Posts Tagged ‘Les Copeland’

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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Montparnasse: Petit Napolitain, Café du Parnasse, Lavenue, Café du Dome, Jockey Club and Café de la Rotonde.

Saturday 30th June

As a little interlude to our Bois extravaganza, Cecile has insisted on staying in Paris tonight but tells me we will go south and visit the Latin Quarter of Montparnasse.

“Do remember Fynes” she says beforehand “the cafes and restaurants there are mostly of the cheaper and more modest kind… so do not put on airs and graces.”

“Of course not my dear. What on earth do I wear?”

She bashes me with a newspaper
“Don’t be silly” she snaps.

I actually know that Montparnasse is quiet different and that since the turn of the century many artists relocated there from Montmartre which they felt had been overrun with bars, nightclubs and cabarets becoming overpriced and far too commercial. They were attracted to the peace, tranquillity and cheapness of Montparnasse. Of course, its popularity will mean that it may become more like Montmartre in due course.

I meet a group of Cecile’s friends who live in the district at a little cafe: two women called Nina and Regine and two men called Sasha and Raphael. All are either artists or writers or both. I am not sure who is with whom and I feel uncomfortable to ask. However, we have a wonderful conversation talking about Montparnasse, in French of course.

Raphael says “probably no people in Paris have had so much romance spun around them as us bohemians who live here. Take a look at all the literature from Henri Murger’s La Vie Boheme, to George du Maurier’s Trilby and W.C. Morrow’s Bohemian Paris of Today.”

“Well to be honest Raphael”
says Regine “equally annoying are the dozens of American and English journalists who come here for a vacation and sit at our cafes and then spin a thousand words of gushing, puffing romanticism.”

“Actually, the only well-balanced account of the district can be found in W.R. Titterton’s Me as a Model or the wonderful clips by Arthur Moss, the Latin Quarter’s correspondent for the Paris Herald” volunteers Sasha.

“If you ask me” says Cecile “the Latin Quarter is a state of mind rather than an area.”

“Hmm very profound” I add, “my observation is that it is about freedom. Here you can dress as you please, think as you please and do as you please.”

“Bravo” says Raphael.
“Exactly” says Sasha.

It looks I have said the right thing and Cecile smiles at me approvingly.

Then I add “Of course I sometimes think that the Latin Quarter is co called because of a noteworthy scarcity of Latins.” Thankfully everyone laughs.

We visit the Petit Napolitain and then the Café du Parnasse, both on the Boulevard for aperitifs and to look at the vast array of works of art on the walls. Here there is every possible style – Impressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Dadaism and every other kind of ism, besides some interesting Byzantine-like paintings in gold and black created by Russians influenced by their village church icons. It is breathtaking and I decide that I will come back another day and buy several that rather appealed. I certainly do not want to appear to be too affluent with my new friends.

Cecile takes us all to Lavenue restaurant on the corner of Boulevard Montparnasse and Rue du Depart, opposite the Gare Montparnasse. A famous old café – restaurant, it skirts the fringe of bohemia and is accordingly a haunt of mixed company with a clientele of many Americans and well-known artists. The café part is modern and noisy with a band but there is a restaurant at the back comprising three rooms and we eat on a covered porch beside a courtyard garden. She pays the bill despite my protests.

We move to Le Dôme Café (or Café du Dôme) that stands as a sentinel to Bohemia on the corner of Boulevards Montparnasse and Raspail. Founded in 1898, it became renowned as an intellectual gathering place and focal point for artists and is widely known as the “the Anglo-American café.”

Le Dome, Montparnasse, Paris

Le Dome, Montparnasse, Paris

As we take a seat outside which is already almost full, Nina says “Everybody in the artistic and literary circles of the world who visit Paris comes here at some point between six in the evening and two in the morning.”

She tells me all about Cesar the oldest waiter who terrorises the nearly dozen house cats by spraying them with a soda syphon and equally how he terrorises the customers with his cheery rudeness. Nevertheless, he is an institution not to be missed but because Nina is extremely attractive tonight he is rather courteous to us. But, you must not stare or ask about his wife since she ran off with the family fortune and another waiter.

