Cutie Kewpie

‘Ne brisez pas vos joujoux’ by Laurent Hallet & Telly, published by Telly et Halet (Paris, 1921) and illustrated by Gaston Girbal.

‘Do not break your toys!’ cries the cute one-armed doll. A warning to children. Or is it a moral advice to adults, as in the 1944 Mills Brothers’ hit ‘You Always Hurt the One You Love’ ?
In fact I have been chasing this particular cover in our dolls collection of sheet music. I was intrigued, and wanted to know if the doll’s peculiar hairstyle would match that of Radja Nainggolan. He is a Belgian football international currently playing for AS Roma. Let me set his portrait side by side to a photograph of such a doll.

Nainggolan and Kewpie doll
Left: portrait of Radja Nainggolan. Right: a kewpie doll (© picture: The Mel Birnkrant Collection).

These dolls typically have big eyes, a tuft of blonde hair, a pot belly and splayed hands. They are called Kewpies and are inspired on the 1909 creations of writer and illustrator Rose O’Neill. She brought into being the little comic characters for her cartoons. The tiny creatures were always helping people out of trouble, battling injustice and making the readers laugh.

loves doll
‘Love’s Doll’ by William Romsberg, published by Edouard Andrieu (Paris, 1922) and illustrated by Georges Desains.

The dolls were uber cute and resembled cupids, hence their phonetic name ‘Kewpie’. A few years later a German company manufactured them in porcelain, which made them very fragile as toys. Dressed in a wide satin ribbon with a large bow in the back, the dolls became very successful in America. Soon the popularity of the Kewpie Doll also spread over Europe.

my kewpie
‘My “Kewpie” Doll’ by Nat Goldstein & M.J. Gunsky, published by Nat Goldstein (San Francisco, 1914) and illustrated by Morgan. (not in our collection)

From the mid 1920’s on they were mass produced in celluloid and chalk. The small playthings were often given as a cheap present at fairs. This use continued even until 1958, as can be seen in the ‘Kewpie Doll’ song by the American crooning baritone, Perry Como.

The dolls also featured in advertising and were in 1925 the inspiration for a –still existing– brand of Japanese mayonnaise.

jello kewpies EN MAYONAISE

Rose O’Neill made a fortune from these first mass-produced dolls. She nearly sacrificed all of it in order to help out her family and friends. She was also an activist for women’s suffrage.

oneill_votes copy

To end our little post, and since you have been humming that tune from the beginning, here they are: The Mills Brothers !

Polnareff, père et fils

‘Amarantina’ by Léo Poll, published by the composer (Paris, sd).

Léo Poll, the creator and publisher of the Argentinian tango ‘Amarantina’, was a Russian Jew. He was born in Odessa in 1899 as Leib Polnareff. In 1923 Leib Polnareff arrived in Paris where he became a pianiste-démonstrateur or a song plugger. A piano player was employed by music publishers and music stores to help sell new sheet music. In the office or shop, patrons could select any title, which was then delivered to the song plugger who started to play the tune so that the customer could decide whether to buy the sheet music.
Leib Polnareff chose the pseudonym Léo Poll and became a well-known piano player accompanying vedettes such as Edith Piaf and Charles Trenet. He also composed and arranged several songs and he even had his own orchestra ‘Léo Poll et son orchestre’. You can listen to his composition ‘Un jeune homme chantait’ performed by the legendary Edith Piaf:

un jeune homme chantait
‘Un jeune homme chantait’ by Léo Poll & Raymond Asso, published by Les Editions de Paris in 1937 and illustrated by Würth.

During the Second World War, Léo Poll and his wife fled Paris to the country side in the Zone Libre. They were very lucky to end up  in the small village Nérac. There, despite the presence of the Gestapo, a young girl of 16 who worked for the mayor forged identity papers for Jews. Thanks to her Léo Poll escaped deportation and extermination. Quite the heroine, Odile Perella-Dubergey! Still, she had to wait 70 years to be honoured for risking her life in the Resistance.

