Archive for March, 2009

The Piccadilly Hotel, the Hotel Metropole (Midnight Follies) and The Flames of Passion.

Tuesday 5th December

Eva telephones me at 6pm “Fynes where have you been?”

“It is my second day of working Eva.” I say with a deep sigh.

She ignores my news “Well I am bored. I know we are going to the Hotel Metropole later but can we go for dinner first?”

“Of course we can.”

“Oh thank you Fynes. You are a dear. Can you pick me up at 7. I want to go to the Piccadilly Hotel to see the new ballroom.”

I pick her up and I am staggered at how beautiful she looks in a simple pale yellow gown encrusted with pearls from Worth. It is rather nice snuggling up to her and her chinchilla fur coat in the cab as it is rather cold.

The Piccadilly is an impressive hotel built in 1909 and favoured by Americans. We have dinner in the main restaurant which has some of the finest oak panelling in London. We admire bright crimson carpet with a large and impressive gold pattern and the general Louis XIV style decor. We eat a striking dinner.

The Piccadilly Hotel

The Piccadilly Hotel

“Did you know that the Piccadilly was the only London hotel to place adverts in the New York press?” I tell Eva.

She takes no notice as she tries to read the menu. I decide what we will eat because Eva has no idea about French. I could be unkind and say she has no idea about English either.

To start we have Les Hors d’oeuvre Moscovite comprising numerous little Russian dainties on toast. At once savoury, piquant and sharpening this was a good alternative to caviar. The salmon was delicately cooked with a creamy curd between the flakes with La Sauce Mousseline et les Concombres. The saddle of lamb (La Selle d’Agneau Orloff ) was exquisite. This dish was named after a former Russian ambassador in Paris. The lamb is roasted, filleted and sliced. A purée of mushrooms is layered with the lamb in the form of the original saddle. It is covered in a sauce Soubise with sliced truffles and garnished with braised lettuce, potato noisettes and stuffed tomatoes.

The Casse Royale brought pheasant, quail and larks. The latter was stuffed with foie gras and served with a Cumberland sauce. To round things off we had L’Ananas Glacé which was not too creamy and the best fruit to close a long dinner with its slightly acid tang.

After coffee and liqueurs we wander off. The new ballroom was opened in October and I am embarrassed to say that this is the first time I have been despite my love of dancing.

As we walk down the stairway from the restaurant I say “This must be one of the most beautiful ballrooms of the metropolis.”

“Metropolis?” queries Eva innocently “what’s that?”

The lofty and well ventilated room is extremely large and decorated once again in the Louis XIV style and I have been told it has a capacity of 4-500 people. At one end is a handsome gallery for musicians and it has a marvellous oak floor.

De Groot’s Orchestrasupply the first rate music and we dance to our hearts’ content. And, I have to say that despite not being a linguist Eva does know how to look good and dance.

In an intermission we watch Mr and Mrs David Leslie perform some novel dances. This is their first engagement in London but they are, I am told,well known at Claridge’s in Paris, on the Riviera and at Etretat. Later, several sketches are provided by another couple called Mabel Holmes and Wallis Norman, of whom I know nothing.

We move onto the Metropole Hotel in Northumberland Avenue and the Whitehall rooms where the Midnight Follies hold sway. The hotel was opened in 1885 and as we know Jack Haskell staged the first cabaret show here in October 1921, just over a year ago. Since then there has been a major battle with the London County Council who were horrified at the thought of a hotel providing a cabaret. It is perfectly legitimate for a private member’s club to stage a show but not seemingly a hotel or restaurant. So the LCC have been imposing severe restrictions on cast, sets and costumes in an attempt to close down the Follies and set an example to other aspiring cabarets. Of course behind this all is the rather boring Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks (‘Jix’ to the cartoonists) who seemingly abhors anything that gives people pleasure and has a reputation for hating nightclubs and drinking.

London’s swankiest place is the main ballroom which was a big lofty room lit by Chinese lanterns with a cluster of small supper tables arranged in a horseshoe fashion around a good sized dance floor in the centre. There were also discreet corner alcoves and a few even more discreet boxes but we were sat on larger tables on the edge of the dance floor as ‘the wishers-to-be-seen’.

The Midnight Follies at the Hotel Metropole

The Midnight Follies at the Hotel Metropole

We are in a swell (that is a nice American word isn’t it?) party with Dolly, Monty and Dorothy Dickson and a host of other acquaintances and friends including a dour looking Aubrey. Who is clearly not happy that I have taken Eva out. It looks like the whole of London has turned out for tonight’s show in demonstration against the LCC and that idiot Jix!

Dorothy remarks “Good news. The LCC gave consent for an elaboration of the show right at the last minute. Carl has been frantic and Gordon designed some amazing new costumes for the chorus which you will love Dolly I am sure.”

“Oh how rude of me – this is my friend Gordon Conway” Dorothy adds introducing her companion – a gorgeously chic attractive redhead wearing a provocative navy blue and white polka dot dress.

“We go back a long way” Monty tells me quietly “she is an amazing illustrator and costume designer and very close to Dorothy. She is married to the business man Blake Ozias but I do not know where he is tonight.” It turns out Monty and Gordon were dancing partners in New York.

Dolly and Gordon hit it off like a house on fire, no doubt talking shop and swapping notes.

