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Posts Tagged ‘Carte Blanche’

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 Empire, the Rendezvous, Hotel Metropole (Midnight Follies), Court Theatre (Carte Blanche) and Murray’s.

Thursday 12th April 1923

I am taking out Priscilla Fry one of Mama’s latest matches. Priscilla is beautiful like Eva but not quite as spectacular. However, she certainly has more umph. She is wearing a sumptuous ‘baccante’ gown from Elspeth Phelps (Paquin) in gold tissue and sunset tinted georgette decorated with fine leather leaves which sets off her auburn hair perfectly. She was educated in Switzerland, comes from a very well respected family, she paints, she sings and she loves dancing. She also has an opinion.

We have cocktails at the Criterion before seeing Alfred Butt’s new show at the Empire called The Rainbow, a fairly typical lavish Albert de Courville revue. The comedienne Daphne Pollard does an amusingly grotesque dance with Fred Leslie, Ernest Thesiger is hilarious when dressed as Miss Violet Vanbrugh to sing The Price of Love, the dancing of Gaston and Andree was superb and the knockabout comedy of Willie, West and McGinty is excellent. There were also several spectacular scenes including My Lady’s Boudior, In Old Versailles, Indo China and the Great Street in Scarlet and Gold featuring amazing costumes by Hugh Willoughby.

The programme for the Rainbow

The programme for the Rainbow

Within the show is a segment called The Plantation, comprising a coloured entertainment set on a mythical Southern plantation on the Mississipi which has caused a little furure.

“I particularly liked Lola Raine and Alec Kellaway’s pretty singing duet ‘Sweethearts.’’ Says Priscilla afterward as we walk through Soho. “The 16 Empire Girls were superb in this number too. But, I also rather enjoyed The Plantation.”

“Well I must admit I rather liked that bit too. It is good to see something completely different. The dancing was amazing especially Leonard Harper and his wife Osceola Banks and the acrobatic Archie Ware in the Crackerjacks troupe.”

We meet Monty for dinner at the Rendezvous at 45 Dean Street with its latticed windows and rows of quaint Noah Ark trees in green tubs outside. It is in fact a row of two old houses knocked into one, The two front rooms are decorated to represent the parlours of an old English farmhouse with heavy thick black beams, walls panelled with green cloth in wooden frames, electric lights as old lanterns and silver wine coolers with ferns on window sills.

We are greeted by the ruling spirit of Luca Martini and taken to our table in the back room which is decorated in dark oak and mirrors with oriental carpets and a handsome oak gallery.

“He is as cheerful as the cocktail.” I say. “And endures endless witticisms about his name but remains sweet and dry. But one does not get on his wrong side. He is a rather fiery Italian and devoted to Mussolini and thus a fascist.”

The clientele of the restaurant comprises every class of Londoner from Princes to Arts students and it is a Soho landmark.

“There are fashions in Soho restaurants.” I continue “As a rule when a Soho restaurant becomes the fashion it is doomed. It loses its character, its intimacy, its charm and the cuisine declines. And like a faded beauty it lives upon past reputation. This place is one of the few exceptions.”

We have a delicious dinner comprising melon cantloupe, crème fermeuse, aile de poularde en casserole and aubergine a l’espagnole. We partake their two specialiaties as well with Sole Rendezvous (the fish is cooked in white wine sauce) and Souffle Gallina, with branded cherries served in a little lagoon of fine champagne cognac which is set alight. All washed down with a nice Vieux Pre champagne and a bottle of Mottoni.

“Ah, so you went the Empire did you? Because therein lies an interesting story.” Says Monty “Alfred Butt rejected an offer to stage Lew Leslie’s Plantation cabaret show from New York starring Florence Mills on the grounds of cost so Charles Cochran stepped in and secured it for the Pavilion. Butt then engaged another coloured attraction called ‘Plantation Days’ for the Empire that was running at the Green Mill Gardens in Chicago. But Cochran and Leslie issued an injunction against Butt for using the name of The Plantation as it was misrepresenting it as the original Florence Mills show. There was been a huge fuss that is still ongoing.”

“I have heard that there has also been huge opposition to the importation of black musicians and entertainers.” Says Philippa. “Daddy owns a newspaper and tells us all about these things.”

“Yes, you are right Philippa. On opening night the audience hissed and booed.”

“There is nasty odious man called Hannan Swaffer who whipped up a frenzy of racism in the Graphic I believe.” Philippa replied.

“Very disrespectful if you ask me.” I say “Considering where all our dances and jazz music originated from.”

“Very profound Fynes, but you are right of course!” Says Monty. “By the way did you enjoy the songs? They were all from a Yankee composer called George Gershwin. I think he is going to be big.”

We decide the night is still young. Monty suggests a visit to The Midnight Follies at the Hotel Metropole. “They have added a novel attraction called The Follies Derby.”

