All posts by ImagesMusicales

The Mikiphone – The iPod of the Twenties

‘Miki’

    (La Chanson du Mikiphone) by Fred Pearly, Pierre Chagnon & Jacques-Charles, published by Lucien Brulé (Paris, 1926) and illustrated by Robert Laroche.

The cover for the ‘Miki’ song triggered my curiosity about the Mikiphone. The sheet music tells us that it is a pocket phonograph and that the Moulin Rouge and Mistinguett were contracted to market it in one of their famous revues.

Around 1917 two Hungarian brothers, Nicolas and Etienne Vadasz, began designing a small gramophone. After completing the development in 1924, they patented the appliance. A Swiss company did the mass production and in 1925 the Mikiphone went on sale. With a diameter of 11.5 cm, and only 5 cm thick when closed, the round tin box resembles an oversized pocket watch.

The Mikiphone. Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica.bnf.fr
Publicity for the Mikiphone
Publicity for the Mikiphone by Miklos Vadasz (source unknown)

Imagine, in the roaring twenties, arriving at a party with the newest gadget, a Mikiphone, in your trouser pocket…Then you take it out and while all youngsters gather around you in anticipation, you start assembling the parts which all fit in the box. This takes time and quite some skill as you can witness on the video. But at last you put on a 10-inch fox-trot shellac disc, you crank the winding key with your hand and the dancing party can begin.

The Mikiphone. Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica.bnf.fr

The sound membrane consisted of a mica sheet coupled to a bakelite sound resonator. Never mind it’s impracticality, it is a marvellous piece of design, praised by Le Corbusier. I love it!

Around 180.000 of these cute mini record players were sold. Alas, three years after the first production the Mikiphone sales stagnated, and its production was discontinued. A few decades later, the mini rage of the sixties had yet to begin…

Chocolate Soldiers

‘Der tapfere Soldat’ (El Soldado de Chocolate – Tiralala !) by Oscar Straus, published by Casa Dotesio (sd, Madrid).

Der tapfere Soldat is an operetta composed in 1908 by Oscar Straus. It was an adaptation or parody of George Bernard Shaw’s 1894 play Arms and the Man. In this anti-war comedy the hero, a soldier who mocks war, uses his ammunition pouches to carry chocolates rather than cartridges. Therefore, the heroine of the play calls him her chocolate-cream soldier. This has inspired the pejorative use of the term ‘chocolate soldier’ for someone in the military who does not (want to) fight.

The English version of the operetta, The Chocolate Soldier, went on to international success on Broadway and in London.

‘The Chocolate Soldier’ by Oscar Straus & Stanislaus Stange, published by Feldman & Co (London, sd).

The operetta was adapted for film in 1915 and in 1941. For the 1941 movie only the score by Oscar Straus was kept. The screenplay was based on another comedy because Bernard Shaw did not want to sell the rights, having disapproved of the first version of the operetta which he called “a putrid opéra bouffe in the worst taste of 1860″.

You can hear a medley from Straus’ songs in the fragment hereunder.

The cover for Kwatta soldaten suggests that the Dutch had their own term for chocolate soldiers. In the Netherlands, the first packaged chocolate bar was launched in 1891 under the brand name Kwatta. This bar was so popular among the soldiers that the army became its largest buyer.

Kwatta Soldaten‘ by Louis Noiret & Ferry, published by Hakkert (Rotterdam, sd). Source: Stadsarchief Rotterdam)

The Netherlands had declared themselves neutral during World War I. Nevertheless the Dutch army mobilised its troops. Of course, the men under arms kept in their kitbag the oh-so nutritious and long-lasting Kwatta bars. From then on the bars were also called Manoeuvre Chocolaad.

‘Kwatta’s Manoeuvre Chocolate. The best peacemaker.’ Advertisement from World War I. (source Wikimedia Commons)

The pink wrapper of the chocolate bar carried the pictures of a soldier and a sailor encouraging to collect the coupons which could be traded for a tin soldier or some other premium, like tableware. The bars were for sale in these beautiful carton boxes.

Carton box for Kwatta chocolate bars. Illustrator unknown.

The Kwatta bars were not only popular with Dutch soldiers. Also Belgian soldiers must have loved the candy, as evidenced by this Belgian military booklet from the twenties, sponsored by Kwatta.

Belgian soldier booklet, around 1924 (source: kamp-vogelsang.be)

Godfried Bomans, a popular Dutch author, remembered in the late sixties that his father, a former captain in the Dutch army, filled the case of his binoculars with Kwatta bars during the First World War before returning home for the weekend leave (just like Shaw’s character). On one of these occasions he received an unexpected visit from Queen Wilhelmina. At one point she requested his binoculars and realising that the case had been given an improper destination, she would have said: “Captain Bomans, I hope you realise that the country’s neutrality is not guaranteed by Kwatta soldiers.”

In the fifties Godfried Bomans would himself write a book commissioned by Kwatta. The illustrations with funny moving eyes were made by his friend Harry Prenen.

‘Het ogenboek’ by Godfried Bomans, illustrations by Harry Prenen, published by Kwatta (Breda, 1951).

We end this post with a few politically incorrect covers. They illustrate that the term chocolate soldiers was also regularly used to refer to the soldier’s colour of skin.

Left: March of the Chocolate Soldiers by John Ashton, published by Montgomery (London, 1929). Right: ‘Goodbye my Chocolate Soldier Boy’ by James Whyte & Roger Graham, published by Roger Graham (Chicago, 1918)
‘Choc’late Soldier from the USA’ by Elton Box, Sonny Cox & Lewis Ilda, published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1945).

Margaritis and Wartime Utopia

Everything I Have is Yours‘ by Burton Lane & Harold Adamson, published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1933) and illustrated by Florent Margaritis.

