Posts Tagged ‘Adele Astaire’

The Ritz Hotel, Ouistiti Roof Garden, New York Bar, L’Ours and Champs Elysees Restaurant

Sunday 1st July

Like any good visitor to Paris who is in the know, the only place to be on a Sunday night at this time of the year is the Ritz. Well, this is the official statement from Papa, hence his insistance that we all go. Instead of Fouquet’s all the family, along with Cecile, meet up in the Ritz bar for cocktails situated on the discreet side of the Ritz Hotel on the Rue Cambon. However, the ladies are not admitted into the main the bar, and have to sip their drinks in an adjoining annex. This of course is not appreciated by our lady-folk who are of the more strident kind. Without doubt, the bar we are in is one of the most select watering holes in the world and Frank Meyer who is in charge is the best-known drink shaker anywhere.

We collect the disgruntled ladies. “It is the last time I do that” says Mama indignantly.

We make our way into the stupendous Grill Room with its restaurant, gallery and dance floor for over 400 covers. The world that counts gathers here and it is regarded as the place for diplomats, foreign princes, newspaper proprietors, great dressmakers and American millionaires. Indeed, tonight there is a reigning King and Queen, the heir to a famous throne, the richest banker in the world, a once famous beauty who has just divorced a steel magnate, the head of the greatest jewellery house in the world, a dowdy old dowager, a French newspaper baron and a string of American woman who have married into French artistocracy including Princess de Polignac.

Papa tells Cecile “this is the habitat of international society. They talk a common language, wear a common livery, and they are as much at home here in Paris as in London or New York. But, they will only gather here together under this roof.” Cecile is looking a little uncomfortable. I do not blame her and squeeze her hand under the table.

It is a rarified atmosphere of polite extremes that I find very tedious. In fact it is rather stuffy. But our dinner is exceptional. Under M. Elles, the manager, the chefs have gained a great reputation and the cuisine features the best French dishes that include Poularde sauté au champagne, Caneton la bigarade (a succulent duck served cold with orange and porto jelly), Poularde Vendome (a stuffed bird with foie gras served with tarragon jelly) and vol-au-vont de sole Marquise.

Between courses we dance but there is no real excitement. I am relieved when we retire for coffee and cognac in the long narrow lounge. Afterward, Cecile and I, along with Millie and Henri, pop into the Ouistiti Roof Garden above the Marigny Theatre, Champs Elysees. This is our second visit to see the elegant dancing of Florence Walton and her husband Leo Leitrim, who have been dancing here for what seems like a long season. Their popularity is undiminished. Equally, this is a lovely venue and we have a marvellous time in an atmosphere much more to our liking.

Monday 2nd July

In light of poor Cecile’s ordeal at the Ritz, Millie and Henri and I decide to take her out to the Rue Daunou for a lighter, more enjoyable evening. We start by having a delightful informal dinner at Ciro’s (6 Rue Daunou). Like the Ritz this is also a society rendezvous but Millie says “this is the place where anybody who is anybody goes to see what everybody who is anybody is wearing. Far more interesting than the Ritz.”

Between the end of dinner and 11.30 when the supper-dancing establishments open there is only one thing doing in Paris and that is the cabaret underneath the famous the New York bar at 5 Rue Daunou.

Henri, who is a regular, tells us “It was first opened by Mrs Milton Henry wife of a well known jockey in 1911 but she sold out. During the war the bar became a favourite meeting place for war correspondents. In 1920 Mrs Henry returned, re-purchased the bar and installed Les Copeland at the piano as the cabaret.”

“Ah, we saw Les Copeland only the other night at the Jockey Club”
says Cecile.

“He is amazing and I used to come and listen to his singing all the time” continues Henri “anyway, in 1922 Maurice and Leonara Hughes arrived and opened the now defunct Clover Club in the Rue Caumartin. They brought with them two singers from New York’s East side – Tommy Lyman and Roy Barton. Lyman was not happy with his treatment by Maurice and so moved to the New York bar when Les Copeland quit. The boxer Jack Dempsey and Damon Runyon, who knew Lyman were then in town and made the place famous.”

“One particular night last year” says Millie “Irving Berlin was playing at the piano and Jenny Dolly was asked to dance. She persuaded Dempsey to join her and they performed a rather spirited jazz dance that they called Chicago’ on top of the piano.”

