Le Voyage à Robinson

Le Voyage à Robinson‘ by Lucien Collin, lyrics by Gaston Villemer and Lucien Delormel. Published by C. Joubert Editeur, Paris (s.d.) and illustrated by Adrien Barrère.

For Le voyage à Robinson the illustrator of the sheet music imagined a girl with puckered lips waiting to be kissed by an artistic young man. The gifted caricaturist Adrien Barrère must have been inspired by the flirtatious liaison described by the lyricists Villemer and Delormel.  Their song —first performed in 1884— became a belle-époque classic. It tells the story of an innocent girl taken advantage of during an outing to a village resort called Robinson. Oh no, and the trip started so well though!

Te rappelles-tu le jour de ma fête
Où tu m’emmenas rire à Robinson ?
Nous avions alors de l’amour en tête
Car nos cœurs chantaient la même chanson.

[ Do you remember when on my birthday
you gaily took me for a ride to Robinson?
Both our heads were then filled with love
As our hearts were humming the same song. ]

A few rhymes later the story unbridles a little:

Dans l’arbre fameux je grimpais bien vite
Le vent souleva ma jupe un peu trop
Et toi, curieux, montant à ma suite
En voyant cela, tu crias “Plus haut !”

[ Into the famous tree I quickly climbed
The wind lifted my skirt a bit
And curious you, following behind,
Seeing that cried “Higher up!” ]

Let us hear Annie Girardot sing about the Voyage à Robinson, and how it ends in woeful memories.

In the 19th and early 20th century guinguettes were a popular destination for Parisian day trippers. A guinguette was an establishment for ample drinking, simple eating and lively dancing. Traditionally it was located next to a river or to a lake in the Parisian suburbs.

The Robinson guinguettes were situated not along the water but in a forest near Paris. For over a century they attracted a crowd of Parisians who came to relax in the forest on Sunday. It all started with an innkeeper who in 1848 built a suite of interconnected tree houses in a majestic chestnut tree. He named his guinguette Au Grand Robinson. He had confused Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe who lived in a cave and ‘The Swiss Family Robinson’ who lived in a tree house as described by Johann Wyss in his book from 1813.

Entrance of the ‘Vrai arbre Robinson’ with a statue of Robinson Crusoe.

The romantic tree houses high up in the gnarled branches of giant chestnuts were decorated as dining rooms with wooden furniture.  They were surrounded by a rustic railing and covered with a thatched roof. Some of them could accommodate up to ten patrons. The waiter hoisted the dishes and drinks up in large baskets using a rope and pulley system.

Le voyage à Robinson‘ by Lucien Collin, Gaston Villemer and Lucien Delormel, published by Bathlot-Joubert (Paris, [1885]) and illustrated by Gustave Donjean.
The tree houses were in high demand. Young couples in search of privacy needed a lot of money and luck to reserve one of these intimate spots. Love is in the air. To protect one’s self even more from prying eyes, one could draw the curtains that surrounded the hut…  Why do I keep thinking about the Mile High Club?

Parisians relax en masse. Left the Vrai Arbre and right the Grand Arbre.

Soon copycats seeing the success of Au Grand Robinson were on the lookout for big trees in the surrounding area. As soon as they found one they started to build tree houses in it. At the beginning of the 20th century there were up to 30 establishments that had thus created their small hamlet of restaurants and taverns. Each claimed to have the most beautiful or the biggest tree. Hence, for authenticity’s sake Au Grand Robinson was renamed Le Vrai Arbre Robinson (The Real Robinson Tree).

Apart from its tree houses the Robinson guinguettes were known for donkey rides…

ezeltjes robinson
Left: ‘Taking turns’. Upper right: ‘A real tumble’. Lower right: ‘The fall of the horse rider’.

…swings,

Swings at Robinson, 1921 (source: Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

… frolicsome bigophone parades,

Bigophone band at Le Vrai Arbre Robinson, 1921 (source: Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

…and wedding parties.

La Mariée de Robinson’ by Emile Spencer & Léo Lelièvre published by A Repos (Paris, s.d.).

By the 1950s people had gotten tired of the Robinson guinguettes which started to close down one after the other. In 1966 the French rock singer Johnny Halliday together with a friend bought the original guinguette Le Vrai Arbre Robinson. Johnny (no need for his last name in France!) and his copain transformed the guinguette into a ranch and baptized it Robinson Village. The spirit of Robinson Crusoe was abandoned in favour of that of the American Wild West.

