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New Oxford Theatre (Little Nellie Kelly), Romano’s, Hotel Metropole (Midnight Follies), Murray’s River Club and The Riviera

Friday 27th July

We are back in London. Lorenzo has been very busy with an assortment of family business issues. Taking Papa’s advice he is also thinking of opening a restaurant. Then he surprises me by leasing a rather splendid and perfectly placed apartment in Bury Street just below Piccadilly. It is spacious and very roomy. Since Millie is in London he asks her to help re-decorate and furnish it but it is going to take a while before it is all complete and we can have a party.

I have got tickets for the theatre and as usual meet Monty and Dolly at the Criterion for drinks. We tell them all about our adventures on the Riveria and Aix-le-Bains before going to the New Oxford Theatre to see Charles B. Cochran’s production of George M. Cohan’s song and dance show Little Nellie Kelly. The elegant but rather snooty actresss, simply called June, plays the lead and the other stars are Sonnie Hale, Maidie Hope and Anita Elson. It has an interesting story, with pretty frocks, pretty faces, pretty dances, clever people and moves along at slap-dash speed.

The programme for Little Nellie Kelly

Although Eileen Idare of Idare et Cie costumed the entire show, Dolly was called in at the last minute to design several modern gowns for Anita Elson and Maidie Hope, all executed by Peron, where she is now house designer. They are exquisite.

“This all happened via Eddie Dolly”
she explains “he was responsible for the dances and ensembles and was not entirely happy with some of Idare’s creations.”

The show is a mish-mash of traditional musical comedy, a romantic drama, a good ‘spoof’ crime play and a satirical revue but dancing is one of its most important features, which suits me down to the ground. There are speciality dances from the graceful and charming Forde Sisters, Henry de Bray and Terri Storey are superb in the flirting salesman dance, Santry and Norton provide some amazing acrobatic turns and Sonnie Hale and Anita Elson feature in Dancing My Worries Away.

‘Hmm that was as clean and exhilarating as a glass of dry champagne or two’ says Monty afterward. He also reminds me that Marion Forde was an American and that I had seen her in En Douce at the Casino de Paris earlier in the year and in cabaret at Le Jardin De Ma Souer.

Afterward, I take them all to Romano’s restaurant for dinner to give Lorenzo a feel for an Anglicized Italian restaurant with an international flavour. Of London’s restaurant’s few have a more distinctive character and atmosphere than Romano’s. The founder was Nicolino Alfonso Romano, affectionately called The Roman who died in 1901. He had been head waiter at the Café Royal in 1870s and out of his savings he bought a fried fish shop in the Strand and converted it into his restaurant. Romano’s has become a London institution and famous throughout the bohemian world as a resort of characters, literary journalist and theatrical and sporting notables. It has a façade of butter coloured magolica tiles and the bright and comfortable dining room is handsomely decorated in Moorish style. One side of the room is covered with a series of painted panels beneath glass and framed in Moorish shape showing a series of views of the Bosphorus all very blue and sunny looking. Sofa seats and wide arm chairs stand beneath the paintings and on another side of the room is a great alcove with Moorish arches

Romano's Restaurant

The cuisine prides itself on its specials of chicken curry, sauté de beuf and two key dishes filet de sole tabarin and chicken a la Lombarde. The menu tonight consists of Germany (a soup made by adding yolk of egg to white consommé), Mousseline de Homard Grand Duc (Lobster mousseline), Becasse au fumer (woodcock) with Salade Japonaise, biscuit Glace aux Avelines (iced sweet brought to the table on the back of a swan cut out of a block of ice is a pretty conceit). We also partake in the 1875 brandy which is famous.

‘Just so you know’ I say ‘King Edward when the Prince of Wales had his own private room and cutlery here…’

We are still feeling frisky so decide to pop into the Embassy for a spot of socialising and hoofin it. As we arrive there are squeals of delight as Eva runs over and gives me a big hug. She is with Aubrey who is very chatty too. They soon run off to dance. Then Priscilla arrives with a crowd. She comes over, kisses me on both cheeks and says we should meet soon. Peggy Marsh is also here surrounding by admirers and she too comes to visit and whispers in my ear.

‘Well Fynes my dear’ says Lorenzo with a smirk ‘looks like you have acquired a harem.’