“I believe Mrs Henry has now sold the bar to a Scottish gentleman called Harry McElthone, who used to be head bartender at Ciro’s in London. I guess it may well be renamed Harry’s Bar.” Says Henri.

Moving on we visit L’Ours cabaret at 4 Rue Daunou. Small and intimate it is nevertheless luxurious and caters for a very ‘Daunou’ smart crowd. Tonight the cabaret features the dancing of a rather wonderful English couple called Sielle and Mills. I have heard of them but Millie knows a little more.

Robert Sielle & Annette Mills

“Robert Sielle is rather fun and cheeky. He had been in the Royal Flying Corps during the war and had also entertained the troops. After being demobbed he found he could dance, met Annette Mills and they formed an act. One of their first sets was at the Criterion Roof Garden in 1921 but since then they have performed on the continent as well as in London. Their great strength is that they can do the usual dances exceptionally well but they introduce an element of humour by clowning around.”

They are very polished and accomplished and their novelty numbers that included a golliwog dance were wonderfully funny. They introduced little bits of fantasy by wearing extra items of clothing over their evening clothes, which was particular effective. They remind me of Fred and Adele Astaire, but actually I think they are better.

Wednesday 4th July

Monty and Dolly Tree are in town and we meet at Fouquet’s. Dolly is very animated and orders champagne “we need to celebrate. I have become sole designer for Peron Couture. My first collection will be unveiled later in the year. I am so excited.”

She kisses both of us and we congratulate her effusively.

I have got tickets for Harry Pilcer’s Independence day fete at the new Champs-Elysees restaurant which opened a few weeks ago on 63 Avenue des Champs-Elysees. An array of French and American stars will appear as the entertainment with the proceeds going to blinded war veterans. So we continue our celebrations. We have drinks first in the bar in the basement which is the largest in Paris, and the most comfortable, before moving upstairs to our table.

The restaurant is owned and run by an American called Jules Ansaldi. Monty tells us “He was well known in New York and was considered to be one of the originators of the cabaret on Broadway. He first operated Louis Martin’s club then the Sans Souci and launched the careers of the dancers Maurice Mouvet, Joan Sawyer, Florence Walton and the Castles. After the First World War he ran the Grande Bretagne Hotel on the Rue Caumartin and in 1920 changed the restaurant into Maurice’s club.”

Dolly Sisters in Paris Sans Viole (Paris, 1923)

We have an amazing dinner and the cabaret is superb, the highlight of which was the dancing of Harry Pilcer and the gorgeous Dolly Sisters, who are still appearing in Paris Sans Viole at the Ambasadeurs. It is delightful to cause such a stir with onlookers when both of them take turns to dance with me afterward. I am indeed very lucky.


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Islington Film Studios (The White Shadow). Ciro’s, Piccadilly Hotel, Embassy, Ciro’s and Grafton Galleries

Wednesday 13th June

I almost forget my new role as a film extra in Graham Cutts’ second film with Betty Compson. If it was not for Mama I would not have got up at 6am. I missed appearing in the filming of Woman to Woman and so Dolly Tree persuaded me to register with the production office for this new film and I have several appearances to fulfil. I have strict instructions from her for what I must wear. It is strange arriving at the rather dreary and grubby surroundings of the New North Road and Poole Street in Islington and see the huge old power station which is now a film studio. I meet Monty in the foyer and we are given full instructions of what we have to do by an energetic little man called Alfred Hitchcock and a charming lady called Alma Reville.

We are to be extras in the important Montmartre cabaret scenes. Dolly Tree and her team tweak our outfits before we enter the studio itself to be transported into an illusion of Paris.

“Boy oh boy this is magnificent.” I exclaim to Monty as we walk onto the set of a life-sized reproduction of a Montmartre boulevard. We stroll with others through a big arched door into a long gallery, down stairs onto the main floor of a cabaret with drinks bars in big alcoves beneath the gallery. We take our places at one of the tables with two spectacularly attired young ladies amidst dozens of other characters.