The cabaret show has some wonderful scenes including an Hawaiieen number, China Love with the dancing of Vera Lennox and Carl Hyson, Zwadir (the God’s of Passion) and Gipsy Night in June. The costumes by Gordon Conway are magnificent.

The Follies Derby is indeed packing in the audience night after night as one can enjoy the excitement of Newmarket in miniature! The chorus girls in the guise of bookies distribute coloured discs representing racing colours. The odds having been called, four steeds made of papier mache and mounted on tiny wheels concealed in their hoofs appear and they race, albiet rather slowly, across the floor with the winner snapping the tape at the end of the line. What fun!

The highlight for me of course was the speciality dancing of Carl Hyson and Peggy Harris. I watch them intently. However, the featured artist is Odette Myrtil and what a lady she is. This French born artist scored a triple hit as a violinist, dancer and singer. She is a clever performer and, according to Monty she bears a strong resemblance to Mlle Polaire.

Odette Myrtil

Odette Myrtil

“Odette made her first appearance on the stage at the age of 12 at the Olympia in Paris. Florenz Ziegfeld saw her and engaged her for his Midnight Frolic in 1915.” Says Monty “She has been in great demand ever since. We ought to see her in the revue at the Court Theatre.”

Priscilla is a rather capital dancer and even taught me a thing or two. I think we are going to get on fine.

Friday 13th April

I am moping around at home when Monty phones to say he is bored and fancies a night out and says he has got tickets for Carte Blanche at the Court Theatre.

Monty tells me .“I am told it has been modelled along the lines of the Mde Rasimi productions in Paris and all the dances have been arranged by the rather clever Max Rivers who is also one of the specialist dancers. He has just returned from a two-year dancing trip around Europe, so you should enjoy his performance.”

It is a little of a trek out of town but worth it as the show turns out to be rather original, whimsical and colourful. The humour is provided by Tubby Edlin and the Two Bobs, the latter are hysterical when they sing Spain, Spain, Spain with Bob Adams dressed as a large Spanish lady with Donna Rosita and Bob Alden as typical bandaleros.

The French touch is made clear with Odette Myrtil (who doubles up later at the Midnight Follies) singing the charming ‘Bon Soir Madame La Lune’ dressed as a pierrot and standing under the light of a street lamp, packing in all the poetry and melancholy of Montmartre.

“Let’s go to Murray’s Club.” Says Monty. “Dolly will be there with Eddie.”

When we arrive Dolly and Eddie are on their second bottle of champagne.
“I am celebrating boys.” she says with a big grin. “I have just got the job to design all the costumes and gowns for Graham Cutts’ film Woman to Woman that will star the American actress Betty Compson. I am so excited.”

“Congratulations my dear.” Says Monty.

“Wow! Dolly that is terrific.” I add. “Is this film to be based on the stage play of the same name?”

“Yep, it is Fynes… we start shooting in mid May so I have got a lot of work to do!”

Harry Day who controls the revue productions at the Palladium has been assigned the responsibility for all the entertainments at Murray’s for the next two years. His first attraction is called ‘Harry Day’s Crystal Cabaret’ and is derived from his show Crystals that is running at the Palladium and which I have to confess I have not seen.

This is perhaps the first time that a full company of fifty performers has been seen in a dance club. The principals include the comedian Jimmy Leslie and Harry Day’s wife Kitty Colyer, But the star is the very eccentric Douglas Byng as a dude wearing an eyeglass and small moustache. He has a curious mixture of sophistication, schoolboy humour and double entendre that works perfectly in cabaret.

Douglas Byng

Douglas Byng

Dolly loved the costumes designed by George Crisceudo.

After the show, we are milling around and suddenly Monty darts off and talks to a rather attractive lady with a large group of people. He beckons me to join them.

“Fynes, let me introduce Peggy Marsh.” He says to a vivacious, leggy, dark haired beauty.

“Why howdy.” She says.

“We know each other from New York.” Monty says. “Peggy has been in the wars recently and certainly needs cheering up!”

Could have fooled me. She looks more than happy. Hmm that name rings a bell.

“Ah I am sorry to hear that. What has been wrong?”

“My husband Buster Johnson accidentally shot himself in September and died in January. But we were getting divorced!” She says.

Peggy Marsh

Peggy Marsh

A little later when Peggy is powdering her nose, Monty tells me her story which I do now remember. She was a chorus girl in New York but had worked in London during the war where she met and fell in love with fellow American Henry Field, the multi-millionaire heir to the Marshall Field department store in Chicago. She had a son by him but Henry returned to New York and married the right kind of girl. Peggy followed him, got a job in Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic and secured a financial agreement for her and her son. But then disaster struck. Henry died and the agreement was not honoured. Peggy went to court and eventually reached a settlement before marrying Buster.

“She is now in London and dancing in Ciro’s and is likely to appear on the West End too before long.” Adds Monty.

Peggy is great company. And, naturally an excellent dancer. We hit it off. I am not surprised that she also likes lunch.

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