Category Archives: Performers

Stories and biographies of singers and dancers.

Suzanne Lenglen: a tough Mademoiselle

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‘Ah! Suzanne!’ by Christiné, Willemetz & Saint-Granier published by Salabert, Paris in 1926 and illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

To avoid all confusion: it is not a picture of Suzanne Lenglen on this sheet music cover, but of the French singer Saint-Granier. In 1926 he made a ‘hilarious’ performance imitating Suzanne Lenglen in the Casino de Paris. We don’t know if it was extremely amusing, but his burlesque imitation at least looks kind of funny.

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Left Saint-Granier in the Casino de Paris with next to his head, his own portrait. Right Suzanne Lenglen in Wimbledon, 1919. Both picture: Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Saint-Granier (Jean de Granier de Cassagnac) was a nobleman from Gascogne who made a career as a journalist, writer, lyricist, singer and actor in Paris.

saint granier images mysterieuseFor a hallucinating experience concentrate on the four dots on Saint-Granier’s nose, count to 40 and then stare at an even area. Slowly, mysteriously and straight from the Roaring Twenties, Saint-Granier will appear before your very eyes! This beats getting drunk.

The charismatic Suzanne Lenglen was named La Divine or the goddess by the French press and was one of the first celebrity athletes. She revolutionised and dominated women’s tennis from the end of the First World War until 1926. She was coached by her Papa and trained by male players on the Côte d’Azur. She played a man’s game, in an aggressive serve-and-volley style and serving overhead. Sometimes, during a tough game, a sip of brandy and a curse would propel Suzanne to victory. It helped her win six Wimbledon singles titles. Moreover during her career she only lost one match.

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Evolution of tennis outfits. Left: ‘Lieb’ Kätchen’ by Otto Becker, published by Odeon, Berlin. Right: ‘C’est l’amour’ by Maurice Yvain, published by Salabert, Paris in 1922 and illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

She was also a flamboyant and graceful player and in spite of her homely face she became a fashion muse. Suzanne Lenglen brought the glamour of the French Riviera to Wimbledon. In 1919 during her first appearance there she made it clear that the jazz age was on its way. Her opponent in the final, the seven-time Wimbledon champion and the title-holder, was dressed in an ankle-lenght skirt, with the shirt fastened at the wrists and neck and a corset underneath. Suzanne Lenglen won (albeit not without a struggle) in a short-sleeved frock reaching to the calves and her hair bobbed.

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Suzanne Lenglen, French championships 1922 (source: Bibliothèque Nationale de France).

She would kick her legs high up in the air, not minding at all that one could see her pants or get a glimpse of a bare thigh. Instantly she became the goddess of tennis and an example for all flappers. Her dress code would be copied worldwide on and off the court. She usually made her entrance in a fur or fur-trimmed coat which she even showed off during breaks, regardless of the heat. Underneath she wore flimsy Art-Deco ensembles created by Jean Patou, stockings rolled to the knee held by a cerise garter, and a brightly coloured silk chiffon bandeau on her head.

An excerpt from British Pathé’s ‘How I Play Tennis – By Mlle. Suzanne Lenglen (1925)‘, a 16-minute silent documentary.

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‘Juego limpio’ by Francisco Canaro, published by Breyer Hermanos, Buenos Aires, s.d.

Apart from gossipy proposals from dukes, counts, earls and American millionaires, and contrary to tabloid reports of pending engagements with wealthy gentlemen, Suzanne never got married nor engaged. So she wasn’t lucky in love, nor in her later life: she died suddenly when she was only 39 years old.

'Amour et Tennis' sheet music cover illustrated by Pousthomis
‘Amour et Tennis’ by Darewski and Chapelle, published by Edouard Salabert, Paris, 1908, illustrated by Pousthomis.

Suzanne Lenglen was an enthusiastic dancer. She even claimed the fox-trot, the tango and her favourite, the shimmy, were excellent training for tennis. It was maybe this love for dancing together with her graceful acrobatics on the court that inspired Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes. His production Le Train Bleu by Jean Cocteau (scenario) and Darius Milhaud (music) staged a tennis player based on the elegant Mademoiselle Lenglen.

Re-staging of Le Train Bleu by the Paris Opera in 1992. Music by Darius Milhaud. Costumes by Coco Chanel.

A fierce redhead: Gaby Montbreuse

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‘Avec son pied’ by Georges Krier, published by Krier, s.d. and illustrated by Gaston Girbal.

For this cover Gaston Girbal drew a caricature of Gaby Montbreuse with a characteristic oversized bow in her hair.

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Portrait of Gaby Montbreuse, s.d.

Little is known about her rather short life. In 1913 Gaby Montbreuse (Julia Hérissé) made her debut at 18 with the song Sur la Riviera, composed by Léo Daniderff. It is said that Daniderff was her companion for some years and wrote many of her songs, the best known Je cherche après Titine.