On the stroke of midnight the orchestra stops playing, everyone hurries back to their seats, drums roll, trumpets blow a fanfare and the curtains open to reveal a series of glittering tiers descending to the stage. The show begins as a bevy of showgirls in wonderfully spectacular costumes descend to the floor.

The show staged by Carl Hyson has been produced by Paul Murray and is presented by three statesmen of the London theatre – George Grossmith, JAE Malone, Andre Charlot.

Carl appears in one number assisted by Vera Lennox and Cecile Maule-Cole and in another by Marjorie Spiers. The leading lady is Gertrude Lawrence, the star of Andre Charlot’s show A-Z, who I suspect is going to go a long way and is an admirable and sparkling personality. Dorothy tells us that she is no newcomer to cabaret having spent two years as the star at Murray’s club not so long ago. Another feature is the dashing, tall and robust Tex McLeod who does rope tricks and tells stories and goes down a real treat.

Gertrude Lawrence

Gertrude Lawrence

“He is from Texas and is all round cowboy” Monty says “he appeared in numerous wild west pictures before finding cabaret another forte for his talent. His banter is a close imitation of our famous comic Will Rogers. ”

The Midnight Follies has been designed to attract modern people who wish to dine well, dance the latest steps, then relax, drink and be happy to enjoy the cabaret. The whole atmosphere was one of young gay abandon. It is magnificent.

After the show we resume dancing. I have been dancing energetically with Dorothy and have two dances with Dolly. When we get back to the table Eva whispers “I really don’t like that Dolly Tree.. You dance with her all the time and leave me on my own.”

“Well Eva, all I can say is that I have counted at least 4 of your other beaus here. If you are that bothered I suggest you go and dance with one of them. Look Aubrey is very keen.”

I get up and ask Gordon to dance. Eva wanders off, but snubs Aubrey and finds Biffy instead. She ignores me for the rest of the evening and Monty tells me that Biffy takes her home. At 2pm I start thinking about the fact that I have to go to work and decide it is best not to stay out all night. To be my surprise the next day Eva phones and thanks me for her night out. It would appear I have been forgiven.

Wednesday 6th December

Mama wants to go to the cinema to see The Flames of Passion, the new film starring the American actress Mae Marsh at the New Oxford since the reviews have been excellent.

“I am told that the story is as broad as it is long, as fascinating as it is complicated and is improbable as it is unique. And yet it is very entertaining. Besides Lucile has dressed everyone and I want to see the result!”

The dramatic story is about a dissolute chauffeur who betrays a beautifully innocent young girl and through a vagary of fate kills his own daughter only to discover her true identity. However, there is also an amazing ballet scene created by Miss Purcell, the celebrated instructor, that softens the rather gloomy nature of the plot. Having said that Mae Marsh is superb and is supported by a galaxy of brilliant British stars such as Eva Moore, Hilda Bayley and others.

A scene from The Flames of Passion with Eva Moore and Mae Marsh

A scene from The Flames of Passion with Eva Moore and Mae Marsh

“Although it has some comedy touches, the tragic vein of the story is well suit to Mae Marsh who plays such distressed heroines so well” says Mama afterward “I am now looking forward to the next Graham Cutts’ film with Mae Marsh called Paddy the Next Best Thing, with more Lucile finery I am sure!”


Read Full Post »

Frascati’s and the Grafton Galleries (The Midnight Revels)

Wednesday 29th November

Father decides to have a quiet word. “What is this?” he asks indicating a range of newspapers and magazines opened at particular pages on a table in his office.

“Oh that” I say sheepishly “well… I meant to tell you… but you were so busy and I forgot.”  There in black and white were my debut pieces as a restaurant critic. I explain all. Papa is patient and seemingly intrigued.

“Well, they are jolly good Fynes” he says approvingly “but it has got me thinking about your future again. I have decided that you will come into the business a few days a week to learn the ropes.”

My heart sinks. Work. How am I going to cope with my busy social life?

He clearly knows what I am thinking “Don’t worry it will not be too arduous dear boy. You can start at 10am and only do 3 days a week. And you will be away on the Riviera for several weeks early next year so you can build up to full time after that. You will get used to it.”

“Eva” I say on the telephone “I have had a fright. I need a night out. I will pick you up at 7pm and we will go to dinner at Frascati’s and then a cabaret.” Frascati’s is one of Eva’s favourite places. She can never say no.

Frascati’s at 32 Oxford Street is celebrated for its cosmopolitanism, which Eva still does not understand because it contains an ism. The façade comprises a handsome gold portico and gold metalwork frames the large windows. One enters via a yellow and gold revolving door into what Eva calls rather charmingly “fairyland.” There is simply nothing like it in London and the architect built one other in Amsterdam. Apart from the magnificent décor in gold and silver the proprietors of Frascati pride themselves on their flowers and floral decorations are everywhere.

Frascati's Restaurant

Frascati's Restaurant

We enter the spacious vestibule or lounge area with thick red pile carpets in futurist patterns, vividly coloured brocade settees, brocade curtains and large gilt chandeliers. Eva is looking ravishing tonight. She truly is a beauty and is noticed immediately by dozens of admiring eyes. It makes me feel good.

