Ménard was a star but Baker was a groundbreaker.
Since we recently featured Josephine Baker's Folies Bergères successor Yvonne Ménard it seemed only fair to feature la grande Baker herself. Here she is backstage at the Folies in February 1930. She had been in Paris since 1925 and was by this time twenty-eight years old and one of the most famous performers in France, if not all of Europe.
Sometimes having noisy neighbors is good thing.
Above is a rare Japanese poster for the French film Luxure, which was known in the U.S. as Sweet Taste of Honey and in Britain by the curious title Everybodys, with no apostrophe. Basically, director Max Pécas tells the story of a jilted woman—played by Karine Gambier—who checks into a luxury hotel possibly planning to commit suicide, but whose desire to live is rekindled due to hearing the honeymooning couple in the next room constantly humping. From that basic premise Pecas manages to get Gambier into all sorts of situations, including the obligatory orgy, but done with style of course, because the French take their erotica very seriously. Luxure had its Japanese premiere—in edited form—today in 1976.
What are you staring at, chérie? Have you never seen a hat before?
French burlesque dancer Yvonne Ménard is all smiles, and why not? That thing she wears between her legs probably tickles. Ménard also may be smiling because when these photos were taken she was about as famous as a dancer could be. She had started as a nude mannequin at La Cigale, then joined the cast of Folies Bergère as a replacement for a departing Josephine Baker after understudying the great American star during the 1949 season. Ménard was twenty when she took the lead role—the photos above were made backstage at the Folies shortly afterward. One of the acts Ménard developed showed her struggling against the lure of opium. She wore only her famous glittering leaf, and battled dark male figures only to be eventually carried by them into a smoking pit.
Ménard’s performances were a bit different from Baker’s—she couldn’t sing as well, and her dancing was a work in progress, but she would eventually master various flips and aerial maneuvers, which she once demonstrated for a photo feature in Life magazine. She toured the U.S. numerous times, making stops in New York, Miami Beach, and Las Vegas, and also performed in South America. Somewhere in there she made time to appear on the cover of the third issue of Playboy, in February 1954, and writer Georges Tabet said inside the issue, “Yvonne is the crystallization of Paris. She’s got a petit quelque chose—a little something—that you have to be born with. Chevalier, he has it in his smile. Edith Piaf has it in her voice. This one—she has it all over.”
Mix of early French pulp covers shows a different style.
Above are French dust jackets made between 1928 and 1934 for Collection du Lecteur, a series produced by Paris based Éditions Cosmospolites. As in the U.S., the femme fatale or good girl style of art most people associate with pulp—such as here and here—did not become popular in France until the 1950s. That was toward the end of the official pulp era. We love the later art, obviously, but we think these very colorful earlier pieces are also cool. See another example here. France
, Éditions Cosmospolites
, Edgar Wallace
, Albert Erlande
, Georges Delamare
, Jacques Arvor
, Jean D. Agraives
, H.J. Magog
, José Germain
, E. Guérinon
, Leon Poirier
, Antonine Goulet-Tessier
, Marion Gilbert
, Horace van Offel
, Maurice Dekobra
, Emile Zavie
, Théodore Valensi
, Ch. de Rivière
, E. de Keyser
, cover art
Demongeot explains to Cinémonde how she aspires to inspire.
The French weekly Cinémonde debuted in October 1928, with the above issue hitting newsstands today in 1965 starring French goddess Mylène Demongeot on the cover. Inside, her feature is headed with the text “Il faut oser tenter le diable,” which means, “We must dare tempt fate,” and she goes on to say, “Il existe peut-être dix photographes au monde (seulement) à qui, pour nue... ou presque, une actrice puisse faire confiance,” or basically, “There are perhaps ten photographers in the world (only) who… (almost) naked, an actress can trust.” The literal translation reads a bit backward, but you get the drift—she of course means only a few photographers can be trusted to shoot an actress (almost) nude.
One of those is apparently British director Terence Young, who helmed Dr. No and two other Bond movies, as well as Zarak and Wait Until Dark, and whose photography you see here. However Demongeot, after all this philosophizing about the (almost) nude form, does not appear (almost) naked in any of the photos. Still, she looks amazing, as always. She says at the end, “Je voudrais qu'il ait envie de les decouper et de les regarder longuement, avant de se coucher. Pour qu’il fasse de beaux rêves.” Something along the lines of wanting men to cut out her photos and look at them before going to bed… to inspire beautiful dreams. Well, we would have to use a laptop instead of cut out photos, and we’d do it, except we have a feeling our girlfriends would not let us get away with it. Of that we’re (almost) sure.
He might have broken the law, but he had a higher calling.
What’s an illustrator to do when he doesn’t have a model? Borrow a celebrity. And if you’re going to use a celeb you might as well take inspiration from the best. French artist Michel Gourdon decided upon the era’s most celestial sex goddess Raquel Welch for his cover of M.G. Braun’s Sam et Sally—Le sang du ciel, published in 1972 by Editions Fleuve Noir as part of its Collection Spécial Police. This would not be the last time Gourdon used Welch as a model, but it’s probably the best example.
This sort of appropriation was not unique to Gourdon. During this same period Italian artist Mario De Berardinis used Playboy Playmate of the Year Cyndi Wood for his poster promoting the film Giro girotondo... con il sesso è bello il mondo, Sharon Tate was used for at least two late 1960s paperback covers, Lavar Burton was borrowed for the front of an ultraviolent Italian fumetto, Ornella Muti provided the physical basis for the main character of the vampire series Sukia, Beba and Fiona of the Pornostar comics were based on two showgirls from Striscia la notizia, and none other than Iggy Pop appeared on the cover of Elvifrance’s Wallestein.
All of these examples using celebrity images for profit would be violations of intellectual property laws today, we’re fairly certain, but we could be wrong about that. Were they illegal in the past? Not in Italy, apparently—Ornella Muti must have known her image was being borrowed, since she worked primarily in Italy and Sukia was published there. Same goes for the Striscia la notizia showgirls. Maybe they were flattered. If so, they should have looked inside the comics, where their characters were ripping throats out and shanking dudes in the groin. In any case, we love curiosities like these, and we’ll doubtless run across more later.
In tip top shape from stem to stern.
Above is a promotional photo of Italian actress Edy Vessel, who was born in Trieste as Edoarda Wessellovsky, a fact that neccessitated a name change before she achieved reknown in such films as Psycosissimo and Federico Fellini's 8½. This photo from the French magazine Stop dates from 1962.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1936—Crystal Palace Gutted by Fire
In London, the landmark structure Crystal Palace, a 900,000 square foot glass and steel exhibition hall erected in 1851, is destroyed by fire. The Palace had been moved once and fallen into disrepair, and at the time of the fire was not in use. Two water towers survived the blaze, but these were later demolished, leaving no remnants of the original structure.
1963—Warren Commission Formed
U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson establishes the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. However the long report that is finally issued does little to settle questions
about the assassination, and today surveys show that only a small minority of Americans agree with the Commission's conclusions.
1942—Nightclub Fire Kills Hundreds
In Boston, Massachusetts, a fire
in the fashionable Cocoanut Grove nightclub kills 492 people. Patrons were unable to escape when the fire began because the exits immediately became blocked with panicked people, and other possible exits were welded shut or boarded up. The fire led to a reform of fire codes and safety standards across the country, and the club's owner, Barney Welansky, who had boasted of his ties to the Mafia and to Boston Mayor Maurice J. Tobin, was eventually found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
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