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Posts Tagged ‘Jack May’

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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The Hippodrome, Hotel Cecil, Ciro’s and Murrays

 Friday 6th October

Monty has been busy with deadlines and has popped off for a few days somewhere. Dolly telephones me. “I am bored. Can we have a night out tonight?” she asks.

“Where would you like to go?”

“Simple. Let me take you to the Hippodrome show and then for dinner. Howsat?”

“Excellent.”

I pick her up at her family apartment in Newman Street and we head off to the Hippodrome. Julian Wylie runs the shows here and Dolly is his exclusive dress designer so we get an excellent box and are treated like royalty. Round in 50 has been playing to packed audiences since March. Described as a “musical adventure” it is a vehicle for the popular comedian George Robey with his funny blackened eyebrows, naughty vocabulary and a heart of gold. Taken from Jules Verne’s Round the World in Eighty Days, the plot centres on Phileas Fogg who, angered by his nephew’s extravagance, issues an ultimatum that unless he creates a new record travelling the globe in fifty days he will be disinherited.

Programme for Round in 50 at the London Hippodrome

Programme for Round in 50 at the London Hippodrome

The seventeen scenes travel across the globe providing a perfect frame for various madcap adventures and ingenious decor. In Italy there was a display of liqeurs; in China a parade of old ivory carvings in delicious black and white creations; San Francisco provided a cabaret which was transformed into a tea-totallers meeting and California blossomed into a glorious orange grove.

“I am amazed I didn’t see it earlier because it is hugely entertaining.” I say “And, fancy missing the added bonus of Sophie Tucker for a three month run in the summer?”

“Well, from now on I doubt you will miss an opening night!” Dolly says with a laugh as we leave the theatre to get a cab “I have almost finished all the designs for Cinderella, the next pantomime, and I am working on the next big show called Brighter London.”

We motor to the vast Cecil Hotel, an 800 room edifice built in 1886 on the Strand overlooking the embankment gardens and the river. We take a late dinner in the restaurant, a large and lofty pillared hall with a glazed balcony overlooking the Victoria Gardens and on the west side, a glorious view of Westminster. The décor shimmers in pink, white and gold amidst the imposing colonnades of rich blue. It is luxurious, elegant and the food exceptional.

The Ballroom of the Hotel Cecil

The Ballroom of the Hotel Cecil

“I love this place almost as much as the Savoy, next door” says Dolly.

We start with oysters and then have iced consommé, poached eggs in aspic, sliced chicken breast and foie gras in jelly. This was followed by Sole a la Francine – fish cooked in wine and cream – with a skinned grape decoration. Our dessert was fresh strawberries and sliced fresh peach sprinkled with a liqueur flavoured syrup, resting on a strawberry ice and covered in a golden nest of spun sugar.

This is the first time we have had time together on our own to get to know each other.  Dolly tells me all about her family, her early life as an actress for stage and film and how she gave it all up to become an illustrator and costume designer. I tell her about boring things in comparison about my family, schooling, university and my complete lack of any aspiration.

We also talk about our nocturnal adventures “I love cabaret and I love dancing. Some of my friends even call me the Cabaret Girl you know.” She laughs. “Since I met Monty I have been going out much more and he is the perfect escort. Of course the title of the next Hippodrome show is rather apt. All of a sudden within the last year cabaret has taken hold and begun to make London brighter!”

“You know Dorothy Dickson said exactly the same thing” I say. “To be honest Dolly, London has always been brighter. It has just evolved. Remember just after the war many eating and drinking venues created space for dancing and some places like the Savoy, Trocadero, Rectors, Grafton Galleries, Murrays and the Embassy booked exhibition dancers, who became the draw. Then the first real shows surrounding these couples came about at Murrays in late 1920 with the Frolics and then the Metropole Hotel with the Midnight Follies in October 1921.”

“Did you go to all these places?” she asked.

“Yes, I did, but not often. I was lucky because my entire family like a night out! And Millie my sister often took me with her as I loved to dance like you. Now of course it is a different matter! I can do as I please.”

“Me too!” Dolly replies.

After coffee we move to the Palm Court  and dance the night away. Even with chairs and sofas around the sides of the room, the floor space is considerable in this amazingly spacious room. It is blissful. Dolly kisses me. My heart is racing. What about Monty? I am not brave enough to ask.

Saturday 7th October

The next day Monty is still away and Dolly is still bored. We decide to go to Ciro’s in Orange Street for dinner. We sit at our table drinking a delightful cocktail called a Monkey Gland, which Harry, prince of cocktail mixers, makes to perfection out of gin, orange juice and absinthe. I have been here a few times before and Ciro’s in Deauville of course but know nothing of its history. But help is at hand.

“Before the war this was a very grand public bathhouse” Dolly tells me “as you can see it has beautiful proportions and even the architects name is on the wall outside!” We sit in a large square room surrounded by balcony or gallery that is flanked by imposing pillars to the ceiling. The room has a delicate décor of lettuce green and old gold. We sit on the ground floor amidst a thicket of tables chairs and a platoon of waiters.