On the right of the lounge is the Grill Room with large open charcoal grills. The central space is the actual restaurant which is a spectacular and immense room called the Winter Garden that rises to a huge glass dome and also has a wide balcony that overlooks the space below.

We take an extensive repast that includes a bottle of Chablis and Les Pérles de Whitstable, La Crème Souveraine, La Ruche Financiere, Les Supremes de Perdreau Sans nom la Salade Lelia, La Parfait de Foie Gras et La Durprise Frascat Mignardises.

The Chef Jules Matagne, who was chef to late King Leopold of Belgians, maintains his touch and I send my compliments.

“So what fright have you had Fynes?” asks Eva sweetly. I tell her the story of my conversation with Papa.

“Yikes” she says “work” and carries on eating.

There is a wonderful orchestra and we dance on a dance floor that is shaped like a banjo following the curve of the balcony and extending into one of the restaurant wings and continue our conversation about nothing in particular.

Later, we take a cab around to the Grafton Galleries at 7 Grafton Street to meet Dolly and Monty to see the launch of a brand new cabaret show. The Grafton club has 5,000 members and it is regarded as the place you come onto from somewhere else. Its chief attraction is the vast ballroom, with a beautifully expansive high ceiling, that is perfect for dancing.

When we arrive Dolly and Monty are part of a big group that includes Dorothy Dickson and Carl Hyson.“Fynes, I want a dance later please” says Dorothy with a big smile.

“This place has been the Valhalla of dancing for more years than one cares to remember” Dolly tells me as I have only just joined the club “and I have been here countless times…you will love it here.”

“It is rather marvellous” I say “and certainly not like those postage sized dance floors that are seemingly popular in the more intimate smaller night clubs or restaurants.”

“I have been here many times before” says Eva “but I really do not think it is cosy.”

The general conversation is about the show. “It has been staged by fellow yanks Ted Trevor and Jack Haskell” says a rather puffed-up Monty “and we have been promised the largest cabaret spectacle yet produced in this country. When war broke out Ted Trevor was too young to join the American forces and so joined the British Royal Flying Corps. He stayed here and to took to his next love dancing. Jack is a fascinating chap. He was originally a dancer and before the war worked in Australia before coming to London. He actually staged the first edition of the Midnight Follies at the Hotel Metropole last year and has been working for George Grossmith.”

“Ah well” interrupts Dolly “You haven’t heard the latest developments Monty. You see they are both rather temperamental and had a tiff and Trevor stormed out. That means we are also denied the blissful dancing of Mr Trevor and his partner Dina Harris.”

“That’s a shame they are one of the best dancing duos in London” says Eva.

“Oh you need to see my dancing with Peggy Harris” says Carl “Peggy is Dina’s sister by the way.”

“Oh what fun” squawks Eva.

“Incidentally…” says Dorothy “Haskell might be fascinating but do remember he also had a tiff with the management over The Cabaret Girl and withdrew his services.”

The cabaret is called The Midnight Revels and it is in two parts with special lighting, quick change costumes and effects and a full chorus of twenty gorgeous girls. The star is the American cabaret artiste Jessica Brown, who had previously appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies and the Century Revue in New York and is a beautiful dancer.We particularly liked the quirky Operatic Tango provided by Lola Krasavina and Gilbert Stacey. However, the sensation of the night was provided by Evon Pinard as ‘The Lady in Bronze’ who danced around the tables just before the finale, wearing a tiny loin cloth and breast plates with her body totally bronzed. There were gasps from the audience and two ladies actually walked out!

Jessica Brown

Jessica Brown

Dorothy interjects “of course this might be new here but Evan Burrows Fontaine gave a similar semi-naked dance at the Palais Royal in New York some time ago and caused a similar furore.”

After the show Haskell comes over to our table with Jessica Brown and talks to us.

“Hello Dorothy. Hello Carl. Hello everybody. I hope you enjoyed the show.”

“Oh yes it was superb Jack” says Dorothy.

“… you were divine” says Dolly to Jessica.

“I will be changing the show every week so do come again!” Jack says.

“So you started our cabaret craze Jack” I ask “with the Midnight Follies?”

“Well sort of…. actually I did stage a show with the wonderful Odette Myrtil at Ciro’s in early 1917 but because of the war the government closed it down!”

I am beginning to think like a journalist and an idea for a story begins. I will write something about the origins of cabaret. I can talk to Mama and Papa about what they did before and after the war.

I have a delightful time dancing with Eva, Dolly and Dorothy. Jessica is a wiz too. She says she loves London but because of rehearsals has not been out much.

“I do like lunch. That is usually my breakfast” she laughs.

“Would you like me to take you for lunch?” I ask holding her tight.

“Oh yes Fynes. That would be terrific.

As we prepare to leave Carl tells us all “Oh don’t forget we launch the new Midnight Follies next week. Please do come along.”

Thursday 30th November

I meet Jessica for lunch at Ciro’s. We eat lightly and talk hugely. She is very entertaining and very sociable. We walk around London in the afternoon and I show her the sights. She is most appreciative.

Read Full Post »

Claridge’s, Clover Club, Grandy Teddy, Zelli’s, El Garron, Abbaye de Theleme, Washington Palace.

Friday 20th October

The next morning Mimi’s housekeeper makes a delightful English breakfast. Millie joins Monty and I. I have to tell you that Millie and Henri have their own family house in Paris but sometimes stay here.

“Do you really have to map out our nocturnal fun so precisely Millie?” I enquire nicely.

“Look” she says in a very matter-of-fact way “I am only doing what Mama has asked by keeping an eye on you. As long as you come to the gala at Claridge’s tonight I can report back that we had a good evening. What you do afterward is fine by me.”

“Oh you are an egg Millie” I squawk rather too delightedly. At least we do not have implement plan B which Monty and I hatched last night.

“Oh good’ says Monty “you see I interviewed a rather wonderful Spanish lady yesterday afternoon.” He says enthusiastically “… and I have been asked to see her performance tonight.”

“Oh we must come too. Who is it?” says Millie.

“It is the Spanish singer Raquel Meller. But alas, unusually they are ticketing her performances. I have only been given two tickets. Her shows are so popular she is sold out for the entire week.”

“I really want to experience La Tournée des Grands Ducs if we can too.”

“hmm” Millie replies “I guess you will be coming home as we serve breakfast tomorrow then?”

“Yes, I think we probably will” I admit.

Feeling much more relaxed, Monty and I take a stroll along the river Seine and around Le Jardin Tuilléres, have coffee and croissant and idle away the day talking.

That evening we go to Claridge’s for one of their popular Soirée de Gala dinner-dances. Millie has organised everything to perfection. Costumes arrive at 4pm. We change and then assemble for cocktails as our escorts also assigned by Millie arrive. Since I told Millie that Gabrielle is dull she has matched her up with Monty to his utmost chagrin. But I have the delightful company of Odette, who is an amazing dancer.

There are over 300 people assembled in the sumptuous restaurant and ballroom appropriately decorated to carry out the idea of Une Féte Chez Mephisto. We are all dressed in red and black or white and look very sinister and spooky. Dinner is a treat with equally spooky treats and Sherbo’s band played the latest Broadway music but focus on the foxtrots.

“They have the happy knack of keeping up with the times and are every bit as good as when they played in London at Ciro’s” says Monty.

There was also an Argentine orchestra led by Del Horno who dispensed the tango and a further jazz band. The cabaret is provided by the exquisite exhibition dancing of Jack Gavin and June Day and they were terrific receiving a standing ovation.

Millie tells us “this is Jack Gavin’s fourth season here. He crossed the Atlantic with Joan Sawyer in 1919 and created a great stir with the introduction of the Shimmy. They appeared at a benefit given in Paris by Mme Poincare and were personally congratulated by the first lady of France. They were immediately signed by Claridge’s.”

Monty adds “Last fall he was at the Embassy Club in London and then danced at the Negresco Hotel during the Riviera season. He has quite a following here and London. And I have to say June matches him perfectly”

June brings Jack over and introduces us. He is delightful, if a little full of himself, but then he is the star of the show I guess!

We dance for a while and after an hour or so, as the room begins to thin a little, Monty looks at his watch and announces “Millie I am afraid that Fynes and I will have to leave shortly.” We rush back to change at Mimi’s and get a cab to the Clover Club. We have good seats despite the crush and the atmosphere is electric in anticipation of Miss Meller’s performance.

Monty tells me a little about her. “She came from a poor family in Southern Spain and made her debut as a singer of risqué songs at the Arnao Theatre in the Parabello red-light district of Barcelona. She became an instant hit and appeared all over Spain. She made her Parisian debut in late 1919 at the Olympia and was brought to London by Albert de Courville to appear in Joy Bells at the Hippodrome in the summer of 1920. But although she got rave reviews she did not draw the anticipated large audiences.”

Raquel Meller

Raquel Meller

Suddenly the lights dim and Miss Meller walks onto the empty dance floor wearing a typical Spanish costume. She is incredible with a beautiful pale face, a tempting mouth and smouldering dark eyes. She begins to sing with a frail and delicate voice that is so emotive and haunting. She is mesmerising even though she sings in Spanish, and she is given a standing ovation. Before she sings her next song called El Relicario she has a slight hiccup with the backing orchestra and her temper flares.

“She is rather spoilt I think and I am told she can be quite temperamental as you can see…” whispers Monty with a titter.

We leave and pop over to the Grand Teddy or The So Different at 24 Rue Caumartin. Monty tells me that it is partly owned by the society party fixer Elsa Maxwell.  Here, Jenny Golder from the Folies Bergere is the star turn. Her performance well timed to follow Miss Meller across the street!

“She is English you know although born in Australia. For some reason everyone is confused about her origins” Monty tells me “probably because she swears in Italian, sings in English, gossips in German, drinks in Russian, behaves in French and explains it all in Spanish.”

Jenny Golder

Jenny Golder

She is an all round entertainer with a vibrant personality who can sing and dance, give impersonations and mingles a wonderful sense of humour with sex appeal. She is very clever and very funny.

We get into conversation with a gentleman who tells us where we ought to go on our tour. Monty agrees with everything he says. He is nothing short of polite but since he knows Paris like the back of his hand because of his job I think I trust him more! And, as I thought Monty turns out to be the perfect guide.

Just after midnight we head off up to Montmartre and our first stop is at Zelli’s bar, 16 Rue Fontaine which is a big raffish cavernous room lined with tables and packed to overflowing. “Joe Zelli is a rather happy, good-time Italian” says Monty “and since I am half Italian I should know all about Italians! He got his start running a restaurant in New York and then moved to London. He fought in the Italian artillery during the war and after the armistice catered to US officers at the original American bar at Tours. He made Paris his home and migrated from a nightspot on the Rue Caumartin to here. Some people think he is one of the most popular characters in Montmartre, while others think he is dubious and has a bad reputation.”

“Well it has got a great atmosphere but if you ask me I think this place is a little sleazy.” I say  “let’s face it the room is populated with a great many suspicious looking characters.”

“That is nothing out of the ordinary for places like this Fynes. The secret of Zelli’s success is due to his enormous stable of hostesses and gigolo’s. He has already made a fortune because he knows how Americans like to have their name remembered and his wife is French and she looks after the cash and the books!”

I am not that impressed by the band and the impossible crush prohibits good dancing. I cannot really believe why this place is regarded as one of the gayest places in Montmartre.

“Of course all us Yankees gravitate here”  says Monty “usually there is a good cabaret show in the typical international Parisian style. But not tonight seemingly.”

We move on down the street to the more palatable El Garron at 6 Rue Fontaine. This is a stuffy but smart place and is the lair of the Tango in Paris.

“This is owned and run by one of the Volterra brothers, who have their fingers in so many Parisian music halls and cabarets” says Monty “it is hugely popular with Argentines and South Americans.”

I prefer this place and we have a great time dancing to the excellent band.

At La Gaité Montmartroise or Chez Mariétte, formerly le Grand Vatel in the Rue Pigalle, we watch the dancing of the American Solange with the slogan Joy Jazz and Jollity. But we move on to the definitely rather jolly Pigalle’s on the Place Pigalle, which is a very smart establishment with two orchestras that play excellent music.

An advert for Pigalle's

An advert for Pigalle's

Our last port of call is the extremely popular and very fashionable at 1 Place Pigalle. “The Abbaye is the oldest of all the Montmartre supper places and was formerly a church. Do you know that before the war the waiters were garbed as monks?” Monty tells me.  We climb a stairway and enter a large hall brilliantly lit with lights and lanterns and decorated with flags in vivid spots of colour. The central dance floor was surrounded by horde of little tables all placed terribly close together. It was heaving with people even as we left at 5am.

Saturday 21st October

I forgot to tell you” says Monty at 4pm the next day as we had lunch nursing severe hangovers “the French call all the cabarets where you can dance ‘dancings’. Isn’t that kind of cute?”

“Lovely. In fact Millie told me about a super ‘dancing’ close by. We ought to go tonight.”

We take Millie and Henri and stroll to the Washington Palace at  14 Rue Magellan off the Champs Elysees near the Arc de Triomphe for a dinner-dance in a rather large and handsome ballroom that very clearly rivals that of Claridge’s. Fusella’s Orchestra is furnishing the music for the tangos and the Melody Six play the jazz numbers and it was marvellous. I am in great demand and dance for hours.

The entertainment between the dances was essentially Parisian in quality and excellent. But of all the acts the best was the comic dancers Billy Revel and the Parisian Lily Floriane were costumed as Apaches and danced a Valse Chaloupee (or in fact an Apache dance) and then did an amusing imitation of the American Camel Walk. Billy is English with an eccentric clownish style not lacking in character and has just started making a name for himself.

“He possess the art of being extremely funny without being coarse as only English mimics know” says Monty perfectly.

No more dancings tonight. I think we overdid it last night. 

Read Full Post »


Prunier’s, Ambassadeur’s and the New York Bar

Thursday 19h October

Monty is popping over to Paris again for a few days so I agree to join him. “It will just be us.” He says enthusiastically. “We can live it up a bit and go on  La Tournee des Grands Ducs.” 

“Aubrey mentioned that a couple of weeks ago and I still have no idea what it is.”

“Aha. It means a tour of all the night clubs in Montmartre dear boy. But the French now call it La Tournee Americaine!  I simply cannot think why! Actually, etymologically it stems from the term applied to the yearly trips to Paris by Russian noblemen and their nocturnal forays into Parisian nightlife.” Monty knows everything.

Once again, for speed, we fly from Croydon airport to Le Bourget and arrive in Paris in time for lunch. I insist on going to Fouquet’s bar at 99 Champs Elysees. There is no better vantage point for viewing the tide of elegance and fashion and its clientele is predominately of the ‘Le Monde ou l’on s’amuse.’ Needless to say we attract attention too. After all we are young, handsome and rather flush!

I should mention that Monty has private means coming from a very well-heeled New York family. He loves writing and his job as journalist and he is lucky to be able to do something he loves so much in his own time and in his own way. Since he covers society gossip and the arts our adventures sometimes feature in his various columns. And, he knows so many personalities many of whom he has interviewed. He is continually trying to get me to write and says I would do well as a restaurant critic since I know my food!

Monty disappears for the afternoon to interview someone and I make my way to Aunt Mimi’s house where we will stay this time. She is in London with Mama on her revived mission to find a new husband. She has already been through three but to be fair the last one snuffed it. And he was the nicest.

I am having a nap when there is a commotion downstairs. The commotion enters my room and pounces on me in the form of Millie my sister. Although she and Henri have their own house in Paris, she often stays here if there is a family gathering.

“Surprise” she squawks.

