Posts Tagged ‘Ziegfeld Follies’

Frascati’s and the Grafton Galleries (The Midnight Revels)

Wednesday 29th November

Father decides to have a quiet word. “What is this?” he asks indicating a range of newspapers and magazines opened at particular pages on a table in his office.

“Oh that” I say sheepishly “well… I meant to tell you… but you were so busy and I forgot.”  There in black and white were my debut pieces as a restaurant critic. I explain all. Papa is patient and seemingly intrigued.

“Well, they are jolly good Fynes” he says approvingly “but it has got me thinking about your future again. I have decided that you will come into the business a few days a week to learn the ropes.”

My heart sinks. Work. How am I going to cope with my busy social life?

He clearly knows what I am thinking “Don’t worry it will not be too arduous dear boy. You can start at 10am and only do 3 days a week. And you will be away on the Riviera for several weeks early next year so you can build up to full time after that. You will get used to it.”

“Eva” I say on the telephone “I have had a fright. I need a night out. I will pick you up at 7pm and we will go to dinner at Frascati’s and then a cabaret.” Frascati’s is one of Eva’s favourite places. She can never say no.

Frascati’s at 32 Oxford Street is celebrated for its cosmopolitanism, which Eva still does not understand because it contains an ism. The façade comprises a handsome gold portico and gold metalwork frames the large windows. One enters via a yellow and gold revolving door into what Eva calls rather charmingly “fairyland.” There is simply nothing like it in London and the architect built one other in Amsterdam. Apart from the magnificent décor in gold and silver the proprietors of Frascati pride themselves on their flowers and floral decorations are everywhere.

Frascati's Restaurant

Frascati's Restaurant

We enter the spacious vestibule or lounge area with thick red pile carpets in futurist patterns, vividly coloured brocade settees, brocade curtains and large gilt chandeliers. Eva is looking ravishing tonight. She truly is a beauty and is noticed immediately by dozens of admiring eyes. It makes me feel good.

On the right of the lounge is the Grill Room with large open charcoal grills. The central space is the actual restaurant which is a spectacular and immense room called the Winter Garden that rises to a huge glass dome and also has a wide balcony that overlooks the space below.

We take an extensive repast that includes a bottle of Chablis and Les Pérles de Whitstable, La Crème Souveraine, La Ruche Financiere, Les Supremes de Perdreau Sans nom la Salade Lelia, La Parfait de Foie Gras et La Durprise Frascat Mignardises.

The Chef Jules Matagne, who was chef to late King Leopold of Belgians, maintains his touch and I send my compliments.

“So what fright have you had Fynes?” asks Eva sweetly. I tell her the story of my conversation with Papa.

“Yikes” she says “work” and carries on eating.

There is a wonderful orchestra and we dance on a dance floor that is shaped like a banjo following the curve of the balcony and extending into one of the restaurant wings and continue our conversation about nothing in particular.

Later, we take a cab around to the Grafton Galleries at 7 Grafton Street to meet Dolly and Monty to see the launch of a brand new cabaret show. The Grafton club has 5,000 members and it is regarded as the place you come onto from somewhere else. Its chief attraction is the vast ballroom, with a beautifully expansive high ceiling, that is perfect for dancing.

When we arrive Dolly and Monty are part of a big group that includes Dorothy Dickson and Carl Hyson.“Fynes, I want a dance later please” says Dorothy with a big smile.

“This place has been the Valhalla of dancing for more years than one cares to remember” Dolly tells me as I have only just joined the club “and I have been here countless times…you will love it here.”

“It is rather marvellous” I say “and certainly not like those postage sized dance floors that are seemingly popular in the more intimate smaller night clubs or restaurants.”

“I have been here many times before” says Eva “but I really do not think it is cosy.”

The general conversation is about the show. “It has been staged by fellow yanks Ted Trevor and Jack Haskell” says a rather puffed-up Monty “and we have been promised the largest cabaret spectacle yet produced in this country. When war broke out Ted Trevor was too young to join the American forces and so joined the British Royal Flying Corps. He stayed here and to took to his next love dancing. Jack is a fascinating chap. He was originally a dancer and before the war worked in Australia before coming to London. He actually staged the first edition of the Midnight Follies at the Hotel Metropole last year and has been working for George Grossmith.”

“Ah well” interrupts Dolly “You haven’t heard the latest developments Monty. You see they are both rather temperamental and had a tiff and Trevor stormed out. That means we are also denied the blissful dancing of Mr Trevor and his partner Dina Harris.”

“That’s a shame they are one of the best dancing duos in London” says Eva.

“Oh you need to see my dancing with Peggy Harris” says Carl “Peggy is Dina’s sister by the way.”

“Oh what fun” squawks Eva.

“Incidentally…” says Dorothy “Haskell might be fascinating but do remember he also had a tiff with the management over The Cabaret Girl and withdrew his services.”

The cabaret is called The Midnight Revels and it is in two parts with special lighting, quick change costumes and effects and a full chorus of twenty gorgeous girls. The star is the American cabaret artiste Jessica Brown, who had previously appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies and the Century Revue in New York and is a beautiful dancer.We particularly liked the quirky Operatic Tango provided by Lola Krasavina and Gilbert Stacey. However, the sensation of the night was provided by Evon Pinard as ‘The Lady in Bronze’ who danced around the tables just before the finale, wearing a tiny loin cloth and breast plates with her body totally bronzed. There were gasps from the audience and two ladies actually walked out!

Jessica Brown

Jessica Brown

Dorothy interjects “of course this might be new here but Evan Burrows Fontaine gave a similar semi-naked dance at the Palais Royal in New York some time ago and caused a similar furore.”

After the show Haskell comes over to our table with Jessica Brown and talks to us.

“Hello Dorothy. Hello Carl. Hello everybody. I hope you enjoyed the show.”

“Oh yes it was superb Jack” says Dorothy.

“… you were divine” says Dolly to Jessica.

“I will be changing the show every week so do come again!” Jack says.

“So you started our cabaret craze Jack” I ask “with the Midnight Follies?”

“Well sort of…. actually I did stage a show with the wonderful Odette Myrtil at Ciro’s in early 1917 but because of the war the government closed it down!”

I am beginning to think like a journalist and an idea for a story begins. I will write something about the origins of cabaret. I can talk to Mama and Papa about what they did before and after the war.

I have a delightful time dancing with Eva, Dolly and Dorothy. Jessica is a wiz too. She says she loves London but because of rehearsals has not been out much.

“I do like lunch. That is usually my breakfast” she laughs.

“Would you like me to take you for lunch?” I ask holding her tight.

“Oh yes Fynes. That would be terrific.

As we prepare to leave Carl tells us all “Oh don’t forget we launch the new Midnight Follies next week. Please do come along.”

Thursday 30th November

I meet Jessica for lunch at Ciro’s. We eat lightly and talk hugely. She is very entertaining and very sociable. We walk around London in the afternoon and I show her the sights. She is most appreciative.


Read Full Post »


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?”


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.


Read Full Post »