Saturday 28th July

After a lazy day we meet Priscilla and a friend called Dora at the Criterion for cocktails. They are both looking divine in gowns by Isobel Couture of Maddox Street, who they tell us is becoming very much de rigueur. Priscilla is wearing a beaded net gown with silver tissue and pink ribbon and Dora has a frock of shot blue and silver tissue with the ceinture (waist band) relieved with pearls. Later, we make our way to the Metropole Hotel in Northumberland Avenue. We go straight to the Restaurant des Ambassadeurs which has an atmosphere of sombre hotel stateliness. The roof is painted to resemble a gorgeous torquoise blue sunset with scudding golden clouds and the lights are encased in enormous pink silk flowers that glow. We dine excellently and for some reason all feast on the same thing: a Filets de Sole Calypso, one of the masterpieces of the chef M. Graillot. The filet is cooked in fish stock and Chablis along the parsley, tarragon and paprika and topped with peeled prawns.

After dinner we take our seats in the ballroom. I have seen the cabaret here many times before but we thought it would be good to let Lorenzo see one of the best cabarets in town. I have forgotten to mention before that the ballroom area has been decorated by Ashley Tabb and comprises jade green pillars that sweep upwards to a great cream roof picked out in jade lace. The orchestra sit in a deep blue alcove flanked by two pale orange lamps. Extreme decorum and the austereness of unemotional Britain seem the keynote. I still love the Chinese lanterns made of hand painted silk that swing across the room and add a lovely flourish to the décor.

The ‘Midnight Follies’ programme, produced by Carl Hyson, is still the same and the numbers Paradise Lane, Hawaiieen, China Love, Pinkie, Cutie, The Follies Derby, Zwadir and Gipsy Night in June are still fresh and invigorating and a pot-pourri of excellent dancing, songs, costumes, lighting and effects.

Sunday 29th July

Lorenzo has hired a car and a driver and we take a late afternoon drive into the country and with Priscilla and Dora visit the area around Maidenhead. We take boat rides on the Thames and have a lovely picnic which the ladies arranged. Later, when it is getting dark we head off to Murray’s River Club near Maidenhead bridge on the edge of the river. It is a magnificent old Georgian building that has been transformed into a glamorous rendevous of ragtime and romance by Jack May who owns and runs Murray’s club in Beak Street.

‘The club is in what was the old Manor house of Maidenhead, inhabited by a generation of staid gentlemen called Herring.’ I tell them all ‘you can see their sign – a fish – still turning slowly on the house weathercock above.’

We forgo the boat rides from a mooring at the end of the lawn and instead take cocktails outside on the lawn. Strings of fairy lanterns and little lights pop up everywhere in the flowers and trees and white coated waiters wizz about with amazing dexterity.

We walk into the house and take a dance in a blue-ceilinged Japanese ballroom before taking dinner on the verandah overlooking the green sloping lawn and the river. Albert, the maitre d’hotel insinuates himself into the foreground with a pencil, dropping gentle hints which develop into our dinner.

‘I am told he was a trusted waiter on King Edward’s staff at Biarritz in 1906’ I mention.

As the evening progresses the place is hopping. No surprise really since it is only a short drive from London and always attracts a lively crowd. It is also particularly popular with the theatrical contingent and we notice several stars of the stage.

Murray's River Club at Maidenhead

The dance band is wonderful and plays such delightful songs as ‘The Dancing Honeymoon’, the alluring fox trot ‘Chicago’ and ‘Come On and Dance.’ We alternate dancing in the ballroom or outside on a crystal floor open to the sky.

Monday 30th July

We visit a strange place on Dora’s recommendation for a quiet night out. The Riviera Dance Club is located in splendid isolation in Grosvenor Road on the river and is a mock Roman Villa originally designed by one of the Stanleys.

‘It’s chief attraction is that it is unlike any other dance club anywhere. It has a much more refined and soothing atmosphere and is far less frenetic than West End Clubs’
Dora explains in the taxi.

It is in fact a private club and Dora is a member. We have to ring the front doorbell as at a private house to gain admission. It is not a large venue but has a very chic air and the décor divine. The main dining room has oyster grey stone pillars and the dance floor is flanked by black and silver brocade walls. At dinner, the windows are open to the river and there is a luscious light breeze. One dines in peace. Later, a small band plays rather subdued music but people do dance. The words ‘awefully nice’ describe the people and the place.

We have a long conversation about this ‘n’ that and both ladies quiz Lorenzo about the purchase of his apartment and his plans for the future. It is decided that when Millie has finished decorating and furnishing, the ladies will help Lorenzo arrange a welcome party. They are awfully nice.

‘Hmm this interesting’ I say at last ‘it is very seldom that you find a dance club that is content to remain just itself; that does not rely on gourmetic cuisine, the presence of celebrity, the glamour of a crowd, exhibition dancers, the lure of a late night and unlimited bubbly.’

