James Lipton: Why I wasn't a "pimp"

James Lipton
James Lipton, as seen in 2008.
AP Graphics Bank

(CBS News) James Lipton, host of the Bravo series "Inside the Actors Studio" -- now celebrating its 250th episode -- has interviewed many of the world's most famous actors, revealing secrets of their professional and personal lives. But now, the 86-year-old host has revealed a secret of his own, from his youth in post-World War II Paris.

In the 1950s, Lipton was a young man in that city, in search of his "rit de passage." He ended up in the sultry streets of the city's red-light district.

Lipton said, "Well, I don't believe in buying sex. I think that if you haven't earned a sexual adventure, you don't deserve it. I believe that to this day. So, no no no. ... I didn't want sex. My Parisian friend, he was much more casual about it. Then two beautiful women approached us and said, 'Would you like to see two women make love?' I said, 'I certainly would'."

One of the women, Regine, became one of Lipton's closest friends. "It was platonic," Lipton said of that relationship. "Anything else would have spoiled that. I certainly wasn't going to pay her. And she certainly wasn't going to give it to me for free because that would have been my exploiting her, sexually. So we were stuck, but we liked each other.

Lipton continued, "Months went by, finally, I ran out of money, and one night, I went back there and said, 'I have to go back to America.' And she said 'Why,' and I said, 'Oh, I just have to go back.' And she said, 'You're broke, aren't ya?' And I said, 'Yes.' And she said, 'The problem is solved. You're going to be my mac'."

Mac, short for macquereau, meaning mackerel, is French for what some would call a pimp. Lipton disagrees.

"A pimp exploits and abuses the women who work for him," Lipton said. "A macquereau does nothing of that sort. I'm talking about then. The macquereau works for the women. He's a procurer. He's an agent, so-to-speak."

He quickly became a pro. "I was the only American there, and they would be saying to tourists, American tourists, 'Would you like to see the Louvre, would you like to see the personal tour of the Notre Dame de Paris?' and I would say to them, 'Would you like a personal tour to Rue Pigalle? Would you like to see a sexual exhibition?' Well, I did a roaring business!"

Lipton spent close to a year as a mac for Regine and the women of the bordello, and he says he has no regrets. "I'm not ashamed of it," Lipton said. "She was my friend. I was of help to her. And we had some amazing adventures. And I did go through my 'rit de passage' in Paris.

"I never intended to discuss it," Lipton said. "I didn't intend to discuss it with you now. So your lips are sealed, and if you ever mention this, I'll have to kill you."