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Posts Tagged ‘Alfred Hitchcock’

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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