Category Archives: Songs

Comments on songs and lyrics…

Bumper Cars: You’re Driving Me Crazy!

You’re Driving Me Crazy (What Did I Do?)‘ by Walter Donaldson, published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1930) and illustrated by Florent Margaritis.

The cover for the Parisian Francis-Day sheet music doesn’t sparkle with happiness and joy. It rather illustrates the miserable yearning in the song’s lyrics.

You left me sad and lonely
Why did you leave me lonely?
For here’s a heart that’s only
For nobody but you!

Walter Donaldson probably didn’t have exquisite poetry in mind when he wrote these verses. But happily he transformed the persistent melody in his brain into the song You’re Driving Me Crazy that became an instant hit in 1930. Later, any jazz singer or crooner —from Billie Holiday to Frank Sinatra— had to have that song in their repertoire.

I’m burning like a flame, dear
Oh, I’ll never be the same, dear
I’ll always place the blame, dear
On nobody but you.

Not familiar with the tune? As a reminder, here is the delicious, sexy version by Betty Boop in the cartoon Silly Scandals:

Another copy of the sheet music in our collection, is most likely the original American one. Frederick Manning designed a large passionate hart, blazing in a fire of love. Somewhat pompous in my opinion.

‘You’re Driving Me Crazy (What Did I Do?)’ by Walter Donaldson, published by Walter Donaldson (New York, 1930) and illustrated by Frederick Manning.

Yes, you,
You’re driving me crazy!
What did I do? What did I do?
My tears for you
Make everything hazy,
Clouding the skies of blue.

For the Francis-Day cover at the top, illustrator Florent Margaritis chose another approach. He took the title and lyrics quite literally and drew a couple: she regretful but displaying resolve, he apparently thinking What did I do?  They share their romantic agony on a cloudy bumper ride in a weird electric car of the type that I’ve never seen before. My perfect excuse to start digging into the history of the bumper cars or dodgems.

The New Yorker, James Adair, was the first to receive a patent for an electrically propelled vehicle in 1890. His patent drawing shows a tricycle connected to the ceiling by a trolley pole. This idea, which was never built, became the basic concept to build the first bumper cars thirty years later: a conductive (metal) floor and ceiling, each with a separate power polarity. Contacts under the vehicle touch the floor while a pole-mounted contact touches the ceiling, forming a complete circuit. I remember my childhood fairs, looking fascinated and thrilled at the sparks produced by the car’s poles grating the ceiling’s wire mesh. Electricity was literally in the air.

Drawing for the patent filed by James Adair for an electrically propelled vehicle, 1890.

The first patent for an electrically powered bumper car was issued in 1921 to father and son Stoehrer from Massachusetts. They had invented a novel amusement car that “in the hands of an unskilled operator will follow a promiscuous, irregular path to not only produce various sensations but to collide with other cars as well as with portions of the platform provided for that purpose. It requires the utmost skill of the driver to cause the car or vehicle to dodge other vehicles.” Hence the name of the company that the brothers created: Dodgem. Dodgem is also the generic name for what they call in the US a bumper car, in France auto-tamponneuse and in Belgium auto-scooter.

Similar to the bumper car illustrated by Margaritis on our cover, the first Dodgem cars were round and seated two people. Between and in front of them a horizontal steering wheel was mounted on a vertical post.

Dodgem cars, source: Lusse Auto Scooters website.

These cars equipped with large bumpers indeed drove crazy because they were rear-steered. According to a test in 1921 by Scientific American these first bumper cars were highly unmanageable and only allowed erratic steering.

Bumper cars in the Bumper Car Pavilion – Glen Echo Park, Maryland – 1924

Lusse Brothers from Philadelphia spent nine years solving the unsteady steering problems that plagued Dodgem cars. By the 1930s, new front-wheel drive bumper cars were introduced: the Lusse Auto Skooter. They could easily reverse backward and the drivers could now target who they wanted to collide with.

The Skooter Bumper Car Pavilion in Glen Echo Park, Maryland

In France electrically powered bumper cars were not produced before the 1930s. But I found two pictures from primitive precursors. Both show auto-tamponeuses that look like a wicked or wooden seat attached to a thick board on wheels. In front there is a crude steering wheel. I imagine that the fair attraction’s track was slanted so that the cars glided or rolled down from their own. The first photograph was taken around 1900 at the Neuilly Fair near Paris. The second one shows us Battling Siki, a French-Senegalese boxer sitting in a bumper car at a Parisian Lunapark in 1922.