The place is packed with cosmopolitan people of note and character and, like the district generally, is full of ladies with short hair and men with long hair, in fact just like my new friends. I am discreetly made aware of Nina Hamnet, the English woman painter, who draws some of the antics and characters of the Dome and elsewhere for the Paris Herald; Ezra Pound, the esoteric poet who pours his vitriolic wrath on the heads of anti-moderns and a Turkish gentleman called Bluebird, who allegedly has had more mistresses than anyone in the café.

After a rather jolly hour or so we are off to the newest cabaret at the Jockey Club situated at 146 Boulevard Montparnasse on the corner of the Rue Campeigne Premier, that opened a few weeks ago on the site of an old wine store. It is a weird little place that was founded by the American artist Hiler Harzberg (Hiliare Hiler) and a jockey called Miller hence the name.

From the outside it looks like a dilapidated shack with quaint, attenuated cowboys painted on the peeling shutters. Regine says one must never arrive before 11pm “but certainly no later as you will hardly be able to squeeze in.”

It is meant to hold a mere 50 people but on a normal evening over 200 are crammed in like sardines. Luckily, we get a table just in time but it is tight fit. The small room is covered from to floor ceiling with the weirdest posters and inscriptions of every kind and I am told Hiler Harzberg himself has created much of the décor. There is a miniscule dance floor in the centre of the room that must be about 3 ft by 6 ft that is covered in cracking linoleum and dancing there requires real skill. The ‘orchestra’ if you can call it that, consists of a broken down piano with a Russian pianist and two cross-eyed banjoists.

All sorts of peculiar people gather here including some rather bizarre ladies such as a woman in complete male dress who smokes cheroots through a long holder and another who wears a coat that resembles a Persian carpet and dances as if in a trance. However, the Queen of the Jockey Club is the immortal Kiki. Artists love to paint her because she has a fascinating catlike face and a voluptuous body. Recently she has been a model for Man Ray who has been producing the most amazing photographs of her. Tonight her black hair is straight and greased flat and I am told that she changes the colour of her eye shadow to match her dress and changes the contour of her pencilled eyebrows to match her mood. As ornaments she wears a couple of gilt curtain rings in her ears and can usually be found by the bar smoking and sipping an exotic looking drink through two straws. However, on the spur of the moment she would show her breasts or lift her skirt up telling delighted patrons ‘that will cost you a franc or two’ and turn the money over to a needy friend. She is the embodiment of outspokenness, audacity and creativity.

Kiki of Montparnasse

The cabaret is far from conventional and starts with that wonderful American singer Les Copeland, who if you remember we have seen and heard before. This is complimented by Hiler Harzberg himself playing piano and the pretty Floriane, who does this naughty-naughty dance. Finally, Kiki takes the floor wearing a shawl, which slid over her shoulders and sings with a voice that grates and jars, moving from side to side with economical and rounded movements. She sings rather outrageously dirty songs which strangely did not offend but cause enormous merriment and jollity.

For further excitement we visit the Café de la Rotonde, opposite the Dome on the Carrefour Vavin, at the corner of Boulevard Montparnasse and Raspail, it was founded by Victor Libion in 1910. We loiter outside and snatch a table and take some beers. It is seemingly more animated and amusing that the Dome. There is also an even quainter collection of peculiar looking people comprising a more cosmopolitan and motley assembly of students, poets and artists, Bolsheviks and anarchists. Everybody seems livelier probably because the topics of conversation are not so serious.

La Rotunde, Montparnasse, Paris

After a while we decide to move inside. Throughout, the walls of the café are covered in modern art serving as an admirable background for the modern crowd. Raphael tells me “If an impoverished painter couldn’t pay their bill, the proprietor Libion would often accept a drawing, holding it until the artist could pay, which often did not happen. That is why the walls are littered with a collection of artworks, that would make many drool with envy.”

We moved upstairs to a large room, which until 9pm is a modest restaurant, but is now a dance hall with a jazz band. The atmosphere is electric and I am in my element dancing with Cecile, Nina and Regine.

I tell Raphael “this is swell here.”

