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Posts Tagged ‘Elsa Maxwell’

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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Claridge’s, Clover Club, Grandy Teddy, Zelli’s, El Garron, Abbaye de Theleme, Washington Palace.

Friday 20th October

The next morning Mimi’s housekeeper makes a delightful English breakfast. Millie joins Monty and I. I have to tell you that Millie and Henri have their own family house in Paris but sometimes stay here.

“Do you really have to map out our nocturnal fun so precisely Millie?” I enquire nicely.

“Look” she says in a very matter-of-fact way “I am only doing what Mama has asked by keeping an eye on you. As long as you come to the gala at Claridge’s tonight I can report back that we had a good evening. What you do afterward is fine by me.”

“Oh you are an egg Millie” I squawk rather too delightedly. At least we do not have implement plan B which Monty and I hatched last night.

“Oh good’ says Monty “you see I interviewed a rather wonderful Spanish lady yesterday afternoon.” He says enthusiastically “… and I have been asked to see her performance tonight.”

“Oh we must come too. Who is it?” says Millie.

“It is the Spanish singer Raquel Meller. But alas, unusually they are ticketing her performances. I have only been given two tickets. Her shows are so popular she is sold out for the entire week.”

“I really want to experience La Tournée des Grands Ducs if we can too.”

“hmm” Millie replies “I guess you will be coming home as we serve breakfast tomorrow then?”

“Yes, I think we probably will” I admit.

Feeling much more relaxed, Monty and I take a stroll along the river Seine and around Le Jardin Tuilléres, have coffee and croissant and idle away the day talking.

That evening we go to Claridge’s for one of their popular Soirée de Gala dinner-dances. Millie has organised everything to perfection. Costumes arrive at 4pm. We change and then assemble for cocktails as our escorts also assigned by Millie arrive. Since I told Millie that Gabrielle is dull she has matched her up with Monty to his utmost chagrin. But I have the delightful company of Odette, who is an amazing dancer.

There are over 300 people assembled in the sumptuous restaurant and ballroom appropriately decorated to carry out the idea of Une Féte Chez Mephisto. We are all dressed in red and black or white and look very sinister and spooky. Dinner is a treat with equally spooky treats and Sherbo’s band played the latest Broadway music but focus on the foxtrots.

“They have the happy knack of keeping up with the times and are every bit as good as when they played in London at Ciro’s” says Monty.

There was also an Argentine orchestra led by Del Horno who dispensed the tango and a further jazz band. The cabaret is provided by the exquisite exhibition dancing of Jack Gavin and June Day and they were terrific receiving a standing ovation.

Millie tells us “this is Jack Gavin’s fourth season here. He crossed the Atlantic with Joan Sawyer in 1919 and created a great stir with the introduction of the Shimmy. They appeared at a benefit given in Paris by Mme Poincare and were personally congratulated by the first lady of France. They were immediately signed by Claridge’s.”

Monty adds “Last fall he was at the Embassy Club in London and then danced at the Negresco Hotel during the Riviera season. He has quite a following here and London. And I have to say June matches him perfectly”

June brings Jack over and introduces us. He is delightful, if a little full of himself, but then he is the star of the show I guess!

We dance for a while and after an hour or so, as the room begins to thin a little, Monty looks at his watch and announces “Millie I am afraid that Fynes and I will have to leave shortly.” We rush back to change at Mimi’s and get a cab to the Clover Club. We have good seats despite the crush and the atmosphere is electric in anticipation of Miss Meller’s performance.

Monty tells me a little about her. “She came from a poor family in Southern Spain and made her debut as a singer of risqué songs at the Arnao Theatre in the Parabello red-light district of Barcelona. She became an instant hit and appeared all over Spain. She made her Parisian debut in late 1919 at the Olympia and was brought to London by Albert de Courville to appear in Joy Bells at the Hippodrome in the summer of 1920. But although she got rave reviews she did not draw the anticipated large audiences.”

Raquel Meller

Raquel Meller

Suddenly the lights dim and Miss Meller walks onto the empty dance floor wearing a typical Spanish costume. She is incredible with a beautiful pale face, a tempting mouth and smouldering dark eyes. She begins to sing with a frail and delicate voice that is so emotive and haunting. She is mesmerising even though she sings in Spanish, and she is given a standing ovation. Before she sings her next song called El Relicario she has a slight hiccup with the backing orchestra and her temper flares.

“She is rather spoilt I think and I am told she can be quite temperamental as you can see…” whispers Monty with a titter.