La Fete a Neuilly, ca. 1900.
Training of boxer Battling Siki, sitting (left) in a bumper car at the luna park, Avenue de la Grande Armée 1922 – Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Gallica

Another forerunner of the bumper cars was one of the most popular attractions at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition in London. I confess that I haven’t the faintest idea how this entertainment device works…

Dodge’em cars at the British Empire Exhibition – 1924

What a coincidence. The fun fair is in town. Really, they are. I went to the autoscooter stand, to check some of the above facts. And guess what, they are still playing our tune ❤️

Yes, you!
You’re driving me crazy!
What did I do to you?

The Ephemeral Sculptures of Domenico Mastroianni

Chaconne‘ by Eugène Météhen, published by Album Lyrique Français (Marseille, s.d.) and illustrated by Domenico Mastroianni.

This cover shows a rare and original form of illustration. It bears no title nor composer’s name. Both (‘Chaconne‘ by Eugène Météhen) are printed on the inside together with the piano notation. The sheet music was commissioned by the Robinson d’Anjou, the retail store of a large umbrella factory in Angers, France. We admit that it is a rather campy collection item. But the storyline behind this unusual design deserves to be explored.  As per usual, we cheerfully oblige.

We discovered that the cover was created by Domenico Mastroianni, an Italian sculptor living in Paris. He became famous for his sculpture éphémère also known as sculptobromure or sculptogravure. Thanks to an advertising postcard from the prolific Parisian publisher Armand Noyer, we can have a glimpse of Mastroianni’s amazing technique.

Publicity Postcard published by Armand Noyer (Paris, s.d.).

Firstly, and with astonishing speed and skill, Mastroianni modelled realistic reliefs on clay plates of about 50 cm x 70 cm. Then the plates where photographed, and these clichés were reproduced as postcards. As soon as a plate had been photographed, it was destroyed to prepare for the next scenes. Alas, not one of his plates survived.

The creation of the world‘ postcard published by Armand Noyer and illustrated by Domenico Mastroianni.

With this method Domenico Mastroianni was incredibly productive. His printed kitsch makings flooded the French and international postcard market. Often his creations illustrated the lives of the most famous historical, literary, religious and mythological characters. But he didn’t shrink from fabricating risqué scenes in Art Nouveau style, sometimes taking bad taste to the limit.

Vision Fantastique‘ published by Armand Noyer and illustrated by Armand Noyer.

Just before the first World War Mastroianni returned to Italy where he continued his production of postcards. In 1935 our sculptor illustrated a propaganda postcard against the sanctions imposed upon Italy by the League of Nations. These sanctions targeted Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in that same year, when Mussolini was in search of a new Roman Empire.

Postcard illustrated by Domenico Mastroianni, 1935.

At that time a famous marching song accompanied Italy’s colonial adventure: Faccetta Nera (Little Black Face). The catching quickstep became very popular with the Italian armed Fascist militia, the Camicie Nere (Blackshirts) fighting in Ethiopia. The song describes an Ethiopian girl taken back to Rome by Italian troops after their invasion of Ethiopia. The young woman is paraded in front of Mussolini, herself also wearing the black shirt.

Although the song was written as a liberation song supporting the abolishment of slavery in Ethiopia (Mussolini’s explanation for his territorial expansion), it was without doubt a sexist and racist song and still is. In Italy, singing it today invokes controversy and its name is sometimes used as the N-word, to insult black women or girls. Even now on Youtube, there are Italian fascist aficionado’s who advocate their love for the song. It was beautifully illustrated by Gino Gonni though.

Faccetta nera‘ by  Mario Ruccione and Renato Micheli published by La Canzona di Roma (Roma, 1935) and illustrated by Gino Gonni.

Mussolini despised the jovial tone of the text which called for a swift and painless integration of a young Ethiopian woman in Italian fascist society: “you will be Roman, your flag will be the Italian one”.

Chromo illustrated by Aurelio Bertiglia (1936). Aurelio Bertiglia made a set of war propaganda postcards from the Italian perspective depicting an extremely bloody war as a children’s game.

And Mussolini abhorred even more the implicit reference to interracial sex. However, to forbid the song would have been too drastic in view of its immense popularity among the colonial legionnaires.

Left a booklet cover: ‘Faccetta nera. Soldati italiani alla conquista dell’Impero’ (1954). Right, a picture of Italian soldiers showing a magazine to Ethiopian women.

Instead, publisher Bixio came up with a more appropriate cover design, boasting suitable flags and the emblematic Roman fasces.

