Category Archives: Dance

The Lambeth Walk & Felix Nussbaum

The Lambeth Walk‘ by Noel Gay, Arthur Rose & Albert Gumble, published by Modern Screen Songs (Shanghai, sd) and illustrated by J. Zane.

The naive drawing for The Lambeth Walk is a unicum in our collection. It’s the only one of our sheet music to have been published in Shanghai, which illustrates the song’s worldwide success. In 1937 the cheerful cockney Lambeth Walk started as an instant hit in England and soon rocketed to planetary triumph.

‘Lambeth Walk’ by Noel Gay, Arthur Rose & Albert Gumble. Left published by Cinephonic Music Co. Ltd, (London,1937). Right: published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1938).

The Lambeth Walk was composed by Noel Gay for the musical Me and My Girl about a Cockney boy who in order to inherit a fortune must abandon his working-class ways. The musical was turned into a film in 1939. In the clip we see the leading character, played by Lupino Lane, telling all the snooty aristocrats: you should come to my working-class neighbourhood, and do this little dance we do. This dance starts with a strutting gait, thumbs cheerfully up in the air. Add to that some kicks, knee-slapping, risqué pelvis motion, turning around and shouting “Oi” all seemingly without end. Earworm alert: code red!

The strutting gait is the way London costermongers used to walk. Costermongers, or costers, were street sellers of fruit and vegetables for the labouring classes. They used melodic sales patter, poems and chants to attract attention. The distinctive culture of costers inspired many comedians and made them prime targets for songwriters.

‘The Coster’s Mansion or Yo’uve only got to stop just where you is!’, by George Le Brunn & Will Fieldhouse, published by Francis, Day & Hunter (London, 1899).

The Lambeth Walk takes its name from a street in central London, once notable for its street market and working class culture. An article in the 1938 Picture Post wrote about Lambeth Walk: “In spite of its severe poverty it has a racy and vigorous life of its own.”

Life in the Lambeth Walk‘, Picture Post, December 1938.

In 1942, Charles A. Ridley of the Ministry of Information manipulated parts from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will  to ridicule Hitler and Nazi soldiers as if they were dancing the Lambeth Walk. The newsreel companies gave their own credits to the propaganda film. This copy is titled ‘Schichlegruber doing the Lambeth Walk’ referring to Adolf Hitler’s father who was born as Alois Schicklgruber.

Felix Nussbaum was a German Jewish painter who lived in hiding in Brussels during the war. His last known painting, Triumph of Death,  shows skeletal figures making music in an apocalyptic world. It reads as an anticipation of the painter’s own doom. We can see the despair on the face of the organ grinder, a self-portrait of Nussbaum. A few weeks after finishing this work in 1944, Nussbaum was arrested and shipped to Auschwitz where he died one week later. He had been betrayed by a neighbour.

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Triumph of Death‘ by Felix Nussbaum, 1944.

In the left bottom of the painting, amid a pile of debris of the painter’s everyday life, lies a torn and crumpled piece of sheet music: it is the score from the Lambeth Walk. The detail tragically illustrates that for Nussbaum there was no more place for the simple tunes that can make people happy.

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Doin’ the Lambeth walk
Ev’rything free and easy
Do as you darn well pleasey

Songs about light

Arlita‘ (Chanson Lumineuse – Het Lied van het Licht) by Daniel J. A. Van de Vyver, published by Le Reveil Artistique (s.d. Brussels). Illustration attributed to Marcel-Louis Baugniet.

This superb geometrical cover suggests the song is about a beautiful girl named Arlita. Far from it though, it prosaically sings the technological praise of a light bulb! The glass lamp is represented here by large discs in shades of purple around the fleshy rose face of a girl. The design is attributed to Marcel-Louis Baugniet (1896-1995) a Belgian painter, furniture designer and decorator. The drawing certainly reflects his style which was influenced by Bauhaus, cubism, De Stijl and Russian constructivism.
In the girl’s 
traits many like to recognise the portrait of the Brussels dancer and artist Akarova (born Marguerite Acarin, 1904-1999). 

