Aki Lehman - Photographed by Fred Jagueneu.
Jean Seberg's life-long friend and supporter Aki Lehman has passed away. Aki met Jean while making Saint Joan. She was friends with director Otto Preminger who gave her a job on the film, which was Jean’s debut.
But Aki was quite perceptive: “It was not Jean, but Otto who played St. Joan.” After Jean’s separation from her first husband, she moved in with Aki. Much to Jean’s delight, the rue de Bellechasse apartment was filled with pets. It was not uncommon to find a cat curled up in a pan on the stove. The front room of the apartment was turned into an antique shop, which Aki managed. The Living Room was turned into a voice studio. Aki’s ambition was to become an opera singer, and she’d practice up to four hours a day.
Jean’s grandmother, Frances Benson, was Jean’s guest when she returned to Paris in the summer of 1960 after a visit to Marshalltown. She recalled Aki as having a “heart of gold, patient and understanding, and a comfort to her many friends—but is a miserable housekeeper.” Frances found her “very kind. On several occasions [Jean and I] ate there and she always cooked food for me the American way.” Aki was Japanese, fluent in her native language as well as French and English, and lived with her then-12 year old daughter, Suzy, at 55 rue de Bellechasse at the time of Frances’ visit.
Shortly after, Jean became involved with Romain Gary, and Aki with Robert Lehman, whose family founded Lehman Brothers investment banking. Aki married Lehman and had children, but the couple separated and eventually divorced. But she and Jean Seberg remained lifelong friends—perhaps Jean’s closest female friend in France—and Aki always doubted Jean’s death was a suicide.