“Drat” I think, “that is our fun wrecked.”

“What are you doing here?” I ask clearly miffed.

“Oh Mama telephoned and told me you would be here so we came back early from the country. I simply had to see you. It has been ages. We will stay here and keep you company!

We natter endlessly as Mimi’s housekeeper brings us cups of tea and biscuits until she says “well I guess we had better get ready.”

“Ready for what?”

“I have booked the theatre and dinner. Henri will join us. And I have asked some friends. Alas, your Cécile is unavailable. But you knew that already didn’t you?” she says with a sly smile.

“ Where is Monty?”  she adds.

“He will be back very soon”  I am gutted. Monty will be livid.

“I am so embarrassed that even now my mother is trying to control my life via my sister”  I blurt to Monty behind closed doors as we change.

“We have to escape somehow”  he says “If not tonight then tomorrow night.”

We discuss strategy and come up with a few plans. But first we decide I should tackle Millie tomorrow morning. Perhaps a direct attack would work!

We meet in Fouquet’s again. As we sip cocktails, a horde of Millie’s friends arrive. Some have been clearly selected to keep us amused and occupied. But she has made a slight miscalculation with her first introduction. “Boys. This is June Day. She is THE dancing sensation of Paris at the moment. She has just done a little season at the Alhambra with Harry Pilcer and we are going to see her at Claridge’s tomorrow night.”

“Hello June” says Monty with a red face “or should….”

“Monty darling” June gushes and smothers him with kisses stopping him from saying anything further.

“Oh I should have know that all you Americans know each other” says Millie with a frown.

Even though it is close by we get a fleet of cabs to the smart little Ambassadeurs Theatre just off the southern end of the Champs Elysees on the Rue Gabriel. We are seeing the Oscar Dufrenne production of La Revue de la Femme which is drawing to a close after a few months run.

Programme for La Revue De La Femme, Ambassaseurs Theatre, Paris

Programme for La Revue De La Femme, Ambassadeurs Theatre, Paris

The French dancer and actress Paulette Duval is the star and is considered to be one of the most beautiful women in Paris. She is ravishing. “She starred in the film Poppea, a feature all about Nero, that was released in May” says Monty “it was abysmal. But she is untarnished.”

The real stars of the show are the gorgeous Guy sisters – Edmonde, Christiane and Marie – along with their incredible partner Ernest Van Duren.  They are magnificent in the scene Speed, but the most spectacular scenes are Les Ambassadeurs en 1880 and Les Mers. The latter has a stunning array of costumes by Erte representing the great seas of the world including the Mediterranean, the Baltic, the Red, the Black and White sea.

“I have been trying to get an interview with that Edmonde Guy for months” says Monty.

Edmonde Guy and Ernest Van Duren

Edmonde Guy and Ernest Van Duren

After the show we are taken to the wonderfully fashionable Prunier restaurant at 9 Rue Duphot near the Madeleine. This is the premier sea-food restaurant in Paris and Henri of course knows the owner Emile Prunier. The oyster bar and shop downstairs is amazing and the restaurant upstairs is luxurious and full of festivity. We take a vast range of dishes from oysters, bouillabaisse and bisque soup to homard Americain, mussels ad coquilles and sole Prunier to name but a few.

The interior of Prunier's

Monty and Henri discuss the origins of the restaurant. “This is a striking example of how a big modern restaurant grows up.’ Says Henri “It was founded in 1872 and was simply a modest oyster shop patronised primarily by foreigners, since the French did not appreciate oysters at the time. One day an American came in and showed M.Alfred Prunier how to cook oysters. He swiftly added scalloped oysters and oyster stew to the menu and business boomed. Later, Emile, his son, devoted more attention to fish and sea food and expanded the menu and the restaurant and added the shop.”

Henri asks Emile over to join in our conversation and he tells us “on average we have a thousand customers per day for lunch and dinner and we open 17,000 oysters daily!”

“See what a story” says Monty “you write it up Fynes and I will get it placed.”

Monty yabbers at length to June while I have to endure one of Millie’s friend’s called Gabrielle who tells me her life story in French. Yawn. In the bathroom Monty tells me about June. “I was her escort for a while a few years ago in New York when she was called Billy Raymond and in the chorus of a cabaret. I guess she wants to keep her real identity a secret for some reason.”

After dinner some of Millie’s guests vanish and there is a big debate about what to do next. Luckily, Monty and June win the day and we make our way to the famous New York Bar at 5 Rue Daunou – one of the most popular rendezvous in Paris. It is heaving with people who have come to see and listen to the legendary Les Copeland who plays the piano and sings nightly from 10-2am.

Les Copeland

“As an entertainer Copeland stands alone. He is a bohemian and has rooted objections to working unless he needs the money.” says June.

“I guess he must be broke then” says Millie with a grin.

“Yes” June replied with a laugh “which means we get the chance to see his amazing talent! You know Gershwin regards him as one of his favourite pianists and he has even privately entertained the Prince of Wales!”

“I have written about him before” says Monty  “He grew up in rural Kansas, made his name on San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, became famous as a pianist for Lew Dockstader’s ministrels and then had his own room at Reisenwebers’s cabaret in New York before he moved here.”

