Category Archives: Entertainment

Music hall, cabaret, dance hall

The Spanish Cuplé: from rogue to bourgeois

 

Fumando Espero‘ by Tragan, Viladomat & Felix Garzo, published by Ildefonso Alier (Madrid, s.d.)

At the beginning of the 20th century a lot of popular music genres were created, all over the world. Spain saw the birth of a characteristic genre, influenced by French cabaret songs: the cuplé, coming from the French word couplet.

El baile y el amor – Couplets‘ by Clifton Worsley and Margarit, published by Manuel Villar (Valencia, 1917) and illustrated by Pouo.

Augusta Berges is said to have started this genre: with La Pulga (The Flea), in 1893 in Madrid. While singing, Augusta was looking for fleas in her clothes as an excuse for a bit of demure stripping. It was a huge success. Other singers followed suit with their own versions, frantically searching a flea, an ant or a spider under their frock, to the lascivious excitement of the whole male audience. Sara Montiel, a Spanish actress who achieved Hollywood-stardom, re-enacts such a Pulga song in the sixties film ‘La reina del Chantecler’. Chantecler being a Madrilenean theatre before the first World War.

La Pulga was the starting point for a profusion of more or less erotically explicit songs with simple, short and repetitive lyrics. But always with a lot of gesture. The performers, almost exclusively women and transvestites, told a story in three or four minutes with a large dose of theatricality and a load of double entendre and erotic allusions. An ample and voluptuous body was sometimes a better key to success than a good singing voice. Showing their ankles and clad in tulles that left little to the imagination, the cupletistas became sexual objects in seedy variety theatres.

‘Sicaliptico’, Spanish erotic magazine (1904)

The cuplé was part of the sicalipsis, a Spanish neologism of unclear origin to designate the trend of erotic manifestations in literature and the press, as well as in the visual arts, and in variety shows. Being part of this sicalipsis certainly added to the popularity of the cuplé, at least in its beginning.

Postcards of Cupletistas to promote their career.

The profession of cupletista was popular among women, many of them illiterate, trying to escape poverty. It was also frequently a stepping stone to the world of prostitution. A trigger to that was that the cupletista had to perform in ever smaller and cheaper salones, bringing the woman teasingly close to the male public.

While at first the cuplé was a frivolous, provocative and even erotic song with a lot of humour and spice, from 1910 on it became more ‘decent’ and sentimental. It became even considered as a higher quality art form. The cuplé reached a larger middle class public with an increasingly female audience. It became more of a sentimental love song. The singers abandoned their playful outfits and tended to dress in black and to wear a Mantilla.

La Goya (Aurora Jauffret)

The first one to bring this new kind of cuplé was La Goya (Aurora Jauffret, 1891-1950). She performed in well reputed theatres and changed her dress with each song to match the lyrics, taking care of the theatrical part of her performance.

‘Por tus caricias’ by E. Burrull & Pedro Puche, published by Ildefonso Alier (Madrid, sd) and illustrated by Pol, with a picture insert of La Goya.

In the Twenties, the cuplé had become a sentimental song mentioning contemporary social, cultural or political issues. Gone was the flea and the spider, no more bawdy undertones. The most famous cupletista was Raquel Meller, an international star who launched world hits like La Violetera and El relicario, both written by José Padilla Sánchez.

Left: ‘La Violetera’ by José Padilla & Eduardo Montesinos; Right: ‘El Relicario’ by José Padillia. Both published by Salabert (Paris, 1918) and illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

The cuplé was forbidden during Franco’s reign until it resurged in a nostalgic way, with the boom of Sara Montiel in the cinema. In the film El ultimo cuple, she plays the role of a cupletista struggling with her rise to fame and her subsequent downfall. Let’s listen to Sara Montiel —in real life a passionate cigar smoker— singing Fumando espero. This tantalizing cuplé by Joan Viladomat is the song we started with.
Now, enjoy Montiel reclining on her chaise longue, just like the lady on the sheet music cover.

Fumar es un placer
genial, sensual.
Fumando espero
al hombre a quien yo quiero

Smoking is a wonderful,
sensuous pleasure.
Smoking, I wait
for the man I love
behind the glasses
of gaily-colored windows.
And as I smoke,
my life does not burn away
because, on the drifting smoke
I tend to get sleepy…
Lying on the chaise-longue
smoking and loving…

Toboggan: sliding into happiness

‘Toboggan-Marche’ by Michel Langlois, published by Loret & Freitag (Paris, sd) and illustrated by Georges Morinet.

This cover for the Toboggan Marche depicts a water chute, a still popular amusement park ride. The funfair boat races down the chute tower and hits the water with a mighty splash. Here the imagination of Georges Morinet, an illustrator and photographer of Nantes, runs wild, curiously morphing one of the big waves into a triumphant naked woman. The round front makes the boat skip over the water, bouncing up and down, soaking and thrilling the passengers. What a wet frisson!

A post card of the Water Toboggan at the Nantes World Fair, 1904.

This and other mechanised rides were imported from the United States to European fairs and exhibitions. In this case it was for the 1904 World Fair in Nantes, where the ride was called a Water Toboggan (toboggan is the French word for slide). At that time the Shooting the Chutes as it was known in America was already a decade old.

‘Plan général de l’Exposition universelle d’Anvers’, 1894. Source: Gallica.fr

The map of the 1894 Antwerp World Fair shows us that —already at the end of the 19th century— visitors enjoyed a water attraction in Belgium. It was Captain Paul Boyton’s American company which provided the entire ride, boxed and shipped.

