Japanese brochures hearken back to a legendary venue.
It's been a while since we've done anything extensive on burlesque, so today we have something unique—the covers of Japanese brochures printed during the 1950s and 1960s to promote the famed burlesque show at Nichigeki Music Hall in Tokyo. The building that hosted those shows—the Nichigeki Theatre, below—was an architectural wonder located in Yurakucho district near Ginza. The multi-level structure welcomed music acts as well as burlesque, and had its concert stage graced by Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Krupa, and Oscar Peterson. But it is remembered, first and foremost, for its fifth floor burlesque hall.
Nichigeki Music Hall's burlesque shows began during Tokyo's grim postwar years in March 1952. It showcased both local dancers and foreign stars, often from the Folies Bergère. The program changed often, and always had evocative names like “Devil Vamp Missile Glamours” or “Aqua Girls Bottom-Up Mambo.” The clientele at these shows was international—largely U.S. soldiers from Japan's occupying forces, and tourists. Indeed the Hall advertised specifically to attract that crowd. Interestingly, the shows were produced by Toho Company, the movie studio behind the Godzilla franchise, as well as quite a few softcore movies.
Frontal nudity in entertainment was illegal in Japan, so Nichigeki's extravaganzas featured feather boas, fans, frilled mini skirts, g-strings, and the like, all designed to dazzle the audience and obscure thedancers' naughty bits. As time went by public tastes veered toward the explicit and attendance at the Hall began to decline. It closed in 1981 and the brilliant art deco influenced building was demolished, another sad architectural loss on a list so long it's pointless to even contemplate it.
But at least the brochures survive. They're amazing, front and rear, as you'll see below, with a mix of stunning paintings by Noboru Ochiai, and lovely photos. Make sure you note the titles of the shows. Our favorite: “The Lady was a Stallion,” but “A Snail's Rhapsody” is good too. On a related note, you may want to check out the post we did on archetecturally significant cinemas. You'll see some real beauties there, including another shot of the Nichigeki Theatre. We'll get back to Nichgeki Music Hall's amazing brochures a bit later.
Paul Derval and the pleasure factory.
Is it pulp? Technically no. But then technically most of what we share isn't pulp, if you want to be doctrinaire about it. But this cover for Paul Derval's The Folies Bergère has pin-up style art, so that's good enough for us. This is from Digit Books, 1956, an English version of a book originally published by Methuen & Co. in France, and is a behind-the-scenes rundown of the famed burlesque theater written by the guy who managed the place from 1918 to 1956. It was under Derval that the Folies achieved arguably its greatest fame. In addition to his story, you also get eight photo pages inside, including the one you see below. If that image looks familiar, it may be because we showed it to you back in 2015, but a much sharper version scanned from a glossy photo. She's none other than the talented and beautiful Yvonne Ménard, and you can learn a bit about her, and see more of her, at this link.
There's nothing up my sleeve except more of me.
Above, Paris-Hollywood magazine published in 1949, with a bare-shouldered Jane Russell on the front cover and Anne Baxter (spelled Ann by editors) gracing the rear. Baxter is pointing out Alaska on a wall map, probably explaining that she'd need a parka and snow shoes if she ever went there, rather than the undies and heels she's wearing. Inside the issue you get showgirls, models in lingerie, and celebs dressed as bunnies. Was it Easter? No idea, because Paris-Hollywood came without publication dates during these years. However, the front cover noted that Russell was starring as Calamity Jane in the film Pale Face, aka The Paleface. Since that appeared in France in mid-February and promotional efforts usually occur in advance of a film's premier, or at least around its opening date, we suspect the issue was published in February or March of 1949.
Something about Paris just makes you want to dance.
This issue of Cancans de Paris, which is number 10, hit newsstands this month in 1966 featuring cover star Virginia Litz, someone we saw a while back in Folies de Paris et de Hollywood, but modeling under the pseudonym Arabelle. Turns out Litz may be a pseudonym too, as we've determined she's also known—and better known—as Christine Aarons. She pops up inside Cancans along with Gloria Paul, Dany Carrel, Sylvia Sorrente, and Uta Levka, as well as Sean Connery and Claudine Auger, who were starring together in Thunderball. We have Virginia Litz/Christine Aarons on at least one other mid-century magazine, which we'll post a bit later. In the meantime below are assorted scans from today's issue.
Ménard was a star but Baker was a groundbreaker.
Since we recently featured Josephine Baker's Folies Bergère 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.
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.”
La Muse de l’existentialisme et Miles.
This striking promo art for French singer Juliette Gréco and Disques Fontana (a subsidiary of the Dutch label Philips Records) was created by the famous illustrator O’Kley in 1956. The art was reused for record covers, as you see below. Gréco, an actress as well as singer, was a fixture in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area of Paris, and her acquaintanceships with such figures as Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty earned her the nickname La Muse de l’existentialisme—the existentialists’ muse. She was also, according to Miles Davis, one of the great loves of his life, and the feeling was reciprocated, so that wins major points right there because Miles was the bomb.
Moving on to the art, O’Kley was a pseudonym for Nantes-born Pierre Gilardeau, the man behind some of the most collectable Folies Bergère posters. He also illustrated many book covers and movie posters, and after a long career just died in 2007. We’ve tracked down some good examples of his art and we’ll get back to him a bit later. You can see another Fontana post here.
Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum?
We’re at the penultimate page of the Goodtime Weekly Calendar of 1963, and as promised last week here’s a great shot from Ron Vogel of an unidentified model getting her groove on. This just cries out to be repurposed as a 12-inch cover or some kind of concert poster, don’t you think? The image actually brings up lots of humorous possibilities, and we were contemplating something along these lines for a subhead: She’s not the only one who loves beating something between her legs. But then we decided that was just too much. We have some class here.
Among the quips this week is one from a person named Barbette. We had no idea who that was, so off to the interwebs we went for an answer. Turns out Barbette was a famous trapeze performer and female impersonator. He was born Vander Clyde Broadway, and in his aerial act performed in full drag only to reveal himself as a man at the end. As his fame grew he worked all over the U.S. and Europe, selling out storied venues like the Casino de Paris, Moulin Rouge, and the Folies Bergère.
His renown extended beyond the realm of performance. He was photographed by Man Ray, cast in Jean Cocteau’s experimental film Le sang d'un poete, was the subject of Cocteau’s essay Le numéro Barbette, and choreographed aerial scenes for Hollywood movies. It’s also possible he was the inspiration for Reinhold Schünzel’s musical comedy film Viktor und Viktoria, which was remade as Victor Victoria by Blake Edwards. Quite a legacy. We aren’t sure if his quip is particularly insightful, but even Barbette had his off days.
Feb 24: “A college girl who eloped put the heart before the course.”—G.S. Kaufman
Feb 25: “Women think about love more than men; that’s because men think more about women.”—Barbette
Feb 26: A woman’s strength is her weakness. She fights by yielding and conquers by falling.
Feb 27: :One group of people who live on love are the owners of drive-in theaters.”—Jack Herbert
Feb 28: “For every man there’s a woman; but the chances are one may get the wrong number.”—He-who Who-he
Mar 1: “Alimony: The high cost of guessing wrong.”—Quin Ryan
Mar 2: Every girl should have a husband, not necessarily her own—Hollywood Code
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