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‘Sur la Riviera’ by Léo Daniderff, published by Daniderff in 1913 and illustrated by Armengol.

It is odd that at least two of her well-known songs of her early career were also sung by a ‘Gaby Zetty’ (or Zety?) about whom even less is known… An alter ego, a competitor or an abandoned nom d’artiste? Bizarre…

Petits formats sheet music on Gaby Zetty
Three ‘petits formats’ sheet music covers on which appear the link between Léo Daniderff’s songs and a (mysterious) Gaby Zetty or Zety.

Gaby Montbreuse’s picture on the cover of Sur la Riviera still looks quite conventional but she would become increasingly extravagant.

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Left, portrait of Gaby Montbreuse on an artist postcard. Right, ‘Cécile et ses cils’ by Eugène Gavel published by Max Eschig in 1924 and illustrated by Gaston Girbal.

The composer Georges Van Parys who accompanied her on the piano in 1924 described her in his journal without mincing his words:
“She surely is ugly and looks awful. A huge round head, absolutely disproportionate to her body. A shock of curly red hair, with a lock tumbling on her forehead. Very useful, this lock: she gets a comic effect by blowing on it when she feels in the middle of a song that it does not work well. Made up like a baby doll, with eyelashes painted like a fan upon her eyelids. Her voice is working-class, vulgar, cracked by abuse. Vulgar gestures are carefully studied. All this would, without doubt, be unacceptable from someone else. But the good woman is so funny that even the most critical are quickly disarmed. Uplifting her skirt with her left hand, she begins to sing eye-watering silly verses. Yet she manages to make people laugh who, until proven otherwise, seem perfectly normal.”

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‘Dolly-Schimmy’ (sic) by Félix Fourdrain, published by Choudens, Paris in 1922. Clérice frères illustrated this typical Montbreuse-like doll of the Twenties.

Pol Rab also caricatured Montbreuse’s physique on sheet music covers from the Parisian Années Folles.

Caricatures of Gaby Montbreuse by Pol Rab
Left: ‘Hé! Prends ton temps’ by Vincent Scotto. Right: ‘A tes amours’ by Vincent Scotto. Both published by Les Editions du Music-Hall (Enoch), Paris in 1925 and illustrated by Pol Rab.

After performing in all the well-known Parisian cabarets and a short film career, she opened her own night club ‘Le Château Montbreuse’ in the late Twenties. Alas, her venue went bust in the early Thirties, and she again appeared in the entertainment programs of other concert halls and clubs. Not much is known about the rest of her life, but she reportedly died in Tours in 1943.

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Gaby Montbreuse in her nightclub Le Château Montbreuse, where she sings for her rich patrons, selling them champagne. Drawing by Carl Erickson for Vogue 1927.

If you are curious about her voice, here she sings the bawdy Tu m’as possédée par surprise.

Tu m’as possédée par surprise (for the french lyrics, click here)

And if Gaby Montbreuse were a man and a hippie, maybe she would have looked like Armand. He was a protest singer, nicknamed the Dutch Bob Dylan (for lack of better). I adored him in the late Sixties when I still thought all was love, peace and happiness. Even in his sixties he dignified to keep his Sixties look. But his iconic song from 1967 hasn’t changed a lot. Groovy, outta sight man!

Fortunes of War

sheet music Henk Fortuin
‘Het is zo heerlijk om te leven’ (It’s so delightful to live), published by B.H. Smit in Amsterdam, unknown illustrator, s.d.

A few years back, we received this reaction on our Images Musicales website: “You have a cover of Henk Fortuin. He is my brother and this is the only known photo of him. He lived in Utrecht Holland and was killed in 1943 when a bomb struck the hospital he was performing at.
Thank you for letting us see this photo, it proves that he lived, and was loved.” The mail was signed by Mr. Efting from Canada.

Intrigued, we asked for more information and Arnold Efting told us the rest of the story. Henk Fortuin’s real name was Hendrik (Pieter Harrie) Van Grieken. His father, Arie van Grieken, sailed from Holland to Canada in 1923.

'Emigranten', Swedish Sheet Music by Arvid Brieand
‘Emigranten’, by Arvid Briend. Unknown Swedish publisher, s.d.

His plan was to settle there first, and then his wife Enjetta with their son Henk would follow. “But they never did, and my Father grieved for his first son for the rest of his life. He got tears in his eyes just talking about him.
Someone sent my father copies of Henk’s records (no, there are no covers for them, they are just in a brown sleeve). Arie would play the records over and over, tears running down his cheeks. We didn’t have any photos, and the information we do have is so sketchy. We believe he was in his early twenties when he died, we think in 1943 or 1945.”