Boyton’s Water Show, Exposition Universelle, Antwerp, 1894. (source: pinterest)

Now this Captain Paul Boyton was a very entertaining person. In 1894 he opened the first permanent mechanised amusement park in Chicago. But prior to that he swam up and down rivers across America and Europe in a rubber immersion suit, that he himself did not invent.

Captain Paul Boyton in his immersion suit.

It was inventor Clarke Merriman who in 1872 had created the first-ever rubber survival suit to rescue passengers should their vessel capsize in cold water.

Merriman’s patent for a survival suit, 1872. Source: google patents.

Captain Boyton took pride in testing the inflatable suit: “I float on my back, and propel my body feet foremost with a double-bladed paddle at the rate of a hundred strokes per minute”.  Wearing only the rubber suit as a form of transportation he embarked on amazing and dangerous expeditions…

Captain Boyton’s trip, from ‘Harpers Weekly’, 1875

He also crossed the Channel from England to France with a canvas sail fixed to his left boot while leisurely smoking a cigar. It took him 23 hours and 30 minutes and three meals of beef sandwiches with a nice cup of strong green tea.

Captain Boyton on the wave‘ by Siragusa, published by Brinkerhof (New York, 1879) and illustrated by R. Teller. source:  Library of Congress
For his long travels along rivers (some of them took him 8 days) he had a line attached to his belt carrying the following items: “a couple of bottles of ginger ale, ten days provisions, cigars, quinine and other emergency medications such as brandy, etc., frying pan, coffee, kettle, spoon, knife and fork. A cup, a spirit stove, pen and ink, notebook, signal rockets, chronometer, barometer, thermometer, revolver, charts, maps, hatchet, ammunition, including a patch cloth and rubber cement.”
The advertising card hereunder lists some of the extraordinary uses for the life-saving immersion suit, promoted by Captain Boyton all over the world.
Captain Paul Boyton on an advertising trade card.

For a while Captain Boyton starred in P. T. Barnum’s Travelling Circus, before starting to manufacture his aquatic attractions. The most successful one was unmistakably the Shooting the Chutes or Water Toboggan as it became known in Europe.

Night  view of the Shooting the Shute, manufactured by The Paul Boyton Co, 1896. New York: Miner H.C. Litho. Co. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

And we all know now that the water toboggan became a permanent success, bringing mankind rapturous delight!

Toboggan Whirls‘ by Pietro Paperini, published by Zanibon (Padova, sd) and illustrated by Guaiat.

Jeder einmal in Berlin

‘Jeder Einmal in Berlin!’ by Hugo Hirsch & Alfred Müller-Förster, published by Hugo Hirsch (Charlottenburg, 1927), photo collage by Albert Vennemann.

This photo collage by  Albert Vennemann conveys the buzz of a dynamic, modern city. We recognise the famous light traffic tower from Potzdammer Platz, the Brandenburg Gate, the Rotes Rathaus, the radio tower, the ubiquitous cars and a bus with an advertisement for the Scala, a very successful variety hall internationally reputed during the Golden Twenties.

Beautiful Berlinphotomontage of traffic in Berlin by Albert Vennemann. Source: MutualArt.

Vennemann was a Berlin photographer, who is now almost forgotten. He made pictures of everyday street life, capturing the idyll of the city and the (new) charms of illuminated advertising. He became an expert at photomontages of contemporary architecture and technology. Thus, Vennemann provided the visuals for the first Berlin city marketing campaign Jeder einmal in Berlin, meaning everybody should be at least once in Berlin.

It is also thanks to another artist, Walter Ruthmann, that we can witness the industrial, technical and cultural modernity that emanated from Berlin at that time He created his avant-garde film Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (Berlin: Symphony of a Great City) in 1927. It is an invaluable time capsule of a Berlin that —fifteen years and 350 air raids later— would be dramatically destroyed.

‘Die erste Nacht’ by Hugo Hirsch & Hans H. Zerlett, published by Rondo Verlag (Berlin, 1922) and illustrated by Ortmann.

The popular march for the Jeder einmal in Berlin campaign was composed by Hugo Hirsch, a composer of well-received operettas. He left Germany in 1933 to escape Nazi anti-Semitism, and was able to survive the war by staying in France.

‘Die tolle Lola’ by Hugo Hirsch, Gustav Kadelburg & Arthur Rebner, published by Drei Masken Verlag (Berlin, 1922) and illustrated by Wolfgang Ortmann.

We wonder if Hirsch’s march could have lured you you to Berlin…

The promotional slogan Jeder einmal in Berlin was picked up by the Residenz-Casino, nicknamed the Resi: Jeder einmal im “Resi“!

The Resi was a vast dance-hall where everything seemed bigger and more luxurious than in any other dance venue. Each table had a connection to a pneumatic table-mail-service post. Using the pneumatic post, a patron could send intimate messages to revellers at other tables along with small presents: cigarettes, cigars, chocolates, pens, perfume, matches or tiny manicure pouches. There was a long list of gift items to choose from. Moreover, each table had its own telephone with a clearly visible table number on top. Above it was a lightbulb that could give one of three signals: dancer wanted, female dancer wanted or do not disturb. This technology must have given plenty of opportunities for romantic thrills and flirts with complete strangers. Everybody —at least once!— at the “Resi“.

Promotion booklet for the Resi.