In 1944 the couple got a little boy: Michel Polnareff who would become a popular singer-songwriter in France from the mid-1960s on. After the war the family returned to Paris where Michel grew up in an artistic environment. He learned to play the piano when he was 4 years old and at 11 he won a premier prix at the Paris Conservatoire. He also learned the guitar and started busking in Montmartre in 1964.

In 1966 his first disc La poupée qui fait non was an unexpected but phenomenal success.

The androgynous Michel Polnareff was a non-conformist who liked to provoke. That caused him a lot of problems during his career. The most spectacular drawback happened in 1972. For his show ‘Polnarévolution‘ at the Olympia, six thousand posters showing the singer with naked buttocks hung across billboards all over France. Polnareff was found guilty of ‘gross indecency’ and was fined 10 francs per poster.

polnareff naakt
Poster for Polnarévolution at the Olympya in Paris, 1972, a collectors item!

Recently Michel Polnareff settled accounts with his father Leib in his autobiography Spèrme. Allegedly, Léo Poll was a tyrannical brute at home, forcing his son to practice the piano for hours on end and hitting him with his belt.

Love me please love me...

The Abstracts, part 1

'Sweet Child', Cover illustration by Fabien Loris (1925)
‘Sweet Child’ by Richard A. Whiting; Al. Lewis & Howard Simon (published by Francis-Day, Paris, 1925). Cover illustration by Fabien Loris.

Isn’t she a beauty? What a Sweet Child, I’m wild about her! The cover is by Fabien Loris, an underestimated (and often unknown) French illustrator. One of these days we want to tell you about his venturesome life and work.  But today we dwell on his skilfulness to apply geometrical patterns, lines and planes in order to achieve powerful designs. The work of Loris is strong because not only does he elegantly stylise his subject (in a wild art-deco or cubistic fashion), he also continues his abstraction in the decor, the lettering and the creative layout of the sheet music cover. His images stand out from the sometimes dreary crowd of printed music.

The cover ‘For My Sweetheart’ is another example in which Loris boldly uses stark shapes, straight lines and coloured planes to attract attention. It is as if Loris wants to use the few seconds that someone pays attention, to conjure up an atmospheric image about the song, and fling at that persons eye the mood and the intensity of the music.

'For My Sweetheart', sheet music cover llustrated by Fabien Loris (1926)
‘For My Sweetheart’, by Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn (Publications Francis-Day, Paris, 1926). Illustrated by Fabien Loris.

For other sheet music designs, Loris fearlessly went further into abstraction, letting go almost all figurative representation. We can only thank whoever was in charge at the Francis-Day publishing house, to have let the young Fabien Loris have his artistic audacity…

'Only For You', illustrated by Fabien Loris in 1926.
‘Only For You’, by Mark Strong and Graham John (Publications Francis-Day, Paris, 1925), illustrated by Loris.
'Don't Sing Aloha when I Go', Illustration attributed to Fabien Loris.
‘Don’t Sing Aloha when I Go’, by Ben Black; Walter Smith & Neil Moret (Publications Francis-Day, Paris, 1926). Cover illustration attributed to Fabien Loris.
'Don't Wake Me Up', sheet music illustrated by Fabien Loris
‘Don’t Wake Me Up’, by M. Vayne & Abel Baer (published by Francis-Day, Paris, 1926). Cover most likely illustrated by Fabien Loris.
Sheet music cover designed by Fabien Loris. (1925)
‘Want a little loving’, by Harry Warren and Benny Davis, published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1925). Sheet music cover designed by Fabien Loris.
Partition illustrée par Fabien Loris (1927).
‘Calling’, Music by Ernie Golden and lyrics by Raymond Klages. Published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1927) and illustrated by Loris.

The abstract covers of Loris are vibrant and dynamic. They are of course physically static images. A decade later in 1938, the German scissor-and-paper magician Oskar Fischinger brings the playful relation between animated abstract form and music to the summum bonum. Take delight in what he created for Franz Liszt’s 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody !