The Dancing Pig was a French vaudeville act at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1907 Pathé released a 4-minute film based on this act. A pig tries to seduce a young girl but is humiliated when she rips off his tuxedo. Suddenly standing stark naked, the humanoid swine nevertheless starts dancing with her. It is rather boring but at the end (3:46) it gets really creepy with a close-up of the tuxedoed pig wagging its tongue between its pointed teeth.
From one of our other sheet music, published the same year (1907), we discovered more about the origins of the Dancing Pig.
The man dancing in the Pathé film was Mr. Odeo, who had a dancing routine le Cochon Mondain. From 1906 until the early thirties, he toured the music-halls with this burlesque act.
La Blockette, the title of the sheet music and the name of the piggish polka dance, was also the artistic name of actress and singer Fanny Bloch (1863-1956). This is a bit confusing, as it is perhaps her older sister, comic singer Jeanne Bloch (1858-1916) who by her hefty looks inspired the name of the flabby polka.
Jeanne Bloch was known as la colossale chanteuse and it was said, not very nicely, that she measured 1.60 m in all directions.
We have another cover of a dancing pig in our collection: Manasse dansar, the Swedish version of Cincinnati Dancing Pig, a hit for country singer Red Foley.
It is a fifties tap-dance song, a rather awful ditty if you ask me: Riggedy, jiggedy, jiggedy, jiggedy jig-a-jig-jig! Oink Oink
Der tapfere Soldat is an operetta composed in 1908 by Oscar Straus. It was an adaptation or parody of George Bernard Shaw’s 1894 play Arms and the Man. In this anti-war comedy the hero, a soldier who mocks war, uses his ammunition pouches to carry chocolates rather than cartridges. Therefore, the heroine of the play calls him her chocolate-cream soldier. This has inspired the pejorative use of the term ‘chocolate soldier’ for someone in the military who does not (want to) fight.
The English version of the operetta, The Chocolate Soldier, went on to international success on Broadway and in London.
The operetta was adapted for film in 1915 and in 1941. For the 1941 movie only the score by Oscar Straus was kept. The screenplay was based on another comedy because Bernard Shaw did not want to sell the rights, having disapproved of the first version of the operetta which he called “a putrid opéra bouffe in the worst taste of 1860″.
You can hear a medley from Straus’ songs in the fragment hereunder.
The cover for Kwatta soldaten suggests that the Dutch had their own term for chocolate soldiers. In the Netherlands, the first packaged chocolate bar was launched in 1891 under the brand name Kwatta. This bar was so popular among the soldiers that the army became its largest buyer.
The Netherlands had declared themselves neutral during World War I. Nevertheless the Dutch army mobilised its troops. Of course, the men under arms kept in their kitbag the oh-so nutritious and long-lasting Kwatta bars. From then on the bars were also called Manoeuvre Chocolaad.
The pink wrapper of the chocolate bar carried the pictures of a soldier and a sailor encouraging to collect the coupons which could be traded for a tin soldier or some other premium, like tableware. The bars were for sale in these beautiful carton boxes.
The Kwatta bars were not only popular with Dutch soldiers. Also Belgian soldiers must have loved the candy, as evidenced by this Belgian military booklet from the twenties, sponsored by Kwatta.
Godfried Bomans, a popular Dutch author, remembered in the late sixties that his father, a former captain in the Dutch army, filled the case of his binoculars with Kwatta bars during the First World War before returning home for the weekend leave (just like Shaw’s character). On one of these occasionshe received an unexpected visit from Queen Wilhelmina.At one point she requested his binoculars and realising that the case had been given an improper destination, she would have said: “Captain Bomans, I hope you realise that the country’s neutrality is not guaranteed by Kwatta soldiers.”
In the fifties Godfried Bomans would himself write a book commissioned by Kwatta. The illustrations with funny moving eyes were made by his friend Harry Prenen.
We end this post with a few politically incorrect covers. They illustrate that the term chocolate soldiers was also regularly used to refer to the soldier’s colour of skin.
“Eat a live frog every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day”. The Frenchman Mac Norton took this advice from Mark Twain quite literally. About a hundred years ago he started his magician career by eating live frogs on stage. No wonder that our cute frog on the sheet music cover seems a bit worried.
For his ‘human aquarium’ performance Mac Norton, artist name of Claude Delair, took from a fishbowl five frogs and six goldfish, and swallowed them alive one by one. Then he made a point of nonchalantly lighting a cigarette. After a relaxing moment of small talk with his audience he started to disgorge all the small animals, still alive. It is said that he could keep fish, frogs or other aquatic animals moving around in his stomach for more than two hours.
All Mac Norton’s shows centered around his stunning ability to hold large quantities of water in his stomach and to disgorge it afterwards. Sometimes he would emphasise the enormous amount of water by ordering a parade of waiters to bring him 50 glasses of it. He would then demonstrate La Fontaine: he expelled the water he had just swallowed into a delicate jet in which he washed his hands. Or he performed La douche. The water then gushed from his mouth with force, but still seemingly without effort.
In Berlin, Mac Norton did his trick with beer. Houdini who watched the show behind the scenes was not that impressed. “The filled glasses were displayed on shelves at the back of the stage, and had handles so that he could bring forward two or three in each hand. When he had finished these he would return for others and, while gathering another handful, would bring up the beer and eject it into a receptacle arranged between the shelves, just below the line of vision of the audience…”. So at least some of it was a trick.
Houdini goes further. “I remember his anxiety on one occasion when returning to his dressing-room; it seems he had lost a frog—at least he could not account for the entire flock—and he looked very much scared, probably at the uncertainty as to whether or not he had to digest a live frog.”
Mac Norton himself believed that he had an extra stomach like a cow. But more likely he suffered from rumination syndrome. This is the effortless regurgitation of undigested food from the stomach back up into the mouth. There is no retching, pain or other inconveniences as in the case of vomiting.
Thanks to the treasure trove that isGallica, I found out that Mac Norton became the subject of medical examinations in 1912.
With radiography a doctor revealed the structure of the performer’s stomach. One would expect that he would have taken images of Mac Norton’s insides after swallowing the frogs. But no, he just made him drink some fluid and concluded that his stomach was ‘very muscular‘ and that was about it. How absolutely deceiving!
To illustrate once more that songs were made about anything, we insert a Dutch sheet music cover of a song about Röntgen’s discovery: X-stralen (X-rays). On the cover we see the first ever photograph of a human body part using X-rays. It is the hand of Röntgen’s wife on a photographic plate.
Mac Norton’s international career took him all over Europe and in various parts of South America. The protest actions of the American Society for the Prevention of Animal Cruelty made North America a no go for the frog eater. Claude Delair (1876-1953) continued his Mac Norton tricks until he was well into his seventies.
I found a similar regurgitation act from 1931 by Hadji Ali in a Spanish-language version of Laurel and Hardy’s Chickens Come Home. Enjoy and have a drink!
Further reading on magicians and illusionists: ‘Miracle-Mongers and their Methods’ by Harry Houdini.