Category Archives: Performers

Stories and biographies of singers and dancers.

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…

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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

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‘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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Springtime: Tiptoe Through the Tulips

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‘Tip Toe Through the Tulips’ from Gold Diggers of Broadway published by M. Witmark & Sons in 1929.

Nick Lucas a popular crooner and jazz guitar player introduced the song Tiptoe Through the Tulips in the film Gold Diggers of Broadway. Nick Lucas was the first to make guitar playing into an act. In 1922, while others were still playing ukuleles, mandolins and banjos, Lucas made the first solo jazz guitar record for Pathé.

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Nick Lucas (1897-1982)

Gold Diggers of Broadway was a 1929 Warner Brothers popular musical film, a remake of the 1919 play Gold Diggers. Warner Brothers had already made a silent version of the play in 1923 but that film got completely lost. Apart from a few minutes, found in England in the late eighties and including the song Tiptoe Through the Tulips, the 1929 film remake was also lost. Luckily the entire soundtrack of the film survived on Vitaphone track. Gold Diggers of Broadway was a lavish, all-Technicolor musical. It was one of I929’s biggest hits. It was a stage-show-within-a-show to cope with the many musical numbers combined with romance and gags. The plot centers around some New York chorus girls desperately seeking a wealthy husband. The optimistic film premiered just before the big Wall Street Crash of October 1929.

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A still from ‘Gold Diggers of Broadway’ film in 1929. (Photo from http://www.virtualvictrola.com)

The newspaper The Daily Oklahoman used the still above to announce ‘the first all-talking, all-singing, all-dancing, and all natural color photoplay’ in Oklahoma. As if that wasnt enough, it added: ‘with a chorus of 100 dazzling beauties!’. The joyful dancing girl from the still was also used to enliven the front of the film poster. We already published another version of the film poster, together with a Nick Lucas sheet music cover (see our ‘Cryin’ For The Carolines’ post).

gold_diggers_of_broadway_xlgNow, listen and see Nick Lucas perform his serenade, Tiptoe Through the Tulips. Standing under a huge moon he sings with a soft, sweet, appealing voice. If you don’t have time to view the full serenade-at-the-balcony and the little tap-dance, be sure to fast-forward to minute 3 in order not to miss the magic moment of the chorus-girl appearing out of the tulips in the giant greenhouse. Tiptoe Through the Tulips was actually written for this film by Joseph Burke and Al Dubin. It was among the first recordings to sell over two million disks as did the sheet music. Nonetheless the film was no springboard to a film career for Nick Lucas.

Forty years later, in the late 60s, Tiny Tim (1932-1996) made an infamous version of Tiptoe Through the Tulips in his typical high falsetto tenor. In 1969 when Tiny Tim married a 17-year old girl live on The Tonight Show, Nick Lucas sang Tiptoe Through the Tulips for him with an audience of 40 million television viewers.

Tiptoe Through the Tulips was also used in Warner Brothers’ very first Looney Tunes cartoon, starring Bosko in 1930. The playful instrumental version of our song starts at around 1:35. Enjoy !