The cover with the close-up profile of Joan Crawford is illustrated by Florent Margaritis (1910-1983). In this beautiful fragment of the musical film ‘Dancing Lady’ (1933), Art Jarrett croons Everything I Have is Yours while Joan Crawford floats by dancing. 

We have only three sheet music by Florent Margaritis. One of them already introduced a previous post about bumper cars. And here is the third one.

‘Got the bench got the park’ by Al. Lewis, Al. Sherman & A. Fred Phillips, published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1930) and illustrated by Florent Margaritis.

Details about Margaritis’ life are largely unknown, except for the following WWII episode when he became a founding member of the Groupe d’Oppède.

In 1933 Florent Margaritis started studying architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Not having finished his studies he was mobilised in 1939. In the aftermath of the armistice in June 1940 Florent and two of his schoolmates were demobilised in southwestern Pau. As the Germans occupied Paris they decided to stay in the zone libre. One of the friends, Georges Brodovitch, suggested to go to Oppède, a ruined medieval village in the Lubéron. There his brother had bought a derelict oil mill and a priory just before the start of the war. This brother was Alexey Brodovitch, a Russian-born photographer, designer and teacher who after working for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris had moved to the US where he became artistic director of Harper’s Bazaar. He had bought the two old buildings in Oppède in order to restore them as part of an artist-in-residence program for his students. A plan which was cut short by the war.

Graphic work by Alexey Brodovitch, from Arts et métiers graphiques, July 1930.

The three mates persuaded three other pals to accompany them to Oppède. When the six youngsters arrived there, they were surprised to see a deserted Romanesque village hanging on a steep rock, dominated by a fortress church and a dismantled castle. The village had only six inhabitants left. The other seven hundred had gradually abandoned the crumbling eagle’s nest. Have a look at this bird’s eye view of the place nowadays.

The first members of the group settled into the old oil mill. There was no water nor electricity. Florent Margaritis acquired a trailer in which he made his office and his bedroom.

Florent Margaritis working in his trailer – L’Illustration, 29 novembre 1941 (source:  l’Association des Amis de Saint-Hilaire)

After the summer and the early enthusiasm, one would have expected the embryonic community to fall apart and disperse. But quite the opposite happened.

The workshop of the Parisian Ecole des Beaux-Arts to which Florent Margaritis belonged, had also moved to the Zone Libre, to Marseille. And Margaritis obtained that the Oppède workshop was recognised as an annex of the school. Students would be able to complete their studies and graduate in Oppède. It was an adventurous enterprise though: with large drawing cardboards on their bicycle racks, the students had to shuttle the 170 kilometres between Oppède and Marseille.

Workshop in Oppède – L’Illustration, 29 novembre 1941 (source:  l’Association des Amis de Saint-Hilaire)

The then latest winner of the premier grand prix de Rome of architecture, Bernard Zehrfuss, was detached to Oppède. He quickly became the undisputed leader, or rather, since any hierarchical structure was excluded, the driving force of the community. Rapidly the group grew up to forty members, counting architects, painters and sculptors. A dormitory was set up for the bachelors in an old building with walls as thick as those of a fortress. The two or three couples aggregated to the group nestled in makeshift lodgings.

Like every avant-garde movement the group wrote its own art manifesto: Oppède would become the centre of a vast corporate city to group all sorts of artists and craftsmen who would then spread all over the Vaucluse…

But life in Oppède was rough. Three months of snow and not a single hour of sunshine during the winter of 1941. Everything was pooled, including ration cards. There was a war going on after all. The group lived a monastic regime and matching schedule: meals at 5:30 am, 1 pm and 7 pm, late arrivals not allowed. On the menu carrots and turnips every day, neither oil nor butter, and meat twice a month.

The group had close contact with the surrealists finding refuge in villa Air-Bel in Marseille. This mansion was home to artists who had fled the zone occupée and were waiting for a departure to the United States. Amongst them were André Breton, Max Ernst, Marc Chagal and Marcel Duchamp. At one point, the wife of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Consuelo, left villa Air-Bel to join the Groupe d’Oppède. This comes as no surprise knowing that de Saint-Exupéry’s marriage was strewn with periods of infidelity (from both sides). So it seems that Consuelo de Saint-Exupéry had followed Bernard Zehrfuss to Oppède. She stayed there a few months in 1941 before returning to her husband in New York. In 1945 she wrote a book about her stay in Oppède: ‘Kingdom of the Rocks’.

The decline of the group began in 1942 with the German invasion  of the Zone Libre. Everyone scattered except a few.

The training of young people by the Groupe d’Oppède matched   the wish of the Vichy government to restore the glory of France. So the regime gladly supported the group’s projects. Also, the group easily reached an agreement with the deputy mayor sworn in by the Pétain regime. As a consequence, after the war, members of the Groupe d’Oppède had to defend themselves against charges of collaboration.

‘Maréchal, nous voilà’ by A. Montagard & Ch. Courtioux, published by Ver Luisant (Paris, 1941) and illustrated by Atelier Ergé Lyon.

One can ask oneself why these young people retreated to a remote corner of the Provence after France’s defeat. While the participation of the Groupe d’Oppède in the Vichy propaganda is beyond doubt, their cooperation was apolitical. They were naively in search of a collective artistic experience, and they tried to forget the drama of war. In this way they had created their self-contained utopian community.

Zehrfuss joined the Free French Forces while others participated in the French Resistance. It is also known that Jewish refugees found shelter in the group.

After the war Florent Margaritis continued his work as an architect and illustrator in the South of France.


Further reading (in French):
En Vaucluse, Oppède-le-Vieux (L’ Association des amis de Saint-Hilaire)