We leave and pop over to the Grand Teddy or The So Different at 24 Rue Caumartin. Monty tells me that it is partly owned by the society party fixer Elsa Maxwell.  Here, Jenny Golder from the Folies Bergere is the star turn. Her performance well timed to follow Miss Meller across the street!

“She is English you know although born in Australia. For some reason everyone is confused about her origins” Monty tells me “probably because she swears in Italian, sings in English, gossips in German, drinks in Russian, behaves in French and explains it all in Spanish.”

Jenny Golder

Jenny Golder

She is an all round entertainer with a vibrant personality who can sing and dance, give impersonations and mingles a wonderful sense of humour with sex appeal. She is very clever and very funny.

We get into conversation with a gentleman who tells us where we ought to go on our tour. Monty agrees with everything he says. He is nothing short of polite but since he knows Paris like the back of his hand because of his job I think I trust him more! And, as I thought Monty turns out to be the perfect guide.

Just after midnight we head off up to Montmartre and our first stop is at Zelli’s bar, 16 Rue Fontaine which is a big raffish cavernous room lined with tables and packed to overflowing. “Joe Zelli is a rather happy, good-time Italian” says Monty “and since I am half Italian I should know all about Italians! He got his start running a restaurant in New York and then moved to London. He fought in the Italian artillery during the war and after the armistice catered to US officers at the original American bar at Tours. He made Paris his home and migrated from a nightspot on the Rue Caumartin to here. Some people think he is one of the most popular characters in Montmartre, while others think he is dubious and has a bad reputation.”

“Well it has got a great atmosphere but if you ask me I think this place is a little sleazy.” I say  “let’s face it the room is populated with a great many suspicious looking characters.”

“That is nothing out of the ordinary for places like this Fynes. The secret of Zelli’s success is due to his enormous stable of hostesses and gigolo’s. He has already made a fortune because he knows how Americans like to have their name remembered and his wife is French and she looks after the cash and the books!”

I am not that impressed by the band and the impossible crush prohibits good dancing. I cannot really believe why this place is regarded as one of the gayest places in Montmartre.

“Of course all us Yankees gravitate here”  says Monty “usually there is a good cabaret show in the typical international Parisian style. But not tonight seemingly.”

We move on down the street to the more palatable El Garron at 6 Rue Fontaine. This is a stuffy but smart place and is the lair of the Tango in Paris.

“This is owned and run by one of the Volterra brothers, who have their fingers in so many Parisian music halls and cabarets” says Monty “it is hugely popular with Argentines and South Americans.”

I prefer this place and we have a great time dancing to the excellent band.

At La Gaité Montmartroise or Chez Mariétte, formerly le Grand Vatel in the Rue Pigalle, we watch the dancing of the American Solange with the slogan Joy Jazz and Jollity. But we move on to the definitely rather jolly Pigalle’s on the Place Pigalle, which is a very smart establishment with two orchestras that play excellent music.

An advert for Pigalle's

An advert for Pigalle's

Our last port of call is the extremely popular and very fashionable at 1 Place Pigalle. “The Abbaye is the oldest of all the Montmartre supper places and was formerly a church. Do you know that before the war the waiters were garbed as monks?” Monty tells me.  We climb a stairway and enter a large hall brilliantly lit with lights and lanterns and decorated with flags in vivid spots of colour. The central dance floor was surrounded by horde of little tables all placed terribly close together. It was heaving with people even as we left at 5am.

Saturday 21st October

I forgot to tell you” says Monty at 4pm the next day as we had lunch nursing severe hangovers “the French call all the cabarets where you can dance ‘dancings’. Isn’t that kind of cute?”

“Lovely. In fact Millie told me about a super ‘dancing’ close by. We ought to go tonight.”

We take Millie and Henri and stroll to the Washington Palace at  14 Rue Magellan off the Champs Elysees near the Arc de Triomphe for a dinner-dance in a rather large and handsome ballroom that very clearly rivals that of Claridge’s. Fusella’s Orchestra is furnishing the music for the tangos and the Melody Six play the jazz numbers and it was marvellous. I am in great demand and dance for hours.

The entertainment between the dances was essentially Parisian in quality and excellent. But of all the acts the best was the comic dancers Billy Revel and the Parisian Lily Floriane were costumed as Apaches and danced a Valse Chaloupee (or in fact an Apache dance) and then did an amusing imitation of the American Camel Walk. Billy is English with an eccentric clownish style not lacking in character and has just started making a name for himself.

“He possess the art of being extremely funny without being coarse as only English mimics know” says Monty perfectly.

No more dancings tonight. I think we overdid it last night. 

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