“Blimey this is like the real thing.” Says Monty. “The bohemian atmosphere of Montmartre is all pervasive. Look at the mix of people they have assembled. We are typical British Tommies, but there are French habitues, artists, nondescript dilettantes, sailors, waiters, flower sellers and of course delightful specimens of Parisian femininity.”

We do several rehearsals under the instruction of Graham Cutts before the sequence is filmed by Claude MacDonnel the cameraman. I am in awe watching Betty Compson, Clive Brook, Henry Victor and other leading players doing their stuff against the backdrop of us riff-raff. It is a fascinating experience. Monty has already interviewed Miss Compson, and during a break, she recognises him and blows him a kiss.

Later, we all meet for drinks at the Criterion. Dolly tells us the ins and outs of the film. “It was to be called The Awakening but now it looks like it will be the White Shadow. There is a little grumbling because various people think the entire process is being rushed. Let’s hope it will be as good as Woman to Woman which was a joy.”

We go to Ciro’s for dinner and once again are entertained by Billy Revel and Floriane giving their wonderful exhibition of burlesque dancing.

Thursday 14th June

Despite the fact it is summer time, the London dance clubs are not suffering from any depression in trade despite the time of year. I have been visiting the Embassy, Ciro’s, the Grafton Galleries and Murray’s, rather frequently and they are all crowded.

Tonight I am out again with Eva at the Piccadilly Hotel for the Soiree des Fleurs. The décor in the ballroom is amazing and the entire room is awash with flowers of all kinds. I see many of my old friends including Aubrey who buzzes around Eva like a bee around a honey pot. Eva is entranced by the Piccadilly but I am eager to visit the Embassy where I have agreed to meet Dolly and Monty and others to watch a special cabaret appearance.

When we get there the place is crowded to overflowing. Luckily Dolly has secured seats around a very good table with Eddie Dolly and Velma Deane. The legendary Irene Castle is dancing with a young man called Billy Reardon for a short season to Ambrose’s band.

Irene Castle & Billy Reardon

“It is said that she is receiving £350 per week for the two weeks. It was clearly a shrewd move on the part of Luigi as the place is packed.” Says Monty. “She is rather snooty though and refused to let me interview her because I once made a remark about her that she did not like.”

“What was that?” Asked Eva, who normally just smiles.

“I said that she was a better screen actress than a dancer.”

Nevertheless, Irene has a tremendous reputation as a dancer by reason of her brilliant partnership for so many years with her late husband Vernon Castle. Sadly I never saw them dance but have heard all about them. I have to say her performance was disappointing. And yet she received standing ovations.

“Though she showed much vitality and personality, it must be confessed that judged purely as a dancer she left much to be desired.” Said Monty.

“I agree.” I said. “There was a great sameness about all her movements.”

Eddie is more specific “Her abrupt kicks with a straight leg, though amusing in a foxtrot or one step are quite out of place in an exhibition valse.”

Eva says. “Her frock is divine. I am told it is from Edward Molyneaux just like mine!”

We had not noticed that near to our table was a large throng fronted by Fred and Adele Astaire. Irene and Billy emerge from behind the scenes and are greeting warmly by them. When asked how she was finding her trip to London I overhear her say loudly “the English are doing nothing new in the way of dancing, but they are doing their dancing decently.”

Friday 15th June

I am spending the evening with Priscilla Fry and we have decided to decamp to the Grafton Galleries. She is wearing a baccante dress in gold tissue and sunset tinted georgette decorated with fine leather leaves. Another very alluring gown from Elspeth Phelps-Paquin.

I love the expansive nature of the Grafton which creates a comfortable sense of space with its big hall. I have never spent the entire evening here but have always arrived from somewhere else.

“Our evening will be a joyous, long drawn out affair in three acts: dinner, dancing and a great cabaret floor show.” Priscilla insists.

We arrive at 8pm to the wonderful sound of Paul Whiteman’s wonderful band on the orange and blue striped dias. Dinner is at 8.30pm and we dance in between courses. When Paul Whiteman’s band retires at about 10pm to rush off and play in the show Brighter London at the Hippodrome, an English band takes their place. Monty and Dolly join us and a little later the cabaret begins. A bevy of gorgeous girls arrive from behind the curtain and sing and dance. More ladies arrive clad in Trouville bathing costumes and sing along with a beautiful creature called Fayette Perry. Then Vanda Hoff (Paul Whiteman’s wife) with the Tomson Twins perform in a crazy trio of mirth.