Johnny Hallyday performing at Robinson Village in 1966.

The small theme park boasted a mitraillette saloon, an Indian village, a Western Show, a disco and a Jerkium (where one could dance the Jerk).

Unfortunately the hope of the entrepreneurs to revive the spirit of the guinguette was smothered: Robinson Village had to close soon after it had opened.

Travelling back in time to 1966, Johnny sings his version of Black is blackGo Johnny go!


Further reading: “Mémoire de guingettes” by Francis Bauby, Sophie Orivel and Martin Pénet (Omnibus, 2003)

Why We Wonder at Woyty-Wimmer’s Work

Wunder Bar (Come rosa sboccia amore)’, an operetta by Robert Katscher, Karl Farkas and Géza Herczeg. Sheet music published by Edizioni Suvini Zerboni (EVZ) in Milano, 1930. Cover illustration by Hubert Woyty-Wimmer.

The cover of a cocktail-sipping flapper for the song Wunder Bar is signed HWW. We already had stumbled upon permutations of the letters W, T and/or H, forming a variety of remarkable monograms. But we couldn’t make heads nor tails of these signatures. What a hard life we have!

Variations of the W H W monogram, signature of Hubert Woyty-Wimmer.

About a hundred clicks later we came across an obituary telling us more about our illustrator. The information came from the world of stamp collectors. The signatures proved to be those of Hubert Woyty-Wimmer. He was the son of a rittmeister (cavalry officer) and born in Romania (1901), in the Bukovina region which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When the empire fell apart at the end of WWI, Woyty-Wimmer moved to Vienna, where he studied graphic design, and became an illustrator and excellent engraver. In 1925 he started his own studio and worked for book publishers and publicity agencies. You can still find his work for sale on eBay, especially post cards and bookplates (ex-libris). Here are a few to illustrate his craftsmanship.

A postcard (1938) and an Ex Libris for A. Kaufmann, designed by Hubert Woyty-Wimmer.
Ex Libris for Dr. Richard Donin, designed by H. Woyty-Wimmer.
Ex libris for Franz Slatner, designed by H. Woyty-Wimmer (1936).

From the Woyty-Wimmer sheet music covers in our collection, we know that his professional path in Vienna during the Thirties must have crossed the grim story of the Jewish publisher Franz Sobotka and his nemesis, the Wiener Lied composer and publisher Heinrich Strecker (read our post ‘Heinrich Strecker vs Franz Sobotka’). Woyty-Wimmer worked for both of them. His designs decorate the sheet music for the publishers Wiener Excelsior Verlag, Edition Bristol and later Strecker’s rather infamous Musikverlag am Schubertring.

‘Ich bin ein kleiner, armer Strassensänger’ by Bruno Uher, Paul Reif & Beda. Published by Bristol (Vienna, 1933) and illustrated by Woyty-Wimmer.

There must also have been a link during that period with the Milanese publisher Suvini-Zerboni (EVZ), but we haven’t found out which. The illustrations are rather sweet though.

Anuscka tu m’hai rubato il cuore…‘ by Jerzy Petersburski and P. M. Arese (published by Edizioni Suvini-Zerboni, Milano, s.d.).
Rosen blühen wieder‘ by Emil Berté and Alfred Steinberg-Frank. Tango published by Edition Scala (Wien, 1930).

In contrast to the Jewish authors of the Wunder Bar operette (Katscher, Farkas and Herczeg) who all three had to flee Austria after the Anschluss, Hubert Woyty-Wimmer continued to work in Vienna. In 1941 Woyty-Wimmer even became member of the Wiener Künstlerhaus. The Künstlerhaus was one of the two Austrian artists’ associations approved by the National Socialists. A year later Woyty-Wimmer compiled an exhibition for it.

In 1950 Woyty-Wimmer found employment in London as an engraver for a famous security paper manufacturer, working on banknotes and stamps.

Postage Stamps engraved by Hubert Woyty-Wimmer. Thanks to Jon Eboy (source: www.stampboards.com)
King George II and Constantine I of Greece, postage stamps engraved by Woyty-Wimmer, 1956. (source: Michael Chambers on the Stamp Magazine Forum)

The decorative value of postages stamps was very well known by sheet music designers, especially to put some spirit into a Polka, Walz or Galop.

