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Archive for July, 2009

Ambassadeurs (Paris Sans Viole), Weber’s, Ouisiti Roof Garden, Acacias, Ciro’s, Club Daunou, American Midnight Frolics and Abbeye Theleme.

Friday 31st May

We are in Paris again with Monty and Dolly. Lorenzo is on his way back home to Italy and we have all been given special preview seats to see the Dolly Sisters debut. We settle in at Claridge’s since Aunt Mimi has a houseful of guests and meet Cécile and Gabrielle at Fouquet’s for cocktails. They both look ravishing as always. Cecile had taken Gabrielle to Paul Caret’s and they were wearing their purchases: Cecile in a sleeveless dancing gown of lemon georgette, belted with double silver ribbon strewn with rococo roses and Gabrielle in a low cut, backless taffeta gown with shoulder straps of flowers in soft glazed red and silver. They immediately start talking frocks to Dolly.

We wander down the Champs-Elysees to the Ambassadeurs Theatre, tucked just off to one side. Here in this small yet perfectly appointed theatre Oscar Dufrenne, presents the Dolly Sisters in a show entitled Paris Sans Viole or Brighter Paris, a title clearly used as a reflection of the success Brighter London was having at the London Hippodrome.

Programme for Paris Sans Voiles at the Amabassadeurs, Paris, 1923

The show, also includes the home grown talents of Edmonde Guy and Ernest Van Duren, and our friend Eddie Dolly, fresh from his London triumphs for C.B. Cochran, arranged all the dances for a troupe of 8 ‘London Boys’. The Dollies first appeared as American roses in ‘Let us make a pretty bouquet’ and then danced a rollicking mazurka in a scene depicting the Grand Prix in 1883 contrasted with the Grand Prix of 1923. Oddly they became negresses in Plantation Days, where, surrounded by growers and planting machines, they danced and sang plantation songs. By far their most important scene was Destiny, a sketch in four acts, where the Dollies dressed by Jeanne Lanvin, performed a melodramatic depiction of the life of an actress, tragically terminated by an acrobatic dance in a seedy nightclub. This apparently had been a big success in New York. The sisters alternately held the role of an artist who was reduced to the lowest ebb of misfortune by the spirit of evil in the form of a tempting man about town played by Max Berger. We are led to believe that the same woman is playing the character throughout and marvel at the quick change in costume until the couple appear together in the last act where the dying dancer sees the image of her happy girlhood being a reproduction of the first scene revealed at the back of the stage.

The Dolly Sisters in their Mazurka costumes

Monty was effusive. “Wow the Dolly Sisters were enchanting and they will have a formidable triumph on their hands I am sure.”

We take a short walk and go around the corner for dinner at Weber’s, 21 Rue Royale, regarded as a very salubrious place. It was started many years ago by an Alsatian who made a speciality of Alsatian beer and food and originally the clientele was mainly English but now it is more mixed

This is regarded as the traditional place for posh Parisians to sup after the theatre and this vast café-restaurant is crowded with actors, politicians, writers and mere theatregoers like us. We particularly like their boullabaisse which is highly recommended.

Monty then tells us about his recent interview with Edmonde Guy. “She is simply the most ravishing creature and during the run of Oh Quel Nu at the Concert Mayol earlier in the year she posed for the great Dutch painter Van Dongen. At one of his soirees she was introduced to a certain Giovanni Dal Terroni from Palermo, Sciliy. A man of means, he convinced her that he was producing a movie of Mascagni’s masterpeice called Cavalleria Rusticana which was to be staged near Palermo and he wanted her to play the part of Santuzza and pay her $1,000 per week and all expenses for her and her maid. It was a great opportunity. The only way to get out of her obligations at the Concert Mayol was to feign illness and so she vanished.”

By now we are all sitting riveted to his words.

“Arriving at Terroni’s country villa in Sciliy, he informed her that preparations for the picture were not complete and there would be a delay. She was suspicious. The next morning her maid saw Terroni beating a young servant girl and Edmonde came to the conclusion she had been lured into a trap. She decided to play Terroni at his own game in order to escape. She had lunch with him dressed seductively and he admitted his plan to abduct her because of his infatuation. Later Edmonde lured into her bedroom and managed to lock him in, while the mad did the same with the caretaker. They found the girl that Terroni had been beating who claimed he was a monster and she took them to the French consul at Palermo. Edmonde returned to Paris but the shock forced her to bed for 2 weeks. Then a package arrived from Palermo containing a diamond sunburst and a card that said “you are very clever mademoiselle.’”

After coffee we visit the Ouistiti Roof Garden at the Marigny Theatre, Champs Elysees and delight in the dancing of the wonderfully dainty Florence Walton and Leo Leitrim backed by the famous Red Devils band. I know she is familiar and Monty reminds us that she is American and the ex-wife of Maurice Mouvet.

“She only married Leo last December, and although no-one can compare to Maurice, he is a good partner for her. She always presents class and style in both her dressing and her dancing. And in my opinion she is far superior to Irene Castle in both personality and skill.”

We soon dart off to the other side of Paris to visit the Acacias, which is in essence a glorified hall in the rear of the Hotel Acacias at 7 Rue des Acacias near the Bois de Bologne. There is also a delightful garden very useful for the hot weather in the summer.

Programme for the Acacias Nightclub, Paris

Cecile tells us the history. “It was originally opened in the summer of 1921 by the legendary singer and dancer Maurice Chevalier and the comedian Saint-Grenier. Last year it was taken over by that rather obnoxious society social fixer Elsa Maxwell and the charming English couturier Captain Edward Molyneux. They re-modelled it as a Southern plantation and had Jenny Dolly and Clifton Webb as the opening act.”

“This year it has been taken over again by that wonderful American dancer Harry Pilcer.”
Says Gabrielle. “And, he has had the good fortune to get that incredible dancing team of Moss and Fontana for a 6 week season.”

“We saw them in London at Ciro’s in March.” Dolly says. “And they are magnificent.”

Monty adds. “M. Andre de Fouquieres known everywhere as the Beau Brummel of Paris society and dictator of its amusements, paid them a handsome compliment saying ‘with them it is the art of dancing seen in all its beauty’.”

Saturday 1st June

Tonight is Lorenzo’s last night and we all decide to go out with a bang and visit lots of places. First stop is Ciro’s for a spot of dinner, followed by the Club Daunou where we watch the exquisite dancing of Joan Pickering and Charlie Stewart. Dolly is entranced as are the other girls with Joan’s frock by Ninette of London in ecru lace on powder blue faille over flesh pink georgette.

“Its absence of adornment is its greatest charm which lends its wearer that coveted jeaune fille appearance.” Dolly tells us. “It is a masterpiece.”

She is so generous in her praise of others.

We move onto to the new American Midnight Frolics at 30 Rue de Grammont which is a Souer-dansant de luxe and like so many places of the same ilk, hailed as the most chic location in Paris. It is of course no better and no worse. The cabaret produced by the English-Australian Dion Titheradge has two sittings from 12.30-1am and 1.30-2am. We catch the former show. Joyce Barbour and Max Rivers (the latter we saw in Carte Blanche at the Court Theatre in April) dance nimbly and Tex McLeod is amazing replicating his act that we also saw at the Midnight Follies. There is also a West End chorus and other acts that include the singing of Winifred Roma.

“It was bright and snappy and not bad but not good.”
I say afterward. “The girls were gorgeous though…”

“The place was opened in mid-May and I thought here we go again, another attempt to imitate Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolics. I also remember reading an odd comment somewhere that said ‘it had a real American atmosphere of intimicy so necessary to the proper expression of the artists talents’. What? The only American in the cast is Tex and the chorus is from the West End.”

Our last call is the Blue room on the first floor of L’Abbaye de Theleme. The Trix Sisters have now left and there is a new show with favourites Fay Harcourt and Harry Cahill, who dance amazingly, the American Goode Sisters, Rene Gagan, Barry Barnard and once again, the glorious singing of Dora Stroeva.

We all retire to my suite at Claridge’s and order breakfast. Lorenzo has had a great send-off before his departure for Rome.