Raphael offers this observation “on the surface it certainly looks attractive but to us regular habitués of the quarter there is an air of artificiality here which sometimes makes things a little too obvious for our taste!”

As I take Cecile home in a cab she asks “did you enjoy your outing?”

“Oh yes very much” I reply and then add with a smile “but I have to confess it is far too bohemian for me.”

“I think not she replies” with a glint in her eye.

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Prunier’s, Ambassadeur’s and the New York Bar

Thursday 19h October

Monty is popping over to Paris again for a few days so I agree to join him. “It will just be us.” He says enthusiastically. “We can live it up a bit and go on  La Tournee des Grands Ducs.” 

“Aubrey mentioned that a couple of weeks ago and I still have no idea what it is.”

“Aha. It means a tour of all the night clubs in Montmartre dear boy. But the French now call it La Tournee Americaine!  I simply cannot think why! Actually, etymologically it stems from the term applied to the yearly trips to Paris by Russian noblemen and their nocturnal forays into Parisian nightlife.” Monty knows everything.

Once again, for speed, we fly from Croydon airport to Le Bourget and arrive in Paris in time for lunch. I insist on going to Fouquet’s bar at 99 Champs Elysees. There is no better vantage point for viewing the tide of elegance and fashion and its clientele is predominately of the ‘Le Monde ou l’on s’amuse.’ Needless to say we attract attention too. After all we are young, handsome and rather flush!

I should mention that Monty has private means coming from a very well-heeled New York family. He loves writing and his job as journalist and he is lucky to be able to do something he loves so much in his own time and in his own way. Since he covers society gossip and the arts our adventures sometimes feature in his various columns. And, he knows so many personalities many of whom he has interviewed. He is continually trying to get me to write and says I would do well as a restaurant critic since I know my food!

Monty disappears for the afternoon to interview someone and I make my way to Aunt Mimi’s house where we will stay this time. She is in London with Mama on her revived mission to find a new husband. She has already been through three but to be fair the last one snuffed it. And he was the nicest.

I am having a nap when there is a commotion downstairs. The commotion enters my room and pounces on me in the form of Millie my sister. Although she and Henri have their own house in Paris, she often stays here if there is a family gathering.

“Surprise” she squawks.

“Drat” I think, “that is our fun wrecked.”

“What are you doing here?” I ask clearly miffed.

“Oh Mama telephoned and told me you would be here so we came back early from the country. I simply had to see you. It has been ages. We will stay here and keep you company!

We natter endlessly as Mimi’s housekeeper brings us cups of tea and biscuits until she says “well I guess we had better get ready.”

“Ready for what?”

“I have booked the theatre and dinner. Henri will join us. And I have asked some friends. Alas, your Cécile is unavailable. But you knew that already didn’t you?” she says with a sly smile.

“ Where is Monty?”  she adds.

“He will be back very soon”  I am gutted. Monty will be livid.

“I am so embarrassed that even now my mother is trying to control my life via my sister”  I blurt to Monty behind closed doors as we change.

“We have to escape somehow”  he says “If not tonight then tomorrow night.”

We discuss strategy and come up with a few plans. But first we decide I should tackle Millie tomorrow morning. Perhaps a direct attack would work!

We meet in Fouquet’s again. As we sip cocktails, a horde of Millie’s friends arrive. Some have been clearly selected to keep us amused and occupied. But she has made a slight miscalculation with her first introduction. “Boys. This is June Day. She is THE dancing sensation of Paris at the moment. She has just done a little season at the Alhambra with Harry Pilcer and we are going to see her at Claridge’s tomorrow night.”

“Hello June” says Monty with a red face “or should….”

“Monty darling” June gushes and smothers him with kisses stopping him from saying anything further.

“Oh I should have know that all you Americans know each other” says Millie with a frown.

Even though it is close by we get a fleet of cabs to the smart little Ambassadeurs Theatre just off the southern end of the Champs Elysees on the Rue Gabriel. We are seeing the Oscar Dufrenne production of La Revue de la Femme which is drawing to a close after a few months run.