“The Tomson Twins – Randolf and Jack are interesting.” Says Monty. “I met them in New York in 1921 when they were appearing in Two Little Girls in Blue. They are British but of Portuguese descent and were pilots in the Royal Air Force during the war. They are a very original act and their dancing antics very clever.”

Paul Whiteman returns from the Hippodrome at 12.15 and now the place is completely full as people have drifted in from dinner parties and the theatres and other clubs and we carry on dancing and having fun until 2am.

Tuesday 19th June

I am going to Paris tomorrow but have to take Eva once again to the Piccadilly Hotel. It is the start of Ascot week and the Piccadilly are conducting a Fete des Oiseaux all week. The ballroom has been transformed into an aviary with fake birds and feathers everywhere. Eva is in her element and loves it.

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Piccadilly Hotel, Pavilion Theatre (Dovie Street to Dixie), Cavour, Shaftesbury Theatre (Stop Flirting), The Ivy and The Embassy.

Wednesday 5th June

I am back in London and feeling a little miserable without Lorenzo, so I am delighted when Eva telephones.

“Fynes darling. How are you?“ She squeals. “I am fine.” She continues. “But I am stuck. I wanted to go out tonight to the Piccadilly Hotel. But Aubrey is busy and so is Biffy. Are you free?”

Eva tells me that the Piccadilly Hotel has hit upon the novel idea of altering from time to time the design and decoration of the ballroom and of celebrating, in a special and appropriate manner, certain days and events of outstanding social importance.

“This week they have the marvellous theme of ‘A week under the waves’.”
“What is it to celebrate?”
I ask.
“Oh heaven knows.” She says. “Who cares anyway. It will just be fun.”

I pick Eva up and as usual she is in good form and looking quite delightful in her long, slim, gold-thread-over–pink Worth Couture gown with fur border and an enormous spray of pink orchids on her shoulder. Although she is lacking in intellect she certainly knows how to dress and look good. When we arrive the ballroom has been transformed to look like an underwater cave with fairy like seaweed festoons and coral rocks everywhere. Sheets of radiant misty blue and green tinsel festoon the roof and fake exotic fish and sea plants sway in motion all over the place. Irridescent goldfish swim in bowels on the tables and there is soft shaded lighting that enhances the underwater effect. Clearly someone has been observing the efforts of Jean Gabriel Domergue’s Fetes at Cannes.

We have a truly wonderful evening and dance like water nymphs through the crowd, who clearly love the entire ambiance.

“I will get Aubrey to bring me here tomorrow night. And Biffy on Friday.” She says as we leave. She has no tact either.

Thursday 6th June

After a long day what is there to do? I am out with Priscilla Fry. We haven’t seen each other for ages so we have a lot of catching up to do. Unlike Eva she is interested in hearing what I have been doing and all my stories and is quite tactful. She is wearing a gown by Elspeth Phelps-Paquin (her current favourite couturier), which is a Victorian inspired design of teal green peau-de-soie with panniers and a deep berthe of oxidised gold and black lace. She looks divine.

We have drinks at the Criterion and are joined by Monty and Dolly and then walk across to the Pavilion Theatre to see Dover Street to Dixie. It is a black and white show – the first half with white performers, the second half with coloured. Of course we are all well aware of the controversy that surrounded the Plantation sequence in The Rainbow that we saw in April. But the opposite has happened with this show. It is divided into two halves, the first all white with the talent of comedian Stanley Lupino and the wonderful Odette Myrtil and the second, all black featuring the debut of the incomparable Florence Mills in an adaptation of Lew Leslie’s original Plantation cabaret show from New York.

Florence Mills

The first half of the show definitely lacked something despite the best efforts of Odette Myrtil singing ‘Blue Danube Blues’ and playing a violin-playing dancing master in ‘The Dancing Lesson’, Lloyd Garret singing ‘My Wayside Rose’ and Myrtil (as a mermaid) and Stanley Lupino (as an angler) in the comedy interlude of ‘Fishy Story’.