Faccetta nera‘ by Renato Mario and Ruccione Micheli published by Bixio (Milano, s.d.). Unknown illustrator.

If the song could not completely be banished, at least it could be conveniently redacted. The initial text of Faccetta nera made a reference to the First Italo-Ethiopian War in 1896, a year when the Italian forces suffered great losses and Italy had to accept Ethiopian independence. This passage in the lyrics was censured because Mussolini didn’t want any reminders of defeat.

On the other hand, the reference to that humiliating year is very explicit on the cover of the song Macallè (published somewhat later than Faccetta nera). The central inscription ‘1896’ is carved on the door lintel. The explanation is that in 1935 on November 8th the Italian forces captured Mek’ele (Macallè): the previous defeat was now revenged.

Macallè’ by Dino Olivieri & Capitano Azzuro published by Edizioni Leonardi (Milano, 1935) and illustrated by Bacchetta.

With these fascist songs we’re a bit off topic now. So back to Domenico Mastroianni with a last lingering question: was he related to the great Marcello? Yes indeed! He was Marcello’s uncle’s uncle. Finally an excuse to slip Marcello Mastroianni in our blog.

I did not have sexual relations with that woman

ma petite bretonne copy
Left: ‘L’affaire Steinheil’ by Antonin Louis, published by Edition Musicale Française (Paris, sd). Right: ‘Ma Petite Bretonne’ by Berniaux, published by Charles Mayol (Paris, 1907), illustrated by Pousthomis.

Last week we got a present from our friend Etienne: a tattered leaflet, folded  twice to fit in a pocket, ready to hand for an impromptu performance. On the backside of the leaflet are the words for L’Affaire Steinheil. No musical notation was needed as one had to sing it to the tune of a 1907 hit song Ma Petite Bretonne.

The Madame Steinheil of the cover was born in Alsace in 1869 as Marguerite Japy, the daughter of a rich industrialist.

meg steinheil
Marguerite Steinheil, posing as an ancient Greek aulos player.

The gorgeous Marguerite married the well-known but less gifted painter Adolphe Steinheil in 1890. The marriage was not a happy one but it allowed Marguerite to move in the highest social circles in Paris. She became the mistress of the French president, Félix Faure, often visiting him for assignations in the Elysée Palace. During one of their trysts Faure died suddenly. The salacious circumstances of the president’s untimely demise (in 1899) and the identity of his companion became widely known thanks to the tabloid press. According to some, presumably his political opponents, it happened while Marguerite was giving the president the Monica Lewinsky treatment, which earned her the nickname ‘La Pompe Funèbre’.

faure1
An artist’s impression of President Faure’s death, as seen by his supporters.

After the president’s death Marguerite continued to have a string of famous lovers. In 1908 Marguerite’s mother and husband were murdered in their bedroom. They both died by strangulation. Marguerite was found bound and gagged but otherwise unharmed. She told the police that a gang of four black-robed burglars had perpetrated the murders and stolen her jewellery.

steinheilmoord
An artist’s impression of the 1908 murders. Marguerite is found, gagged and bound on her daughters bed by a servant. In the adjoining bedrooms we get a glimpse of the bodies of her mother and her husband.

From the start the police suspected her of playing a part in the murders but couldn’t find proof of this. In an attempt to draw the investigation away from herself, the recent widow tried (unsuccessfully) to frame the male servant who had initially discovered her. She told the police that she had found some of the stolen jewellery in the servant’s possession, including a pearl. Alas for her, a jeweller recognised it as the gem Marguerite had asked the jeweller to dismount from her ring, after the murders took place. So she must have hid it in her servants wallet later on.

Being confronted with her lies, Marguerite at long last accused Alexander Wolff, the son of her old cook Mariette. Alexander Wolff, a horse dealer, called her a vile lying whore. Lucky for him, the police soon proved him entirely innocent.

alexander wolff
On the left: Alexander Wolff accused of the murders by Marguerite Steinheil. Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Marguerite’s wild accusations and tampering with evidence,  heightened the suspicion against her and finally led to her arrest. She was charged with murder and sent to Saint-Lazare to await her trial.
At that time Saint-Lazare was a gloomy prison for women, housing mostly prostitutes and female thieves. None other than Toulouse-Lautrec (signing as Treclau) illustrated Aristide Bruant’s song ‘A Saint-Lazare’.

a saint lazare
Left: ‘A Saint-Lazare’ by Aristide Bruant, published by himself (Paris in 1887) and illustrated by Treclau (Toulouse-Lautrec). Not in our collection, Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Right: Madame Steinheil in Saint-Lazare (1909). Picture from her memoirs.