Portrait of Akarova, in A-Z Hebdomadaire Illustré (No 16, 9 Juillet 1933).

Akarova was an emancipated garçonne. Her fame as a dancer earned her the unofficial title ‘the Belgian Isadora Duncan’.  In 1922 she married Marcel-Louis Baugniet. Both designed the avant-garde costumes and decors for her stage performances and continued to do so after their rather brief marriage. They stayed friends though, and both lived well into their nineties.

Left: ‘Lettres Dansantes’ costume design for Akarova by Marcel Baugniet, 1923. Right: ‘Akarova dansant’ by Marcel Baugniet, 1924.

Philips, the producer of the Arlita light bulb, is a Dutch company founded at the end of the 19th century. Immediately after WWI a Belgian branch was established. From there the Arlita lamp was manufactured and launched in 1929. A massive advertising campaign —including press articles, brochures, publicity folders, albums and posters— heralded the birth of the frosted lamp. 

Adverts for the Philips Arlita light bulb (Source: Kunst in de Philips Reclame)

It is in this marketing storm that one has to situate the sheet music above. The song and the publicity celebrated Arlita as a wonder of technology and cost cutting. To deliver this last message the marketeers even introduced a nasty Gollum-like figure: the current devourer (or stroomvreter in Dutch).

The current devourer or ‘stroomvreter’ in Philips’ campaign for the Arlita light bulb.

The marketing strategy led to a commercial success. The Arlita sales soon accounted for 80% of the turnover. The Arlita bulb was  followed by the super Arlita, and then came the bi-Arlita with a double filament. One man was at the heart of the marketing operations: Jacques Vink. He had been involved with the international advertising department of the Philips house in the Netherlands, before becoming head of the Belgian branch. From his beginnings in 1907 Vink regularly gave artists assignments to create publicity. And once in Belgium it was but a further step to ask avant-garde Belgian artists to design merchandising in order to promote the Philips light bulbs. In this way he ordered this silverware salt shaker from Oskar Wiskemann…

Oscar Wiskemann: silver-ware salt shaker for Philips.

… and a set of playing cards with various instances of the lamp, hidden in the pictures.

Advertising playing cards in art deco style, manufactured by Etabl. Mesmaekers Frères S.A., Turnhout, Belgium. (Source: The World of Playing Cards)

The Arlita campaign coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the invention of the light bulb by Thomas Alva Edison. To anticipate this event Philips supported a series of school lectures throughout Belgium. Moreover, Jacques Vink also devised a delicate attention for the parents who’s baby was born on October 29, 1929. They received a luxury box with an Arlita lamp. He even sent one to Edison himself who replied with a friendly letter.

Edison‘ (Grande Valse Electrique) by Albert de la Gravelière, published by Léopold Cerf (s.d. Paris) and illustrated by Buval.

We discovered in our collection another publicity for light bulbs. It is more than a decade older and is for Osram, the German competitor of Philips. The name of the light bulb holds an oriental flavour: Osram Pacha.

Osram Pacha‘ by Emile Doloire, published by Delormel (Paris, 1913) and illustrated by Pousthomis.

The illustration is by Pousthomis who got his inspiration from a 1911 poster by D. Vasquez Dial. The composer fantasised about the brand name Osram, which is derived from osmium and wolfram (German for tungsten). Both these elements were commonly used for lighting filaments. Maybe the name Osram, in its resemblance to Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman empire, inspired Pousthomis to draw this oriental dance setting for the German light bulb. This consonance can also explain why the lamp was christened Pacha, ‘pasha’ being an honorary title in the Ottoman empire.

Osram publicity poster by D. Vasquez Dial, 1911.

We will end with a documentary as a tribute to Thomas Edison, who is granted the invention of the incandescent bulb although it is the work of many inventors, rather than his lone genius. A pity he didn’t invent a hearing aid.