“The original Ciro was an Italian born Egyptian who opened his restaurant in the fashionable section in Monte Carlo” says Dolly authoritatively. “It was so successful that it was taken over by an English Syndicate who expanded and opened branches in Paris on the ground floor of the Hotel Daunou and then London, Deauville and Biarritz. In each place it is regarded as more than a restaurant but the fashionable centre of life itself.”

She pauses to take a long gulp of her cocktail. “Look carefully….. there are celebrities to the right, nobilities to the left, notorieties in front and popularities behind you… it is a pot-pourri of people for whom time and the tide of affairs has for the moment ceased to exist.”

“Yes, you are right of course, but have you noticed that we are surrounded by rather lovely women and rather elderly men, with my exception of course?”

We have a delightful dinner. Grey green cavier with well made toast; an invigorating clear consommé; a sole with a delicious sauce; a delicate chicken dish (Supreme de Volaille Dora); an incredible iced dessert called Bombe Merie Brizard and finally angels on horseback (for those of you who have no idea what this is it is bacon and oysters or Anges a Cheval). We took a modest Haut Sauterne to drink.

The band, which I believe to be the Red Devils who replaced Sherbo’s Men earlier in the year,  begins to tinkle rather delicately in the gallery at 8.15pm.

We send our compliments to M. Rossignol late of the Casino Deauville, the head of the 21 chefs of Ciro’s and we dance a little on the miniscule dance floor.

We catch the early dinner show. Once again it is the delightful Olga Samya and Donald Sawyer. I tell Dolly that they have been described as the best exhibition couple now appearing in London.

We cannot stay. Dolly has managed to reserve a table for the launch of a totally new cabaret show at Murray’s in Beak Street. And yes, she has created all the costumes. As we leave I see Papa with a small group of friends tucked away. He does not notice me but I notice that the ravishing Samya has joined him at his table.

We arrive at Murray’s well in time to see the supper version. This is one of London’s oldest nightclubs created in 1913 alongside the 400 and the Lotus in a flurry of excitement that was partly squashed by the war. My parents were regulars at the time and told me that this was the hub of the English dancing world where new dances and new steps were tested by the best dancers in town. Only Murray’s survived. The proprietor is a rather dubious fellow called Jack Mays, who is allegedly American. He has made his club one of the most popular dance places in London. You walk down the stairs into an impressive oblong room with a high ceiling. The dance floor is right in front of you and to the left there is an expansive seating area behind a colonnade of pillars. The décor is plain with wooden panelled walls, mirrors and chandeliers. The band is at the furthest end of the room. Interestingly, there is an air-conditioning system called Ozoniar that keeps the ambiance fresh and pure.

Murray's Nightclub in Beak Street

Murray's Nightclub in Beak Street

We are having a little dance when Eva taps me on my shoulder. “Hello Fynes” she says sweetly “fancy bumping into you. This is Biffy by the way.”  She squeezes the arm of a tall dark haired man who smiles nervously at me but does not make a sound “oh thanks for dinner on Wednesday it was divine.” She disappears into the throng. It is then that I noticed Aubrey scowling in the distance. I wave. He comes and joins us at our table a little later and bores us to tears talking about his love for Eva. He knows that half of London is after Eva, including me and that she is simply having a good time with all her various beaux. I wish he would lighten up. We were saved by the cabaret.

Josephine Earle was the star with the amazingly talented Ernest Marini, a chorus of 10 and the added bonus of the eccentric dancing of the Broadway cabaret artist Hazel Shelley, direct from the Ziegfeld Follies.

The cabaret entertainers at Murray's Club, including Josephine Earle and Ernest Marini

The cabaret entertainers at Murray's Club, including Josephine Earle and Ernest Marini

“Josephine is a great friend” says Dolly in my ear “she is from Brooklyn, New York but came here after the war to appear in Lilac Domino. She had been on the screen for Vitagraph and has starred in several movies here.”

Miss Earle sang several songs and danced exceptionally well with Mr Marini through 8 gloriously well staged numbers that included a scene with costumes representing powder boxes with abundant fluffy underthings and an Hawaiian number with dresses that bore an uncanny resemblance to those worn by the chorus with Dorothy Dickson when she sang her Hawaiian song in The Cabaret Girl. The applause was deafening and Dolly was thrilled.

 Josephine came and joined us wearing a pale green chiffon number encrusted with a dark jade floral motif and was very jolly and full of fun. She knocks back glass upon glass of the champagne I ordered in celebration of a rather good first night so I say  “It must be sickening for you Americans to come so many thousands of miles just for a drink.”

“Honey, why do you think half of America has emigrated to Europe?” she exclaims with delight!

Once again, as we dance Dolly kisses me. The rest of the evening is sublime. I take Dolly home and outside she says “my parents are away, please come up for a night cap.”

I return home at dawn. I make sure I go in the back way and try to be as quiet as a mouse.

 

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