‘What you mean is it is dull’ says Dora with a laugh.

I think she might be right. We leave early and head off to dance at the Embassy.

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Casino de Paris (En Douce), Café de Paris, Perroquet, Palace Theatre (Toutes Les Femmes), Marguerry, Le Canari and Abbaye de Theleme.

Friday 2nd March

On route from the Riviera back to London we stop in Paris. I love springtime in Paris! The city always looks radiant, full of life and so glorious. We all settle into Mimi’s house with ease. Monty and Dolly have decamped to Claridge’s just down the road. Almost immediately we are off out, minus Mimi, who has already disappeared in a cloud of furs, diamonds and perfume with Sir Oliver.

We meet Cécile, Monty and Dolly for drinks at Fouquet’s and on Mama’s insistance we all go to see Mistinguett in the second version of En Douce at the Casino de Paris, 16 Rue de Clichy. ‘Miss’ as she is known affectionately is fast becoming a national institution, even more so since the demise of Gabys Deslys. She is a lithe dancer and is amazingly glamorous in her array of costumes designed by Gesmar and Zig. She wears some astounding hats and one is a mountainous affair composed entirely of flower petals.

Mistinguett

Mistinguett

“She might look delectable my dears.” Says Mama with some force. “But it is well known that she is obsessive and ruthless, has huge tantrums, and fights like a cat.”

“Yes, apparently Miss was not amused at the contest last week for the shapeliest legs in Paris.” Monty tells us. “She lost to one of the dancers in her show, an American called Marion Forde, who is delightful by the way. Marion won two pairs of stocking daily for a year.”

The show was magnificent and also featured the talent of Dorville, Magnard, Jane Myro, the Tiller Girls and the Polish dancer Jan Oyra who also acted as choreographer. Two spectacular scenes stood out including ‘Les Pierres Precieuses’ that featured showgirls dressed as Coral, Topaz, Pearl, Ruby, Turquiose, Sapphire and black diamond and the fancy ‘Le Palais du French Can Can.’ The finale was spectacular. It opened with a series of semi-naked girls made to represent ebony, onyx, marble and jade statues on a  revolve. When the theatre was plunged into darkness the figures lit up in the dark due to the application of an amazing luminous flesh paint that had come from New York. When the light came back up and they moved aside and a vast glass talk containing thousands of gallons of water rose up and Mistinguett and the troupe dived in!

We have booked a large table to have supper at the incomparable Café de Paris at 11 Avenue de L’Opera, underneath the Cecle Militaire. Rich and famous Parisians and foreign visitors come here not just to eat well but to be seen and amuse themselves. It is a place of the highest luxury, quality and price with one of the best wine cellars in the city.

Monty is thrilled since he has not eaten here before and says “What Delmonico’s once was to New York and America, the Café de Paris is to Paris and France. It is legendary.”

“ I am told that if you dine here regularly you must have been born with a golden spoon in your mouth, but not just any spoon, a spoon filled with caviare.” Says Papa. “And I love caviare.”

“You may be sure that nearly everyone here is interesting either on account of what he or she has done or what he or she possesses.” Says Henri.

We all laugh when Millie says “Of course this place is essentially the resort of men who think in millions or of women who have no need to think about such matters at all.”

At any rate, the most beautiful clothes, the loveliest arms and shoulders and the costliest diamonds vie with the expensive food and sparkling champagne to make the Café de Paris one of the most attractive places in the world. But it is not a big place. In fact it is quite small. When you enter, in front of you is a large table laden with a buffet of delicacies and guests are ushered into the soft velvet seats against the walls to the right or left. The very manners of the waiters are calculated to soften the asperities of life. We eat well and sample the famous cold Poularde de Café de Paris and Homard Thermidor. We send our appreciation to the notable chef and proprietor M.Mourier, who also owns the Armenonville, and Fouquet’s, before we dance on the tiny dance floor to an appropriately small group of musicians.

Mama and Papa retire, but we all dash back to the Casino de Paris to visit Le Perroquet the elaborate nightclub and cabaret de luxe which is over the foyer. Cecile has been determined to get me here and says “It opened almost two years ago and  is regarded as the smartest dancing in Paris now.” She  sniggers and adds “This is where  la Femme du Monde in jewels and wraps, like me like to be seen.”