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The Cri Bar, The Palace Theatre (Music Box Revue), Kettners, Murrays and The Embassy

Thursday 17th May 1923

I have returned to London via Paris. The building work on the villa is superb. All is well. And, a week with Lorenzo on our own, was quite simply bliss. He has come to London with me and my parents have allocated him his own room in our London house in appreciation for keeping me company on the Riviera. I am in great demand and after only a day of rest we are out and about.

First Julian (Lucile) asks us for an early drink at the basement bar in the Criterion that I never knew existed. It is clearly a place you go if you are in the know. The bar is simply known as the Cri and you have to get to it via the less obvious service entrance in Jermyn Street which is better than the grand staircase from Piccadilly if you are wearing a tiara and furs.

“Hello darlings.” He squeals as we enter the rather busy room. Tonight he is the correct gender as Julian since he is coming out with us and will be meeting the crowd. He orders drinks and says “Now, before we go any further, this is the meeting place in London before and after the theatre.” The room is full of men in smart dinner suits like us and rather elegant ladies who look a little out of place since they are all really men and certainly not as beau as their French counterparts. Suddenly there is applause as a rather large and older matron descends into the room covered in gold chains and diamond jewels. “Oh that’s Rosie Baroness Bothways.” Julian says with a giggle .“He is a Welshman He lets everyone think he is a millionaire but he is in fact a cook for a rich old boy in Mayfair.”

After the frivolity downstairs we go upstairs to the more salubrious bar and meet Monty and Dolly who I have not seen for sometime. Amidst some rather lovely cocktails, Dolly tells me about developments with Eddie.“He’s gone off with an actress called Velma Deane.” She says with a sigh. She is in remarkably good spirits given the circumstances. Perhaps Millie’s words of caution about Eddie’s reputation lessened the blow.

“We are still friends and they are meeting us in the foyer of the Palace along with his sister Jenny and the free tickets.” She says with a shrug. Monty has his eyebrows raised.

Julian interjects aiming his comments more at myself and Lorenzo. “By the way, you have both missed an amazing performer called Barbette. A kind of glamorous, trapeze strip act with a twist that was launched first at the Finsbury Park Empire and then transferred to the Alhambra. I am told that Barbette will be appearing in Paris soon so look out for her.”

Julian then adds. “Oh and Monty I would definately hunt her down for an interview. Barbette is going to be a big star darling…..”

We meet the others at the Palace Theatre. Velma is charming but quiet which is understandable. Jenny is in good spirits and says we will all love Dover Street to Dixie that she and Eddie are choreographing for the Pavilion Theatre. The Music Box Revue is another C.B. Cochran show and it is a mix of exquisite stage scenes, beautiful dresses, music and dancing and first rate fooling around. In the beginning, the alleged plot is stolen by a troupe of dinky burglers and then one gloriously splendid scene after another unfolds.

The classically statuesque and glittering ballet ‘Fountains of Youth’ showcases the daring dancing of the Americans Chester Hale and Albertina Viback, the black and white brocaded ‘Legend of the Fan’ scene is sumptuous and the shimmering and phosphorescent effects of the ‘Legend of the Pearls’ is breathtaking. Another set of dancers, the husband and wife team of Joseph Santley and Ivy Sawyer – are the exponents of modern ballroom dancing and in the ‘Dinner Menu’ scene they are the diners who sample the delights of the chorus dressed as the oysters, chicken, cauliflower and French pastry followed by the bill. My new friend Peggy Marsh is the French pastry. There is also comedy and eccentric dancing from Fred Duprez and Renie Riano, the three Brox Sisters doing a Duncan sisters act and more dancing from Dickson and Culver.

Jenny and Eddie are effusive. “It is great to see so much excellent dancing.”

Monty adds. “Well you know I hate to say it but it is of that skilful whirling kind that the us Americans prove so exhilarating at.”

We nip into the wonderfully sublime Kettners Restaurant which is a short hop and a skip from the Palace theatre. With a distinct atmosphere it is one of the main restaurants to bring in customers to this part of town. Established in 1869 it grew until it included a block of three houses and King Edward, then the Prince of Wales was a regular. After a period of decline the restaurant has recently been bought by Giordano who was for sometime Chef de Restaurant at the Savoy and before that the Berkeley. He has made it smart again with a major face-lift although it does retain its old world charm which I think is rather endearing.

