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Posts Tagged ‘Joan Sawyer’

The Ritz Hotel, Ouistiti Roof Garden, New York Bar, L’Ours and Champs Elysees Restaurant

Sunday 1st July

Like any good visitor to Paris who is in the know, the only place to be on a Sunday night at this time of the year is the Ritz. Well, this is the official statement from Papa, hence his insistance that we all go. Instead of Fouquet’s all the family, along with Cecile, meet up in the Ritz bar for cocktails situated on the discreet side of the Ritz Hotel on the Rue Cambon. However, the ladies are not admitted into the main the bar, and have to sip their drinks in an adjoining annex. This of course is not appreciated by our lady-folk who are of the more strident kind. Without doubt, the bar we are in is one of the most select watering holes in the world and Frank Meyer who is in charge is the best-known drink shaker anywhere.

We collect the disgruntled ladies. “It is the last time I do that” says Mama indignantly.

We make our way into the stupendous Grill Room with its restaurant, gallery and dance floor for over 400 covers. The world that counts gathers here and it is regarded as the place for diplomats, foreign princes, newspaper proprietors, great dressmakers and American millionaires. Indeed, tonight there is a reigning King and Queen, the heir to a famous throne, the richest banker in the world, a once famous beauty who has just divorced a steel magnate, the head of the greatest jewellery house in the world, a dowdy old dowager, a French newspaper baron and a string of American woman who have married into French artistocracy including Princess de Polignac.

Papa tells Cecile “this is the habitat of international society. They talk a common language, wear a common livery, and they are as much at home here in Paris as in London or New York. But, they will only gather here together under this roof.” Cecile is looking a little uncomfortable. I do not blame her and squeeze her hand under the table.

It is a rarified atmosphere of polite extremes that I find very tedious. In fact it is rather stuffy. But our dinner is exceptional. Under M. Elles, the manager, the chefs have gained a great reputation and the cuisine features the best French dishes that include Poularde sauté au champagne, Caneton la bigarade (a succulent duck served cold with orange and porto jelly), Poularde Vendome (a stuffed bird with foie gras served with tarragon jelly) and vol-au-vont de sole Marquise.

Between courses we dance but there is no real excitement. I am relieved when we retire for coffee and cognac in the long narrow lounge. Afterward, Cecile and I, along with Millie and Henri, pop into the Ouistiti Roof Garden above the Marigny Theatre, Champs Elysees. This is our second visit to see the elegant dancing of Florence Walton and her husband Leo Leitrim, who have been dancing here for what seems like a long season. Their popularity is undiminished. Equally, this is a lovely venue and we have a marvellous time in an atmosphere much more to our liking.

Monday 2nd July

In light of poor Cecile’s ordeal at the Ritz, Millie and Henri and I decide to take her out to the Rue Daunou for a lighter, more enjoyable evening. We start by having a delightful informal dinner at Ciro’s (6 Rue Daunou). Like the Ritz this is also a society rendezvous but Millie says “this is the place where anybody who is anybody goes to see what everybody who is anybody is wearing. Far more interesting than the Ritz.”

Between the end of dinner and 11.30 when the supper-dancing establishments open there is only one thing doing in Paris and that is the cabaret underneath the famous the New York bar at 5 Rue Daunou.

Henri, who is a regular, tells us “It was first opened by Mrs Milton Henry wife of a well known jockey in 1911 but she sold out. During the war the bar became a favourite meeting place for war correspondents. In 1920 Mrs Henry returned, re-purchased the bar and installed Les Copeland at the piano as the cabaret.”

“Ah, we saw Les Copeland only the other night at the Jockey Club”
says Cecile.

“He is amazing and I used to come and listen to his singing all the time” continues Henri “anyway, in 1922 Maurice and Leonara Hughes arrived and opened the now defunct Clover Club in the Rue Caumartin. They brought with them two singers from New York’s East side – Tommy Lyman and Roy Barton. Lyman was not happy with his treatment by Maurice and so moved to the New York bar when Les Copeland quit. The boxer Jack Dempsey and Damon Runyon, who knew Lyman were then in town and made the place famous.”

“One particular night last year” says Millie “Irving Berlin was playing at the piano and Jenny Dolly was asked to dance. She persuaded Dempsey to join her and they performed a rather spirited jazz dance that they called Chicago’ on top of the piano.”

“I believe Mrs Henry has now sold the bar to a Scottish gentleman called Harry McElthone, who used to be head bartender at Ciro’s in London. I guess it may well be renamed Harry’s Bar.” Says Henri.

Moving on we visit L’Ours cabaret at 4 Rue Daunou. Small and intimate it is nevertheless luxurious and caters for a very ‘Daunou’ smart crowd. Tonight the cabaret features the dancing of a rather wonderful English couple called Sielle and Mills. I have heard of them but Millie knows a little more.

Robert Sielle & Annette Mills

“Robert Sielle is rather fun and cheeky. He had been in the Royal Flying Corps during the war and had also entertained the troops. After being demobbed he found he could dance, met Annette Mills and they formed an act. One of their first sets was at the Criterion Roof Garden in 1921 but since then they have performed on the continent as well as in London. Their great strength is that they can do the usual dances exceptionally well but they introduce an element of humour by clowning around.”

They are very polished and accomplished and their novelty numbers that included a golliwog dance were wonderfully funny. They introduced little bits of fantasy by wearing extra items of clothing over their evening clothes, which was particular effective. They remind me of Fred and Adele Astaire, but actually I think they are better.

Wednesday 4th July

Monty and Dolly Tree are in town and we meet at Fouquet’s. Dolly is very animated and orders champagne “we need to celebrate. I have become sole designer for Peron Couture. My first collection will be unveiled later in the year. I am so excited.”

She kisses both of us and we congratulate her effusively.

I have got tickets for Harry Pilcer’s Independence day fete at the new Champs-Elysees restaurant which opened a few weeks ago on 63 Avenue des Champs-Elysees. An array of French and American stars will appear as the entertainment with the proceeds going to blinded war veterans. So we continue our celebrations. We have drinks first in the bar in the basement which is the largest in Paris, and the most comfortable, before moving upstairs to our table.

The restaurant is owned and run by an American called Jules Ansaldi. Monty tells us “He was well known in New York and was considered to be one of the originators of the cabaret on Broadway. He first operated Louis Martin’s club then the Sans Souci and launched the careers of the dancers Maurice Mouvet, Joan Sawyer, Florence Walton and the Castles. After the First World War he ran the Grande Bretagne Hotel on the Rue Caumartin and in 1920 changed the restaurant into Maurice’s club.”

Dolly Sisters in Paris Sans Viole (Paris, 1923)

We have an amazing dinner and the cabaret is superb, the highlight of which was the dancing of Harry Pilcer and the gorgeous Dolly Sisters, who are still appearing in Paris Sans Viole at the Ambasadeurs. It is delightful to cause such a stir with onlookers when both of them take turns to dance with me afterward. I am indeed very lucky.

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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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