Category Archives: Entertainment

Music hall, cabaret, dance hall

Anny, the most beautiful Belgian girl

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‘Pourquoi hésiter’ by Hippolyte Ackermans, published by Mado, Bruxelles in 1921.

On the cover of Pourquoi hésiter is a portrait of Anny Duny. She won the first modern national beauty contest in Belgium in 1921. The event, known as La plus belle femme de Belgique, was organised by Maurice Cartuyvels de Waleffe (1874-1946). He was a Belgian aristocrat working as a journalist and publisher in France where he was mocked for his Belgian roots and pompous rhetoric. Maurice de Waleffe was the founder of the only daily newspaper that came out at noon, Paris Midi. He became an important figure in the fashion world and had a keen eye for new trends.

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Maurice de Waleffe (right) alongside the French lyricist Saint-Granier and Miss France 1936.

In 1920, after suffering the harshness of the First World War, Maurice de Waleffe took an initiative to raise spirits. He launched the first competition for the most beautiful woman in France ‘La plus belle femme de France’ in the newspaper Le Journal. More than 2000 young women answered the call. A jury of painters and sculptors (including only one woman!) shortlisted 49 contenders, aged between 17 and 23 years. With an original multimedia campaign, de Waleffe organised a popular vote to chose the winner. 

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The seven finalists from the contest ‘La plus belle femme de France’ in 1920 organized by ‘Le Journal’.

Every day his journal published the portrait of one of the 49 young girls. At the same time, but on a weekly basis, the photographs of seven candidates were shown in the cinemas throughout France. Each competitor appeared on the screen in full length, in a head and shoulder shot, and in the group picture. To ‘preserve their modesty’ the girls didn’t appear under their real name. Each girl received a romantic stage name in accordance with the title of the group to which she belonged: Flowers, Precious Stones, BirdsGoddesses, etc. The cinemagoers received a voting paper. This might have inspired Roger de Valerio in 1922 when he illustrated the sheet music The Girl on the Film…

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The girl on the film by Joseph Szulc, published by Salabert, Paris in 1922 and illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

After seven thrilling weeks of mesmerizing the French audiences (and after thousands of newspapers sold), seven finalists remained. The final election was held at the Parisian premises of Le Journal.  It was one of the group Precious Stones, namely Emeraude or Agnes Souret, who won and could call herself Miss France. Some years after her victory she would succumb to a peritonitis, only 26 years old.
The contest was repeated in 1921 after which it was discontinued for five years.

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Agnes Souret the first Miss France in 1920. Left: at the start of the competition. Right: a revamped version at the start of the finals.

In 1921 Maurice de Waleffe organised the same contest in Belgium. He again worked with a newspaper (La Dernière Heure) and with the cinemas. Out of 800 contestants a shortlist of 21 candidates was split up in three series: Laces, Virtues and Opera Heroines.

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Nine contestants of the 1921 Belgian shortlist. Upper row: Chantilly, Valenciennes, Bruges or Anny Duny (Laces). Middle row: Amiability, Honesty,Gentleness (Virtues). Lower row: Gwendoline, Mireille, Heriodade (Opera heroines).

Out of the group of Laces, it was Bruges (or Anny Duny from our sheet music cover at the beginning) who won, and started a modest career as La plus belle femme de Belgique.

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Anny Duny winner of the beauty contest ‘La plus belle femme de Belgique’, in 1921.

Anny’s new title brought moderate fame: she appeared in revues but not for long and not in important roles. She is known to have performed in slightly racy tableaux vivants such as Indiscreet Baths, The Return of the Merry Widow or The Décolletage through the Ages. According to a newspaper these were a great triumph attended by the jet set. If you ask me, it seems a bit old-fashioned to patiently gaze at an artistic still, in the hope of catching a dash of nudity. Where is the appeal when –at that time– you could have attended a striptease burlesque or an erotic motion picture.

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A typical tableau vivant from the twenties.

Speaking of tableaux vivants, this is our 2015 bubbly Miss Belgium ready to conquer the world. So, pourquoi hésiter (why hesitate)?

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Miss Belgium 2015.

Further reading: Beauty and Big Business by Aro Velmet: http://fh.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2013/11/07/fh.crt083.full.pdf

Bobeche et Galimafré

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‘Bobeche et Galimafré’ by Juliano, published by O. Legouix, Paris in 1859 and illustrated by Antoine Barbizet.

This cover shows two Parisian buffoons: Bobèche and Galimafré. It was illustrated by Barbizet in 1859. Even forty years after their successful performances, the pair remained popular in Paris. Bobèche (Antoine Mandelot) and Galimafré (Auguste Guérin) were paradistes or clowns who performed at the Boulevard du Temple in the first quarter of the 19th century.

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‘Bobèche et Galimafré au Boulevard du Temple’, Bibliothèque Nationale de France

At that time the Boulevard du Temple resembled a pleasure garden.  It was lined with theatres. Scattered over the vast expanse of the boulevard were a host of small shows: jugglers, paradistes, monkey showmen, dwarves, giants, skeleton men, strongmen, tightrope walkers and fortune tellers. They attracted a crowd day and night. In the middle, street vendors tried to sell their ware. A typical street vendor at the Boulevard du Temple was the marchand de coco. You can see one standing on the right of the print above. Coco was a lemonade containing liquorice extract. A coco vendor always wore a white apron and carried a large elongated container topped with a figurine to attract attention. He had several drinking cups strapped onto belts. We also see a coco vendor standing in the public at the buffoons’ show, depicted in this cartoon.

