A Letter From The Publisher: Jul. 30, 1965. THE first time that Marc Chagall "sat" for this week's cover story was at lunch with a group of editors in a dining room on the 47th floor of the TIME and LIFE Building. The artist was enchanted with the view of Manhattan, particularly the bright mosaics of neatly parked automobiles on the roofs below. "Très Chagall," he said, and wished he could paint them right then and there. Instead he ultimately agreed to do a self-portrait for the cover.
Returning to France, Chagall soon learned that being interviewed for the story was no one-sitting affair. Paris Correspondent Jonathan Randal's first session with him at his Riviera home went well enough, but Chagall got uneasy when he learned how much we wanted to know. At one point he laid down an ultimatum to Randal, who was rapidly filling a set of notebooks. "You must read me every line of notes before I will agree to talk to you again."
Then Randal got a break. The Paris bureau telephoned with the news that Algeria's Ben Bella had been overthrown and that Randal, who recently completed a three-year stint in that area, was needed to cover the story. After hurried apologies to his host, he caught the next plane to Algiers. When he got back to the Chagall story two weeks later, Randal found the old painter most impressed that this young reporter who was interviewing him also rushed out to cover coups. Chagall demanded a complete, firsthand account of the situation in Algeria. Suddenly, Randal was In. From that time the maître called him "mon cher," and the conversations went smoothly. Before the interviewing was over, Art Writer Jon Borgzinner flew to France to join Randal for an animated session with Chagall and his wife on art, life and nature—cooled by Campari and soda.
Along the way, the self-portrait developed its own problems. Chagall tried and abandoned nearly a dozen. Finally he achieved what he wanted —a pensive ink-and-crayon study of himself with palette and easel, at a window of his studio, the characteristic colors of his beloved Vence countryside in the background. When Senior Editor Cranston Jones had the cover story and the color pages of Chagall's work ready to go to press and the last points were being checked, the master decided that the experience was "one of the great events of my life." Having recently received the red rosette of a commander of the Légion d'Honneur, Chagall mused: "First a commandeur, then a TIME cover. You see what happens when you get old."