However, the second half was nothing short of phenomenal. The music of Will Vodery’s Plantation Orchestra was fabulous and a great background for the frenetic black chorus dancers as the Dixie Vamps who galvanised the audience with their delirious high spirits. This was followed by the upbeat singing of the statuesque blues singer Edith Wilson in Yankee Doodle Blues. The frail little figure of Florence Mills electrified everyone in her opening number ‘The Sleepy Hills of Tennessee’ followed by other more lively numbers including ‘Homesick’ and ‘You Got to See Sweety.’ There was also the very droll singing of the Plantation trio called the Three Dixie Dudes and the acrobatic dancing of the Two Jailbirds (Thompson and Covan). It is no surprise that at the end they received ovation after ovation.

We decide to go to the Cavour restaurant in Leicester Square for dinner. For many years this was the rendezvous of sportsmen, men of letters and men of the world but now it has a much broader, more glamorous clientele. It has been controlled for the last 16 years by Mrs Julia Dale. It still successfully stands the march of time and retains that delightful old world atmosphere. The food is as good as ever it was and the cellar is one of the best in London.

We sample a delightful menu that includes hors d’oeuvre, Oxtail Claire or Crème d’Asperges, File de sole Americaine or Merlan Frit sauce Tartare, Ballotine d’Agneau Jardinaire or Polet Roti with Cresson, Salade and pommes nouvelle and finally Biegnet Souffle Vaniile or Glaca Panache.

We discuss the show and I say. “The first half was quite colourless – excuse the pun. Lupino just lacked his usual sparkle. Perhaps it was because he has been ill. But Myrtil was her usual amazing self. I know the Times called the first half dreary and they are almost right but I am sure Cochran will knock this bit into shape. As for Miss Mills what can I say? She has an exquisite voice and what a performer!”

“I have never heard anyone sing like that.” Says Philippa “Her frst song about Tennessee was completely haunting.”

“I think a lot of those tunes will be destined for great popularity.” I add.

Friday 7th June

Another trip to the theatre is needed because the American dancers Fred and Adele Astaire have just made their debut in the musical farce Stop Flirting at the Shaftesbury Theatre. They have received rave notices and have become the talk of the town. I am totally intrigued because their dancing is supposed to be terrific. So Priscilla and I have another outing with Monty and Dolly.

The plot is threadbare and rather ridiculous and it is pointless to describe since the entire show is designed to act simply as a showcase for the dancing of the Astaire’s which is magnificent. The Astaire’s are clearly the most original dancers to appear on the West End stage. Suffice to say there is much exuberant high spirits that punctuate the many incidents and fabulous tunes including “Oh Gee, Oh Gosh’ and ‘The Whichness of the Whatness.”

“It is impossible to compare the Astaire’s to any other couple. They represent pure mischievous joy.” I say.

Fred & Adele Astaire

“Their unprecedented twin-like collaboration is the personification of humour in motion.”
Says Priscilla.

“It is not what they do but the cheeky, joyous, inimitable way in which they do it.” Says Monty.

We are all in agreement. We will definitely see the show again.

We go the Ivy Restaurant for dinner. Situated just opposite the Ambassadors Theatre in Seven Dials it is regarded as one of the best restaurants in the West End and distinguished for its good food, clientele and general atmosphere. Since opening just after the war it has been frequented mainly by famous writers, actors and actresses. It is in a V shaped building and there is nothing sumptuous about it within or without since M. Abel, the proprietor, is a modest man. He once was described as ‘originally a bohemian and decorator’ and I am he told features in the pages of a recent novel.

The room is irregular rather like an ivy leaf, there are no flowers on the table, the chairs are of plain leather, the walls are a mix of modern panelling and cream distemper. It is a place absolutely without ostentation where one always expects to see someone.

“I like it here because it has the snugness and impersonality of a club.” Monty says.

We sit around a table in a cosy corner of the restaurant and Dolly nods to two charming actresses who were dining nearby.

We take an amazing selection from the menu: Grapefruit au Maraschino, Supremes de Soles Bonne Femme, Tournedos Grille Sauce Bearnaise, Poussin en Cocotte Plonaise soufflé en surprise Helene (a delightful combo of vanilla ice whipped cream and hot chocolate sauce), Bombe Diable Rose and Friandises. We also have two modest bottles of Sauterne.

We end the evening at the Embassy and attempt to dance off all the calories.

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