Le Perroquet, above the foyer of the Casino de Paris

Le Perroquet, above the foyer of the Casino de Paris

Leon and  Albert Volterra have created a delightful palace with incredible décor executed by Paul Poiret featuring walls painted with brightly coloured parrots hence the name of the place and fabulous hanging lanterns. Two negro Jazz bands – Louis Mitchell’s Jazz Kings and the Brune orchestra – play and Cecile tells me there is usually an excellent cabaret show that  comprises international dancers.

“Louis Mitchell is a tour de force.” Says Monty. “He was famous before the war of course in New York and he even played at the Piccadilly hotel, London in the summer of 1914. He has been the resident band at the Casino since 1918 but there are rumours that he is going to open his own rendezvous.”

“Oh look is that Pearl White?” Says Millie pointing discretely.

“Oh yes so it is.” Monty replies. “I have just done a story on her.”

“Do you mean the serial queen, Perils of Pauline and all that?” I ask.

“Yes indeed. She spent part of last year in Paris and starred in the show La Revue des Etoiles at the Casino de Paris but only for a few weeks before the theatre was burnt down. She is now back in Paris after a trip back to America. It is rumoured that she is going into a convent, the purpose of which is not entirely devotional, but to contemplate studying the language and to acquire a cultural etiquette and polish. You see the gossip is that she is engaged to the recently divorced Duke of Valombrosa, one of the wealthiest and most blue-blooded Italians who is a banker in Paris.”

We stay very late and by 2am it became so unbearably crowded it was difficult to dance and we decided to call it a night. Each lady receives a beautifully dressed poupee (doll) as a souvenir which is a charming touch as we leave.

Saturday 3rd March

After a leisurely day we go to see Toutes Les Femmes at the Palace Theatre at 8 Rue Faubourg. The theatre had been the Eden but was renovated and expanded by Oscar Dufrenne and Henri Varna and is now sumptuously appointed. This was their first show and it was making a big noise in Paris and was as spectacular and impressive as the Casino de Paris show. It stars Harry Pilcer who dances with Marcelle Rahna and Wyn Richmond, Mlle Polaire, Peggy Vere (who is married to the cabaret proprietor Oscar Mouvet) and Nina Myral.

Programme for Toutes Les Femmes at the Palace Theatre, Paris

Programme for Toutes Les Femmes at the Palace Theatre, Paris

The costumes by Guy Arnoux, Aumond, Zinoview, Jose Zamora and Vilpelle are stunning and the scenes include L’Eventail Magique (the magic fan) with a magnificent display of showgirls with fans,  a Mexican scene, a Roof Garden in New York, the exquisite  Murano Collection and the quirky ‘A Fine Meal’ where two diners – Pilcer and Richmond- are fed by showgirls dressed in creations by Paul Poiret as oysters, crayfish, salad with truffles, Foie Gras, La Bombe glacee, fruits, coffee and Benedictine.

“It is interesting that since Cannes, Wyn Richmond is being described as the second Gaby Deslys. Her dresess by Jeanne Lanvin were delightful. I think Cecile, Dolly and I should go shopping.” Says Millie.

For dinner we decide to visit the nearby Marguery Restaurant at 34 Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle, sited beside the Theatre du Gymnase in one of the busiest parts of the boulevards where the Boulevard du Temple joins the Boulevard Poissoniere. Rich and elegant with a wealth of ornamentation, sculpture, ironwork and mosaics and a glass terrace flowered like a conservatory, Marguery is divine. The cuisine is perfect and the wine good.  Of course, the world-wide fame of the sole Marguery, which is the most famous way for serving this fish, attests to the prestige of this ancient place. Henri tells us that the real gourmets have never deserted this excellent house and they are frequenting it even more.  All good comment for my restaurant column.

Like the Casino de Paris, the Palace Theatre also hosts an elegant night club called Le Canari, which, since the finale of Toutes Les Femmes featured the establishment, we are persuaded to visit and have a pleasant time dancing to the Continental Six.

Advert for Canari night-spot

Advert for Canari night-spot

However, we are all keen to get to the Abbaye de Theleme in Montmartre. The  Trix Sisters have established themselves as ‘the Blues Room’ with a cabaret featuring them singing and a numerous other guests particularly dancers. They are as wonderful as they were in London in Jack Hylton’s Cabaret Follies and the dancing of Flora Lea and Simonne Mirat  was also good. We remember Flora Lea from the Cabaret Follies as well.
Interestingly, the entire place is full of Americans.

“My oh my Monty. What is going on?” I ask in jest.

“The exchange rate I guess Fynes. But it is also a well known fact that Paris has become a wet suburb of a dry New York. One has to ask: what would happen to Paris and Montmartre in particular, if it were not for the foreigners who patronise it nightly?”

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