Les Copeland’s thoroughly original songs express the spirit of American folklore in a spontaneous and humorous style. His rendition of some new songs including The Finest Thing in London is the Bobby and You Can Call That a Perfect Day provoke a rapturous reception. But that is not all. Copeland has also engaged some friends to sing and Harry MacHenry and Al Brown also delight with double and single character songs.

After a spot of dancing Millie decides it is time to call it a night. We are not in the mood to argue. We drop June off at her Hotel and return to Mimi’s home for an early night.

We drink a lot of brandy in my room. For some reason Monty is seemingly reluctant to leave. I am being blunt to the point of being rude when he passes out on my bed. I am rather squiffy too but can only think of taking off his tux and putting him under the bedclothes.

When we wake up in the morning all he says is “blimey.”


Read Full Post »


The Hippodrome, Hotel Cecil, Ciro’s and Murrays

 Friday 6th October

Monty has been busy with deadlines and has popped off for a few days somewhere. Dolly telephones me. “I am bored. Can we have a night out tonight?” she asks.

“Where would you like to go?”

“Simple. Let me take you to the Hippodrome show and then for dinner. Howsat?”


I pick her up at her family apartment in Newman Street and we head off to the Hippodrome. Julian Wylie runs the shows here and Dolly is his exclusive dress designer so we get an excellent box and are treated like royalty. Round in 50 has been playing to packed audiences since March. Described as a “musical adventure” it is a vehicle for the popular comedian George Robey with his funny blackened eyebrows, naughty vocabulary and a heart of gold. Taken from Jules Verne’s Round the World in Eighty Days, the plot centres on Phileas Fogg who, angered by his nephew’s extravagance, issues an ultimatum that unless he creates a new record travelling the globe in fifty days he will be disinherited.

Programme for Round in 50 at the London Hippodrome

Programme for Round in 50 at the London Hippodrome

The seventeen scenes travel across the globe providing a perfect frame for various madcap adventures and ingenious decor. In Italy there was a display of liqeurs; in China a parade of old ivory carvings in delicious black and white creations; San Francisco provided a cabaret which was transformed into a tea-totallers meeting and California blossomed into a glorious orange grove.

“I am amazed I didn’t see it earlier because it is hugely entertaining.” I say “And, fancy missing the added bonus of Sophie Tucker for a three month run in the summer?”

“Well, from now on I doubt you will miss an opening night!” Dolly says with a laugh as we leave the theatre to get a cab “I have almost finished all the designs for Cinderella, the next pantomime, and I am working on the next big show called Brighter London.”

We motor to the vast Cecil Hotel, an 800 room edifice built in 1886 on the Strand overlooking the embankment gardens and the river. We take a late dinner in the restaurant, a large and lofty pillared hall with a glazed balcony overlooking the Victoria Gardens and on the west side, a glorious view of Westminster. The décor shimmers in pink, white and gold amidst the imposing colonnades of rich blue. It is luxurious, elegant and the food exceptional.

The Ballroom of the Hotel Cecil

The Ballroom of the Hotel Cecil

“I love this place almost as much as the Savoy, next door” says Dolly.

We start with oysters and then have iced consommé, poached eggs in aspic, sliced chicken breast and foie gras in jelly. This was followed by Sole a la Francine – fish cooked in wine and cream – with a skinned grape decoration. Our dessert was fresh strawberries and sliced fresh peach sprinkled with a liqueur flavoured syrup, resting on a strawberry ice and covered in a golden nest of spun sugar.

This is the first time we have had time together on our own to get to know each other.  Dolly tells me all about her family, her early life as an actress for stage and film and how she gave it all up to become an illustrator and costume designer. I tell her about boring things in comparison about my family, schooling, university and my complete lack of any aspiration.

We also talk about our nocturnal adventures “I love cabaret and I love dancing. Some of my friends even call me the Cabaret Girl you know.” She laughs. “Since I met Monty I have been going out much more and he is the perfect escort. Of course the title of the next Hippodrome show is rather apt. All of a sudden within the last year cabaret has taken hold and begun to make London brighter!”

“You know Dorothy Dickson said exactly the same thing” I say. “To be honest Dolly, London has always been brighter. It has just evolved. Remember just after the war many eating and drinking venues created space for dancing and some places like the Savoy, Trocadero, Rectors, Grafton Galleries, Murrays and the Embassy booked exhibition dancers, who became the draw. Then the first real shows surrounding these couples came about at Murrays in late 1920 with the Frolics and then the Metropole Hotel with the Midnight Follies in October 1921.”

“Did you go to all these places?” she asked.

“Yes, I did, but not often. I was lucky because my entire family like a night out! And Millie my sister often took me with her as I loved to dance like you. Now of course it is a different matter! I can do as I please.”

“Me too!” Dolly replies.

After coffee we move to the Palm Court  and dance the night away. Even with chairs and sofas around the sides of the room, the floor space is considerable in this amazingly spacious room. It is blissful. Dolly kisses me. My heart is racing. What about Monty? I am not brave enough to ask.

Saturday 7th October

The next day Monty is still away and Dolly is still bored. We decide to go to Ciro’s in Orange Street for dinner. We sit at our table drinking a delightful cocktail called a Monkey Gland, which Harry, prince of cocktail mixers, makes to perfection out of gin, orange juice and absinthe. I have been here a few times before and Ciro’s in Deauville of course but know nothing of its history. But help is at hand.