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“Daddy, Daddy! says Fanfan, let’s go see Bobèche and Galimafré who are slapping each other. Afterwards you can buy a coco to the health of Angel Pitou, the martyr of freedom.”

A contemporary oil painting also shows the acclaimed theatre performance by Bobèche and Galimafré. Can you pick out the obligatory coco vendor?

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Street theatre performance of Bobeche and Galimafre, c.1820 (oil on canvas) by Jean Roller, Musee de la Ville de Paris, Musee Carnavalet

The Parisians nicknamed the Boulevard du Temple ‘Boulevard du Crime’, not because it was dangerous but to allude to the bloody melodramas playing in its theatres.

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An artistic impression of the Boulevard du Temple (1862).

A panoramic painting of the Boulevard du Temple illustrates the extent of the street. Have you spotted our coco man in this crowd? In the year this was painted (1862), almost all of it would be demolished by Baron Haussmann in order to enlarge the Place de la République during the rebuilding of Paris.

The Boulevard du Temple has been rebuilt in the studio for the legendary film Les Enfants du Paradis. In the fragment we see Baptiste Debureau (Jean-Louis Barrault) trying to get to Garance (Arletty) during carnival.

But let’s get back to Bobèche and Galimafré. As told before they were paradistes. A parade is a type of French street entertainment dating back to the renaissance with characters often drawn from the commedia dell’arte. In the first quarter of the 19th century it was a short improvisational buffoonery performed by two or three characters on a balcony outside the smaller theatres, or on outdoor platforms. The sketch was larded with crude humour, vulgarities, double entendres, sexual innuendos and obscene gestures. Slaps and punches enlivened the spectacle. Bobêche and Galimafré were the best-loved parade characters of this period. They always presented their jokes in the form of dialogues.

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Jocrisse, by Juliano, published by O. Legouix, Paris in 1859 and illustrated by Antoine Barbizet.
Bobèche played the standard comedic character of a Jocrisse, the incarnation of stupidity and clumsiness. Bobèche was a city boy who wore colourful clothes, striped stockings and a cornered hat topped with a butterfly.

Galimafré would attract the crowd with a giant rattle. He was a tall lanky man, dressed in the costume of a Norman peasant. His wig’s hair was cut straight across the forehead. On top of that he wore a kind of bowler hat.

During twenty-some years Bobèche and Galimafré performed on the Boulevard du Temple but also in private salons. The fall of Napoleon also meant the end of the popular duo. Galimafré refused to perform for the ‘enemy’ and worked as a stage technician for the rest of his life. Bobèche became director of a small theatre in Rouen. But soon his theatre went bankrupt and nothing was heard of him since.

Arabella Fields – The Black Nightingale

Sheet Music, photo of Arabella Fields (Partions musicales, www.imagesmusicales.be)
Nach Zigeuner Art! music by Th. Wottitz, published by Josef Blaha in Vienna, 1910 – Photo of Arabella Fields.

Arabella (or Belle) Fields was an early Afro-American performer in Europe. From the 1890s to the 1920s she toured as The Black Nightingale. She was born in Philadelphia but added to her mystique by presenting herself alternately as an African, Red Indian, Indian, American, South American, German-African or an Australian. On this Austrian sheet music cover she presents herself as The Australian Nightingale. The song ‘Nach Zigeuner Art’ (In Gypsy Style) was her greatest success.

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Arabella Fields, an exotic sight to her German audience, was also known to perform as the South-American Caruso. She had a beautiful contralto singing voice and was recorded prior to the First World War in Berlin. Max Chop, a contemporary music critic, described her voice like this: ‘On top of this month’s record list is a vocal phenomenon which remains a mystery to me. I would have classified her straight away as a regular tenor with baritonal colouring, had not the label informed me that it is actually the contralto of Miss Belle Fields, a coloured lady from Philadelphia. I listened to the songs again and again. Indeed at certain times, during the piano of the falsetto towards the upper notes, I thought I heard something like a female resemblance. But then again there were the deep tones of the small octave, and then my natural response was again and again: “But it ought to be a male, after all’!’
You can decide for yourself on Arabella’s voice quality by listening to this 1907 recording of Because I love you

Arabella Fields lived in Germany. She always opened her concerts with a few English songs, soon switching to her German repertoire. This amazed and revelled her audience. Contemporary reviews make it clear that she was much admired. Perhaps this success was due to the fact that Belle Fields adapted Tyrolean folklore. She even yodelled and she dressed accordingly in a dirndl, a historical dress of Alpine peasants.

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Arabella Fields in Tirolean attire.

She was not the only Afro-American artist to adapt the Tyrolean style: the Four Black Diamonds dressed up in Lederhosen or leather shorts.

The Four Black Diamonds, 1906
The Four Black Diamonds, 1906

Next to singing, Arabella Fields acted in a few silent movies and at least in one sound film, Baroud (1933). This was the first and last talkie by the renowned director Rex Ingram. Arabella Fields plays the role of Mabrouka, the heroine’s servant. As was the custom then, she was stereotyped as an overweight, sharp-tongued, black mammy (a racist stereotype featured in a previous post).