The Man Who Loved Women

‘Ombre et Lumière’ by Pokrass, published by Salabert (Paris, 1927) and illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

This beautiful art deco cover by Roger de Valerio represents the Rowe Sisters. The twins Pauline & Betty Rowe started their career in France around 1924. They were one of the several twin-sister acts emulating the immensely successful Dolly Sisters.

Poster of the Rowe Sisters by Gesmar, 1925

They were known to their fans as ‘the Greyhounds of Paris’. But unlike the popular Dolly Sisters almost nothing is known about their personal lives, not even their nationality. According to newspapers of that time they were either American or English.

As stated by La Vie Parisienne in 1927, le tout Paris was “eagerly awaiting the return of the Rowe Sisters at the Casino de Paris after their success at the Alhambra in Brussels transformed them into stars.” But the leggy Rowe Sisters never became top of the bill and they stopped dancing when Betty married a hot actor and singer, Henri Garat in 1932. They met by chance in a train returning to Paris from the French Riviera and married shortly after. But she married the wrong guy.

‘C’est Malheureux d’être amoureux’, song from the ‘Rive Gauche’ Paramount film. Music by Ray Noble & lyrics by Marc Hély, sheet music published by Chappell (Paris, 1931) and illustrated by Kramer. It prominently shows the picture of a smoking Henri Garat.

Henri Garrat was known as “France’s most glittering matinee idol and film star” and was according to a then newspaper “the coqueluche of France, meaning that all the midinettes got whooping cough over him”.

Mon Amour quand je danse avec toi‘ waltz by Werner R. Heymann with French words byJean Boyer, published by Salabert (Paris, 1931) and illustrated by H. Cerutti.

A leading film actor in light romances during the 1930’s, Garat became a big star as the partner of Lilian Harvey. The cinema made him rich, very rich. He got more money than sense and led an opulent life with a yacht, several cars, a castle and too many friends who ate caviar by the spoonful at his table.

Chicago Tribune, April 1933

In the 1934 film Prince de Minuit, Betty Rowe got to play a small part together with her husband. He plays the role of a clerk in a shop selling records.

Interestingly the clip above shows —apart from a few stupefying film montages— that these shops offered a technical studio where you could cut your own record. In the next fragment of the same film Henri Garat sings Caricouli, a foxtrot composed by Maurice Yvain.

We also see Betty Rowe’s cameo: she’s a customer in the shop listening to him crooning. The clip ends with both dancing together on top of a giant revolving 78 rpm.
Betty’s career in film was short. She only appeared in minor roles in two other films. It is thanks to two stills of these other films that I was able to recognise her in the clip above. Makes me feel a top-noch archival sleuth, ahum.

Left: Betty Rowe in ‘Le Messager’, 1937. Right: Betty Rowe in ‘La souris bleue’ with her husband Henry Garat and Monique Rolland, 1936.

Betty and Henri’s marital bliss was short-lived. Just as he sang in the film ‘Un Soir de Réveilllon‘:

J’aime les femmes, j’aime les femmes
Voilà mon vice, ma faiblesse et mon défaut.

in real life our handsome jeune premier also loved women.  And these in turn found it hard to resist his charms…

Even while Betty was pregnant there were continuous rumours of affairs with other women. No wonder that five years later their marriage was over.

Henri Garat would marry four times. And ultimately his extravagant lifestyle, his consumption of cocaine, his philandering, his marriages including one with a ‘Russian countess’, his divorces and also fraud brought him ruin. His stardom started to wane. As a result he suffered from depression and had to follow a detox. He opened a restaurant and a toy store, but it didn’t work out. At the end of his life he was discreetly assisted by La Rou Tourne, a charity for the unfortunates from the world of theatre. Supported by this association Henri Garat became a pathetic attraction in theatres. He even toured with a circus. Alas too often, the public didn’t recognise the big film star anymore. Henri Garat died in poverty aged 57.

Still from the film ‘Il est charmant’ with Henri Garat and Meg Lemonnier.