In contrast to Bruant’s reputation of singing with a thunderous voice, the wonderful Barbara gave a delicate enactment of the song:
“C’est de la prison que je t’écris mon pauvre Polyte
Et si t’aime bien ta petite souris réponds moi vite…”

The press covered every aspect of the Steinheil murders, the investigation, the arrest, the imprisonment and the trial. Conspirationists pretended that Marguerite had -almost a decade before- also poisoned president Félix Faure.

steinheil avocat
Marguerite and her lawyer during her trial. Le Petit Parisien, Supplément Littéraire Illustré, November 7th,1909.

The trial revealed all her lies and tampering. However, because there was no motive and only indirect evidence of any physical involvement with the murders, she was unexpectedly acquitted and released.

lettre steinheil & procureur
Left: caricature of the attorney during the trial holding in his arms Marguerite’s husband and President Faure (only clad in his shirt). Right: ‘Lettre à Madame Steinheil’ by Dalbret, published by Valentin Pannier (Paris, sd) and illustrated by Léon Pousthomis (source: MédiHAL).

Following her acquittal Marguerite got another nickname: La Veuve Joyeuse after Franz Lehar’s Die Lüstige Witwe (The Merry Widow). The first production of this operetta in Paris had been in April of the same year.

steinheil veuve joyeuse

veuve joyeuse
‘Heure exquise’ from ‘La Veuve Joyeuse’ by Franz Léhar, published by Max Eschig (Paris, 1909) and illustrated by Georges Dola.

Nonetheless, Marguerite didn’t remain a widow for very long. She changed her name to Madame de Serignac, moved to England where she married into the British aristocracy in 1917 and became Lady d’Abinger.

Marguerite’s faithful cook Mariette stayed in France. She was an important witness at the trial and was described as follows: “Mariette looks an old peasant woman from one of Balzac’s novels. (…) Her nose is strong, and her eyes are terrible—but when she wants to, she can soften their expression. There is hardly any interval between the nose and the stubborn little chin, which reminds one of a dried-up crabapple.”

mariette wolff steinheil
Mariette Wolff, the cook of Marguerite Steinheil.

Notwithstanding that her mistress had accused her son Alexander of the murders, Mariette remained a very loyal servant. At the trial she had said nothing that could possibly harm her boss: “When one is a domestic, one must see everything but say nothing.” This allegiance was not reciprocal. In her 1920 memoir Marguerite wrote: “She had a terrifying appearance, the old Mariette, with her eyes that flashed angrily, her threatening jaw, and her big clenched fists.” Marguerite even hinted that Mariette was implicated in the murders…

Oddly, after the trial Mariette Wolff became a well-known billposter for the publicity firm Gabert.

wolf afficheuse1
Mariette Wolff as a billposter in december 1909. Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Her new boss, monsieur Gabert, had astutely reckoned that her notoriety could well attract the best crowd…

Photo Mariette Wolff attracting a crowd in 1909.
Mariette Wolff as a billposter attracting a huge crowd in december 1909. Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Apart from being an advertiser Gabert was also a keen supporter of feminism and women’s suffrage. He would supported the right for women to vote in the elections of 1912. But back in 1908 he already made his point by hiring the first female billposter, until then a profession reserved for men.

premiere colleuse
The first female billposter in Paris. Le Petit Journal, 11 october 1908.

Soon onlookers and photographers would assemble around Gabert’s ‘colleuses d’affiches’. These controversial women in a ‘male’ profession first gave rise to surprise and incredulity. But soon they would turn into a spectacle, appearing on postcards as if they were a curio.

eerste colleuse 3 copy
Left: The first female billposter. Right: Paris-Féministe – New professions for women: the billposter.
Belgium had to wait for the first female billposter till 1916.
eerste colleuse belgie 1916
A new Brussels profession, January 1916. Royal Library of Belgium
But back to our story. The mystery of the two murders has never been solved. Though according to the lyrics on our leaflet Marguerite was guilty as hell: “Elle va bientôt lâcher le morceau, ou d’ venir marteau. Mais cett’ femm’ si belle, est bien criminelle!”
And as to her spot of bother with Faure well, presidents will be presidents, won’t they?
hollande
Front page of the French magazine Closer revealing the French president’s supposed secret trysts with Julie Gayet. (2014)