You enter into a small entrance foyer and on the left is a pleasant little lounge and opening out of it a restaurant they still call the Shaftesbury. The décor here is a modern Florentine style. On the other side of the hall are three restaurant rooms leading from one to the other. The décor here is modern Parisian and very attractive with bright pink silk lamp shades distinctive floral arrangements on every table. In the third one there is a small central dancing area and it is just the right size for our modern dancing taste. There is an unobtrusive orchestra in one corner and often a performance from one entertainer.

The food is exceptional with a speciaility for Italian dishes. We eat our way through numerous plats du jours including Gnocchi a la Romaine, followed by Cannelloni Charlotte Kettner’s that contains a national macaroni made from a lighter paste than usual and in larger form, vaguely like an omlette and also something like a giant ravioli.

After dinner we decide to pop into Murray’s and take a look at Harry Day’s new ‘Rockets’ cabaret with Hilda Newsome, Levoi and Moran and the Rocket dancers. It does not really capture our attention and before long we move to the more salubrious ambiance of the Embassy Club. It was established at the same time as Murray’s at the end of 1913 as the 400 club. Its success is partly down to the presiding genius of Luigi, a small alert personality, who took over the club just after the war and made it extremely fashionable as the Embassy. It is not open to the general public and is regarded as the best dance club in London with a first class restaurant and bar.

The Embassy Club

The Embassy Club

Situated among the shops in the Piccadilly end of Bond Street the entrance is through a wide marble passage. At the end is two unpretentious looking glass doors. Within there is a tiny lobby guarded by some magnificent footmen and a counter to admit guests. On the inner side of the lounge are two more glass doors with attached curtains forming the entrance to the restaurant-dancing room. The room is a vision of grace, wealth, beauty and boredom. It is decorated in violet, jade green and white, luxuriously furnished with sofas and tables along the walls which held glass mirrors. Each table has a couple of green electric candlesticks with pink shades and amber lights hang from the ceiling. In the centre of the room was the dance floor and at one end of the room, on a balcony was the delightful Ambrose and his orchestra dispensing fabulous sounds.

“This is a most exclusive and sophisticated place, and anyone who really belongs to society belongs to the Embassy. It is of course a favourite of our current Prince of Wales.” Says Jenny to Lorenzo who has never been here before. “Look! Half the celebrities in Europe are here….” She waves at a dozen different people and tells us who they all are.

“The atmosphere is that of a rather intriguing aloofness.” Says Julian with a smirk.

“Well, the Embassy is the place where you must be seen fairly frequently if you have any aspiration to be in the mode.” I add. “Members come here to see, be seen and to dance. One third of the room is on the lazily intimate, wink and grin terms with another third while the remaining third wishes it was.”

“Which third are you?” Says Monty with a giggle.

“Definitely the lazily intimate variety!”

“Hey Fynes.” Says a familiar voice followed by a peck on the cheek.
“Peggy darling.” I squawk. “We saw you earlier and what a delicious pastry you make.” I say. We all laugh. And Lorenzo kicks me under the table.

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Arrigoni, Claire de Lune, La Petit Moulin Rouge, Chez Ma Cousine, La Petite Chaumiere

Friday 27nd April

After a long lie-in, I spend the afternoon with Lorenzo. In the evening we have, what I can only describe as a clandestine adventure into the shadowlands. It turns out that Lorenzo was educated partly in Rome and partly in Paris. He lived here for a while attending the Sorbonne and knows his way around the less obvious night spots frequented by what he calls the third sex. I am intrigued. We eat first in another Italian restaurant called Arrigoni located in the Passage des Princes in the middle of all the boulevards and not far from the Opera. An older establishment than Poccardi it is more distinguished because it is quieter and more refined and the food is just as good.

