A Dienstmann or a porter in Germany and Austria, was a freelance worker, state-licensed and officially registered. We’re talking 1830 until WW2. The Dienstmann wore an official uniform with his licence number on his cap or on a medallion. Often, the street corner was his ‘office’.
The Dienstmann would not only carry luggage. He could also be hired for errands or be engaged as a messenger. Some were equipped with writing props enabling a client on the street to write a few lines and then have the Dienstmann deliver the note.
Sometimes a Dienstmann was hired for small domestic duties or as a temporary replacement for an indisposed servant. The man could also obtain your theatre or concert tickets, or even help you home after a night out, as the cover below suggests.
The noticeable figure of the Dienstmann was frequently used for stage or film. We can see this in the 1952 comedy of errors, ‘Hallo Dienstmann’ wherein two of these characters sing a comical duet. At that time, the last Dienstmann had already disappeared from the streets. The title song of the film, played by two of Austria’s leading actors, became one of the big hits of the fifties in Austria.
Sing along in your best German. Take the flowers to Amalie, perhaps you’ll get a tip and she will fall in love with you…
Hallo Dienstmann! Hallo Dienstmann! Nehmen Sie hier diese Dahlie! Hallo Dienstmann! Hallo Dienstmann! Geh’n Sie damit zur Amalie! Hallo Dienstmann! Hallo Dienstmann! Aber wirft man Sie dort raus Trag’n Sie hundertmal die Dahlie Zur Amalie Ins Haus Bis man Ihnen dort ein Trinkgeld gibt Und Amalie mich liebt!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
Instead, publisher Bixio came up with a more appropriate cover design, boasting suitable flags and the emblematic Roman fasces.
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.
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.