mother was a Dutch professional model.  His Chicago-born American father was a player on the minor European professional basketball circuits first in Belgium and then in France. Playing and living in France, his father acquired French citizenship, as did Tony, who now holds dual French and American nationality.  Like his father, he began playing pro-ball in the French leagues and led France’s team to the European juniors’ championship in 2000, where he also was voted the competition’s most valuable player. The next year he was voted the third best player on the French professional circuit and, in 2002, was recruited by the Spurs when he was still only 19 years old.  He thus became the team’s youngest-ever player and the youngest playmaker (“Meneur de jeu”) in the history of the NBA. Only one other player ever took his team to an NBA title at a younger age.  That was American basketball legend “Magic” Johnson. Although he is reputed to make well more than eight million dollars a year playing for the Spurs (a salary even bigger than Zidane’s) and lives, American style, in a superb villa outside San Antonio, Parker still holds strongly to his French roots. When the Spurs won the NBA championship in 2003 the first thing he did during the locker-room celebrations was to douse himself with French champagne and drape himself in a French flag. Longoria—although it hardly seems possible—is almost as much a celebrity in her own modelling and film world as is Parker on the basketball court. She has a well-established career in films and less-heralded TV series. She has her own website, adorned with modelling shots in a variety of scantily clad poses.  She topped or was in the top rankings of various magazine polls listing the year’s “hottest” female celebrities and just recently signed a much envied contract with l’Oreal to help plug their beauty products. The opening sequences of Desperate Housewives in France, unsurprisingly, were blanketed before, after and during with l’Oreal publicity featuring Longoria.    Longoria was interviewed prominently in the latest issue of Le Figaro’s TV magazine, which focussed, as did a number of others, on the arrival of Desperate Housewives to a mass French audience. The series, a Golden Globe winner for best TV comedy series and, by her own tongue-in-cheek admission, watched by Laura Bush, was aired last year in France but only on one pay TV station. Its launch on free-access television got off to a flying start with most TV critics giving it a three-star (the highest) rating along with strong urging not to miss it. She and Parker maintain separate residences in different states and don’t really mix up their professional and private lives.  But they make no secret of their relationship and often parade themselves together for the media. When asked about her relationship with Parker, Longoria said she is studying French and would like to have a baby someday but specified that she doesn’t have an engagement ring or anything like that and isn’t expecting one in the near future.   However, she said, “That doesn’t keep us from being happy…and Tony and I will be going together to the Monaco television festival in June to spend a vacation week on the Cote d’Azur.” As the current sexiest and most media-oriented Franco-American couple in sight, it’s pretty likely that you’ll be hearing and seeing more of them from Monaco in June whether you’re in France or America. Copyright © Robert Korengold
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