We start our excursion in Pigalle at the Claire de Lune in the Café Biard near Place Pigalle. I am astounded. Here in this modest little space are cramped dozens of men all in close proximity to other men. I notice a rather large sprinkling of military and naval types and a sprinkling of what Lorenzo calls ‘fairies’ or men dressed as women. At the back of the room sat sedately on a bench is an elderly matron who I gather is called variously Bijou or Mother and dispenses wisdom and jokes to anyone who listens.

Lorenzo says little but smiles and allows me to observe clutching me tightly as we drink glasses of wine together.

We move to a venue called Chez Ma Cousine, at the top of Rue Lepic (behind the Moulin Rouge). Here we have a rather raucous time drinking and dancing. It is full of a wide range of different people. But nothing is what it appears and it is difficult to deduce which of the bewildering array of glamorous women are real women. I am staring at one in particular sat opposite us who looks vaguely familiar and the recognition annoys me.

“What are you staring at?” He says in a loud feminine voice in English.
“You my dear. You are quite beautiful!”
“What do you expect mon cheri. I am the star of this place!” He says blowing me a kiss as he swivels around on the arms of a very dashing young man who winks at me with a big grin.
“You have no idea who I am do you?”
Suddenly the voice registers.
“Julian! Oh my oh my. Fancy seeing you here….”

We are soon introduced by Julian (who is called Lucile) to many of ‘her’ friends. All had women’s names and all were equally glamorous. Although I have to confess some had not perfected the illusion as well as Lucile, who was wearing an expensive white satin gown from Patou along with some stunning diamond accessories.

“These are real diamonds you know.” Says Lucile.
“My companion, Emile is heir to a fortune. Not that that is particularly an issue since I am too!!!”

Lorenzo and I dance together and to my surprise he kisses me. No-one butts an eyelid. It is a difficult thing to understand, but I feel really good about it.

We are swept up by Lucile and his troop and descend on another nightclub called La Petite Chaumiere on the slopes of Montmartre which is a picturesque small cottage-like-building with a rustic front and windows covered in turkey red cotton. Inside the walls are decorated with cubist paintings and a pianist plays. The place is packed but the crowd mixed like La Petit Moulin Rouge.

Lucile tells us. “This is a little like a zoo here. We are usually on display to sensation seeking foreigners.”

I can see his point. Lucile and his friends are surrounding by dozens of other ‘fairies’ all wearing a miss-match of outfits with in array of kimono’s, Oriental outfits, lame gowns and other bizarre creations. All are playing up for an audience. It is as if we are in a strange play where performers and spectators mingle and interact in an impromptu fashion.

Our last port of call is the larger and more salubrious La Petit Moulin Rouge also called La Feuillee Montmartre, somewhere in Montmartre, but the location of which I forget. It is a nightclub and dance hall but a very smart one with a large capacity and a very mixed and sophisticated crowd. This is more to my liking! Lorenzo and I immediately take to the dance floor where our dancing is clearly admired.

Another big troupe of glamourously dressed ‘ladies’ arrive and make a bee-line for Julian who is clearly adored. “Mon cheri!” Says the leader of the pack, kissing him on both cheeks.

“Bonsoir. Vous avez un air radieux.” Says Julian to the beautiful tall figure.

“Gesmar, je vous presente mes amis Lorenzo and Fynes. Boys this is the famous costume designer Gesmar – Charles Gesmar – who creates all of Mistinguett’s wardrobe and his own. We all marvel at his conconctions.”

“Enchante.” Says Gesmar “J’aime votre danse. aimez-vous danser ?” He asks me.

Later, Lucile and Lorenzo tell me all about the other favoured locations including the dance halls in Rue de Lappe (near Bastille), the drag balls at the Magic City (which I am told take place during Lent) and the less salubrious Turkish baths. This is an entirely new vision of Paris to me.

It is getting late and we retire to the more plush surroundings of Claridge’s my mind agog at the sights I have seen.

Saturday 28th April

I am up late. Aunt Mimi and Sir Oliver have gone to Morocco on honeymoon. My family are returning home but Father is despatching me to Cannes and the Cap d’Antibes for a week to inspect progress on the rebuilding and decorating of our villa. Lorenzo is coming with me to keep me company

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