Sheet music for the 'Emigrantens Hemlängtan' (The immigrant's Homesickness'), by Ernst Rolf and Gösta Stevens, illustrated by Norelius
‘Emigrantens Hemlängtan’ (The immigrant’s Homesickness), by Ernst Rolf and Gösta Stevens. Published by Rolf Musikförlags, Stockholm, 1929. Illustrated by Norelius.

“In the 1950’s Arie legally changed his name from Van Grieken to Efting, his mother’s maiden name. Arie died in 1983 at the age of 88. We don’t know what happened to his first wife Enjetta Jansen. Arie had two more sons in Canada, Anthony born in 1941 and myself Arnold born in 1947. The photo on the album cover shows that Henk was the spitting image of his (my) father! What a thrill to find it. Thank you again!

Only recently did we learn more on Henk Fortuin’s short life. For instance that he was born in 1919 in Assen (in the Dutch province of Drenthe), only ten days after the wedding between Arie and Enjetta. Henk was four when his dad left for Canada in 1923, for ever.
Henk’s stage name, Fortuin, wasn’t chosen arbitrarily. In 1925 his mother divorced Arie, and a year later she married Petrus Fortuin, a commercial manager living in Amsterdam.

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Page 642 from the 1926 registry of marriages of Groningen (source: online archives).

On the 10th of May 1940 the invasion by Nazi Germany shattered the neutrality of The Netherlands. The harsh military occupation and German civilian government started for five long years.

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It is in the Dutch ‘Cinema en Theater‘ magazine of november 1943 that we find the first trace of Henk Fortuin’s career as a radio singer. A complete column is devoted to our artist, with the chit-chat so typical to show business.

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Henk Fortuin singing on the factory floor (Cinema en Theater, nov. 1943).

We learn that Henk is a merry radio singer, always wearing a sunny smile and tilted hat. He is serious about his career, works hard and takes singing lessons. Even though Henk is already successful, he remains the ‘simple boy from Groningen’. He tours with other artists and visits the workers in the factories to bring them happy songs. In the broadcasting studios he’s always bright, whistling happily.

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Henk Fortuin’s name (together with that of ‘De Melodisten‘) regularly appears in weekly program lists, newspaper adverts and on some posters for concerts between 1943 and 1944. During those grim war years it was not obvious for an artist to be allowed to perform in public nor to sing on national radio.

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Poster for a ‘Bonte Avond’ concert in Tilburg, with ‘De Melodisten’ orchestra and singer Henk Fortuin; October 1943 (source: www.geheugenvannederland.nl).
Two ads in the newspapers for Henk Fortuin performances with his faithful De melodisten orchestra.
Two ads in the newspapers for Henk Fortuin performances with his faithful De melodisten orchestra. (Left: Haarlemsche Courant, May 26, 1944; right: Utrechts Nieuwsblad, June 22, 1944).

In 1944 Henk Fortuin was still very active touring all over the country. From an article in an Alkmaar newspaper we get the image of a popular singer, who fluently entertained the crowd with Dutch, German and French songs. The audience acclaimed him and happily sang along.

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And then calamity struck Hilversum, the Dutch town synonymous for Holland’s broadcasting centre. A large-scale razzia happened on October 23, 1944.

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The call for ‘Arbeidseinsatz’ in 1944 in Hilversum, and the 1997 monument commemorating the dramatic events in the Sports park.

About 3500 men aged between 17 and 50 were forced by German soldiers to gather in the sports park in order to be registered for Arbeidseinsatz (forced labour). Broadcast employees weren’t exempted from duty. Later that day the men were put on several transports to Kamp Amersfoort.

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Forced labourers on their way to camp (source: Kamp Amersfoort).

Henk Fortuin probably ended up, together with fellow radio companion and jazz arranger Eddy Noordijk, in a small group that was dispatched to Leeden, a German village in Nordrhein-Westfalen. They were used as forced labourers for Organisation Todt doing construction work. In the end 600.000 Dutchmen shared a similar ordeal of forced labour in Germany. All in all it is estimated that 7,7 million non-German workers were thus used in the German war economy.

The damaged church of Leeden after the bombing on the night of the 7th of February 1945.
A damaged building of Leeden after the bombing on the night of the 7th of February 1945.

A few months later, on the night of February 7th, calamity struck again in Henk Fortuin’s life: the village was bombed by the Royal Air Force. The real target was probably a canal nearby. Fifty-two people perished. At least ten prisoners from Hilversum, sheltering in the school, were killed in the bombing. Henk Fortuin was buried in Leeden. His body was later moved to the cemetery of Apeldoorn-Loenen. Around 3600 victims are buried there, all graves almost inconspicuously dispersed on a 17 hectare large wood area. No straight lines of crosses but a winding path of uniformly white grave stones.

H.P.H.Fortuin

Henk’s mother Enjetta died in Groningen in 1974, followed by her second husband Petrus Fortuin two years later.

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