Postage Polka‘ by Brainard (published by Comptoir de Musique Moderne, Bruxelles, s.d.)
Postage-Valse‘ by Brainard (published by Comptoir de Musique Moderne, Bruxelles, s.d.)
The Stamp Galop‘ by Arthur O’Leary. Published by Oliver Ditson & Co., Boston, 1864. (Courtesy of the Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, The Sheridan Libraries, The Johns Hopkins University)

Hubert Woyty-Wimmer returned to Vienna around 1965. His bad health together with harsh family disputes troubled the end of his life. He died in 1972 and was buried in Graz.

Back in 1930, Woyty-Wimmer made another clever Wunder Bar cover, this one for the Viennese publisher Doblinger.

Die Wunder Bar, ein Spiel im Nachtleben‘ by Robert Katscher, Karl Farkas and Géza Herczeg. Sheet music published by Ludwig Doblinger (Wien, 1930). Cover illustration by Hubert Woyty-Wimmer.

We apologize for the slight chance to have bored you with our philatelic digression. To make good, we offer you a peek at the 1934 Wonder Bar film, based on the operetta, featuring Al Jolson, Kay Francis, Dick Powell, Dolores del Rio and 250 of the world’s most beautiful girls.

Interestingly, Wonder Bar was one of the last pre-Code movies. And so, although the Code office asked Warners to get rid of the gay sequence, they refused and this wunderbarliche scene survived: “Boys will be boys! Woo!”


Edgar Lewy’s 1972 Woyty-Wimmer obituary (source: stamp magazine).

Doing the Raccoon: the collegiate style

‘Doing the Raccoon’ by Raymond Klages & J.Fred Coots, published by Francis-Day (Paris, s.d.) and illustrated by Würth.

We see three couples dancing a foxtrot. From the academic gown and black cap we can assume that they are students. Possibly the building in the back is their Alma Mater. But the French illustrator Würth failed to draw the essence of the American song. Fortunately the original cover reveals what ‘Doin’ the Raccoon‘ is about, namely dancing gaily in a thick raccoon coat.

‘Doing the Raccoon’ by Raymond Klages & J.Fred Coots, published by Remick Music Corp (New York 1928)

The flashy full-length fur coat was the trend in the 1920s and 30s. Especially American college boys —and even some young women— adopted this fashion in the Roaring Twenties.

College men, knowledge men,
Do a dance called raccoon;
It’s the craze, nowadays,
And it will get you soon.
Buy a coat and try it,
I’ll bet you’ll be a riot,
It’s a wow, learn to do it right now!

The raccoon fur coat craze became identified with affluent students at the Ivy League colleges and universities:

Oh, they wear ’em down at Princeton,
And they share ’em up at Yale,
They eat in them at Harvard,
But they sleep in them in jail!


The coats were particularly popular among the playful students on campus: fun seekers or male jazz enthusiasts who got nicknamed collegiates or Joe College. These cheery types would drive dilapidated old cars, wear a straw hat or fedora and carry a hip flask of illicit booze. They made it very clear that you didn’t need to go to class to become collegiate:  slip into your huge fur coat and dance the raccoon!

The raccoon coat became a fashion symbol of the Jazz Age. It was popularised by celebrities: football players, actors, singers, 

‘I love no one but you’ by Phil Spitalny, published by Phil Spitalny (Cleveland, 1927) and illustrated by Geo Orpin.

 … and even by avant-garde artists like Marcel Duchamp.

Marcel Duchamp wearing a raccoon coat (1927)

While the raccoon coat originally appealed to a white clientele, the modern and rich black American man and woman followed suit. James VanDerZee, recording Harlem’s growing middle class, took this beautiful photo of a couple dressed in similar raccoon coats in their luxurious sleek Cadillac. They embody sophistication and wealth during the Harlem Renaissance.

Couple in Raccoon Coats, Harlem by James Van Der Zee (1932).

I had never heard of raccoon coats before. I only remember Walt Disney’s romanticised version of Davy Crockett wearing a coonskin cap in the series from the 1950’s.

Portrait of Fess Parker, best known for his Davy Crockett role in the Walt Disney’s TV series.

But well, that wasn’t the real Davy Crockett. Neither was this stereotype of Davy Crockett on the cover of a 19th-century sheet music. In fact it is the actor Frank Mayo with moustaches and a dead animal sitting on his head. From 1872 until his death in 1896, he frequently played the role of Davy Crockett, the 19th-century American folk hero, frontiersman and politician.

Davy Crockett March’ by George Loesch published by White Smith & C° (Boston, 1874).