“Before the war this was a very grand public bathhouse” Dolly tells me “as you can see it has beautiful proportions and even the architects name is on the wall outside!” We sit in a large square room surrounded by balcony or gallery that is flanked by imposing pillars to the ceiling. The room has a delicate décor of lettuce green and old gold. We sit on the ground floor amidst a thicket of tables chairs and a platoon of waiters.

“The original Ciro was an Italian born Egyptian who opened his restaurant in the fashionable section in Monte Carlo” says Dolly authoritatively. “It was so successful that it was taken over by an English Syndicate who expanded and opened branches in Paris on the ground floor of the Hotel Daunou and then London, Deauville and Biarritz. In each place it is regarded as more than a restaurant but the fashionable centre of life itself.”

She pauses to take a long gulp of her cocktail. “Look carefully….. there are celebrities to the right, nobilities to the left, notorieties in front and popularities behind you… it is a pot-pourri of people for whom time and the tide of affairs has for the moment ceased to exist.”

“Yes, you are right of course, but have you noticed that we are surrounded by rather lovely women and rather elderly men, with my exception of course?”

We have a delightful dinner. Grey green cavier with well made toast; an invigorating clear consommé; a sole with a delicious sauce; a delicate chicken dish (Supreme de Volaille Dora); an incredible iced dessert called Bombe Merie Brizard and finally angels on horseback (for those of you who have no idea what this is it is bacon and oysters or Anges a Cheval). We took a modest Haut Sauterne to drink.

The band, which I believe to be the Red Devils who replaced Sherbo’s Men earlier in the year,  begins to tinkle rather delicately in the gallery at 8.15pm.

We send our compliments to M. Rossignol late of the Casino Deauville, the head of the 21 chefs of Ciro’s and we dance a little on the miniscule dance floor.

We catch the early dinner show. Once again it is the delightful Olga Samya and Donald Sawyer. I tell Dolly that they have been described as the best exhibition couple now appearing in London.

We cannot stay. Dolly has managed to reserve a table for the launch of a totally new cabaret show at Murray’s in Beak Street. And yes, she has created all the costumes. As we leave I see Papa with a small group of friends tucked away. He does not notice me but I notice that the ravishing Samya has joined him at his table.

We arrive at Murray’s well in time to see the supper version. This is one of London’s oldest nightclubs created in 1913 alongside the 400 and the Lotus in a flurry of excitement that was partly squashed by the war. My parents were regulars at the time and told me that this was the hub of the English dancing world where new dances and new steps were tested by the best dancers in town. Only Murray’s survived. The proprietor is a rather dubious fellow called Jack Mays, who is allegedly American. He has made his club one of the most popular dance places in London. You walk down the stairs into an impressive oblong room with a high ceiling. The dance floor is right in front of you and to the left there is an expansive seating area behind a colonnade of pillars. The décor is plain with wooden panelled walls, mirrors and chandeliers. The band is at the furthest end of the room. Interestingly, there is an air-conditioning system called Ozoniar that keeps the ambiance fresh and pure.

Murray's Nightclub in Beak Street

Murray's Nightclub in Beak Street

We are having a little dance when Eva taps me on my shoulder. “Hello Fynes” she says sweetly “fancy bumping into you. This is Biffy by the way.”  She squeezes the arm of a tall dark haired man who smiles nervously at me but does not make a sound “oh thanks for dinner on Wednesday it was divine.” She disappears into the throng. It is then that I noticed Aubrey scowling in the distance. I wave. He comes and joins us at our table a little later and bores us to tears talking about his love for Eva. He knows that half of London is after Eva, including me and that she is simply having a good time with all her various beaux. I wish he would lighten up. We were saved by the cabaret.

Josephine Earle was the star with the amazingly talented Ernest Marini, a chorus of 10 and the added bonus of the eccentric dancing of the Broadway cabaret artist Hazel Shelley, direct from the Ziegfeld Follies.

The cabaret entertainers at Murray's Club, including Josephine Earle and Ernest Marini

The cabaret entertainers at Murray's Club, including Josephine Earle and Ernest Marini

“Josephine is a great friend” says Dolly in my ear “she is from Brooklyn, New York but came here after the war to appear in Lilac Domino. She had been on the screen for Vitagraph and has starred in several movies here.”

Miss Earle sang several songs and danced exceptionally well with Mr Marini through 8 gloriously well staged numbers that included a scene with costumes representing powder boxes with abundant fluffy underthings and an Hawaiian number with dresses that bore an uncanny resemblance to those worn by the chorus with Dorothy Dickson when she sang her Hawaiian song in The Cabaret Girl. The applause was deafening and Dolly was thrilled.

 Josephine came and joined us wearing a pale green chiffon number encrusted with a dark jade floral motif and was very jolly and full of fun. She knocks back glass upon glass of the champagne I ordered in celebration of a rather good first night so I say  “It must be sickening for you Americans to come so many thousands of miles just for a drink.”

“Honey, why do you think half of America has emigrated to Europe?” she exclaims with delight!

Once again, as we dance Dolly kisses me. The rest of the evening is sublime. I take Dolly home and outside she says “my parents are away, please come up for a night cap.”

I return home at dawn. I make sure I go in the back way and try to be as quiet as a mouse.


Read Full Post »