Programme for La Revue De La Femme, Ambassaseurs Theatre, Paris

Programme for La Revue De La Femme, Ambassadeurs Theatre, Paris

The French dancer and actress Paulette Duval is the star and is considered to be one of the most beautiful women in Paris. She is ravishing. “She starred in the film Poppea, a feature all about Nero, that was released in May” says Monty “it was abysmal. But she is untarnished.”

The real stars of the show are the gorgeous Guy sisters – Edmonde, Christiane and Marie – along with their incredible partner Ernest Van Duren.  They are magnificent in the scene Speed, but the most spectacular scenes are Les Ambassadeurs en 1880 and Les Mers. The latter has a stunning array of costumes by Erte representing the great seas of the world including the Mediterranean, the Baltic, the Red, the Black and White sea.

“I have been trying to get an interview with that Edmonde Guy for months” says Monty.

Edmonde Guy and Ernest Van Duren

Edmonde Guy and Ernest Van Duren

After the show we are taken to the wonderfully fashionable Prunier restaurant at 9 Rue Duphot near the Madeleine. This is the premier sea-food restaurant in Paris and Henri of course knows the owner Emile Prunier. The oyster bar and shop downstairs is amazing and the restaurant upstairs is luxurious and full of festivity. We take a vast range of dishes from oysters, bouillabaisse and bisque soup to homard Americain, mussels ad coquilles and sole Prunier to name but a few.

The interior of Prunier's

Monty and Henri discuss the origins of the restaurant. “This is a striking example of how a big modern restaurant grows up.’ Says Henri “It was founded in 1872 and was simply a modest oyster shop patronised primarily by foreigners, since the French did not appreciate oysters at the time. One day an American came in and showed M.Alfred Prunier how to cook oysters. He swiftly added scalloped oysters and oyster stew to the menu and business boomed. Later, Emile, his son, devoted more attention to fish and sea food and expanded the menu and the restaurant and added the shop.”

Henri asks Emile over to join in our conversation and he tells us “on average we have a thousand customers per day for lunch and dinner and we open 17,000 oysters daily!”

“See what a story” says Monty “you write it up Fynes and I will get it placed.”

Monty yabbers at length to June while I have to endure one of Millie’s friend’s called Gabrielle who tells me her life story in French. Yawn. In the bathroom Monty tells me about June. “I was her escort for a while a few years ago in New York when she was called Billy Raymond and in the chorus of a cabaret. I guess she wants to keep her real identity a secret for some reason.”

After dinner some of Millie’s guests vanish and there is a big debate about what to do next. Luckily, Monty and June win the day and we make our way to the famous New York Bar at 5 Rue Daunou – one of the most popular rendezvous in Paris. It is heaving with people who have come to see and listen to the legendary Les Copeland who plays the piano and sings nightly from 10-2am.

Les Copeland

“As an entertainer Copeland stands alone. He is a bohemian and has rooted objections to working unless he needs the money.” says June.

“I guess he must be broke then” says Millie with a grin.

“Yes” June replied with a laugh “which means we get the chance to see his amazing talent! You know Gershwin regards him as one of his favourite pianists and he has even privately entertained the Prince of Wales!”

“I have written about him before” says Monty  “He grew up in rural Kansas, made his name on San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, became famous as a pianist for Lew Dockstader’s ministrels and then had his own room at Reisenwebers’s cabaret in New York before he moved here.”

Les Copeland’s thoroughly original songs express the spirit of American folklore in a spontaneous and humorous style. His rendition of some new songs including The Finest Thing in London is the Bobby and You Can Call That a Perfect Day provoke a rapturous reception. But that is not all. Copeland has also engaged some friends to sing and Harry MacHenry and Al Brown also delight with double and single character songs.

After a spot of dancing Millie decides it is time to call it a night. We are not in the mood to argue. We drop June off at her Hotel and return to Mimi’s home for an early night.

We drink a lot of brandy in my room. For some reason Monty is seemingly reluctant to leave. I am being blunt to the point of being rude when he passes out on my bed. I am rather squiffy too but can only think of taking off his tux and putting him under the bedclothes.

When we wake up in the morning all he says is “blimey.”


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