By Theadora “Twinkle Toes” Brack
Embracing restorative #summertimegoals, let’s revel in some retro merrymaking, shall we? For the occasion, we’ll hoof on over to the Moulin Rouge in Montmartre. Up my sleeve, I’ve got some new postcards, illustrations, and scrapbook clippings, along with a swell cinema-related tale about the venerable dance hall.
But first, let’s also salute the recent World Theatre Day! Created in 1961, writer Jean Cocteau wrote the International Theatre Institute’s first message: “Nations, thanks to these World Theatre Days, will at last become aware of each other’s treasures, and will work together in the high enterprise of peace.”
I completely agree. It’s what the world still needs.
Now, let’s do an old school prance back in time. Step by step, I’m with you.
On the Bright Side
Winding it back to 1923, the name of the movie is “Woman to Woman.”
Staged in the City of Light, the lead actor’s name was Betty. But she wasn’t Mayor Jimmy Walker’s petite amie. See, that was another “Betty” with a similar rising star and last name.
“Jolly, effervescent, and practical,” was this jazz baby’s reputation. And her heroine characters possessed street smarts and a heart of gold. An early advocate for equal pay, she even created her own production company.
Betty Compson also had a proven drawing power. Plus, she was a press corps favorite.
“That girl has guts!” wrote Liberty Magazine.
Graham Cutts directed. Michael Balcon and Victor Saville were the producers. Well aware of Betty’s previous box office hit parade, they got her on the horn.
“I am worth it!” the plucky “home girl” from Beaver, Utah told the production team during the telephone tête-à-tête.
They agreed. Betty was offered a “freak” salary of 1000 pounds per week. Along with a two-picture deal and solo star billing. Nobody put Betty in a corner.
The silent moving picture was launched in August 1923. Critics adored the starlet’s performance, writing, “Oh, Mother of Pearl! Aglow when she appears! The incomparable Betty has outdone herself!”
Master of Suspense
Now, the Assistant Director was an unknown. At the time, that is. One Alfred J. Hitchcock. Just 23 years old. And this was one of his first real film breaks.
He also agreed to co-write the screenplay, based on Michael Morton’s stage play. A love affair between a soldier and a Moulin Rouge dancer!
Hitch would design the sets, too. To prepare, the future “Master of Suspense” made several scouting trips to Paris.
In the Name of Love
Each time he went, it was first to mass at L’Église de la Madeleine. Then off to the Moulin Rouge! Which had just re-opened, after its 1914 fire.
But the dance scenes were shot on a sound stage in Joinville, a distant suburb. For the big chorus number, dancers were brought in from the Casino de Paris.
“An exact replica is what I was after!” said the assistant director.
And authentic is what he got—to a T. Following suit with the Moulin Rouge’s décor, Hitchcock dressed his stage in windmills and chats noire with the newly built Sacré Coeur in view.
Dolly Tree, a Folies Bergère designer, created the costumes. Her confections were gossamer-fine and shiny, too. It was Paris, after all. By the 1920s, prancing in the buff was the norm in most clubs. But this film was for English and American audiences.
“No French breast could be exposed on the screen!” said producer Saville.
Just One Night
Seamstresses outfitted the costumes with hidden brassieres on the spot. With full support systems in place, the finale was shot in a single night so the dancers could get back to Paris in time for Sunday’s matinee.
Even with muted titillation, the film still swayed. A crowd pleaser so popular, the production team brought the “love saga” back to the screen again as a talkie in 1929. With Betty, of course.
In the words of Betty herself, “Sing it like you mean it! The music gives you the heart and the courage to conquer!”
Keep on Singing. Keep on dancing. Keep on exploring the globe.
This just in, from the streets of Paris.
Cats have ousted dogs in the affections of French women.
Whereas, in the past it was considered fashionable for your typical Parisienne to promenade the boulevards with a little dog sporting a neat, tight-fitting coat, today this same Parisienne is often out with her cat of priceless value.
But cats do not wear coats. They wear specifically-fitted and made hats.
Below the Sacré Coeur, up at Montmartre, there lives a hatter. In his shop window, he has an exhibition of the tiniest hats ever seen in France. (more…)
By Theadora Brack
Paris is no longer Paris? Au contraire! The City of Light is still a special place, a very human place, and a place for the whole world to cherish. And as this world turns, I think yes, the city changes a little—but then again, it always has. After all, that’s what made it what it is today.
So in celebration of international friendships and robust innovation, let’s ride the escalators up to the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette. Located on Boulevard Haussmann, here my inner-lion never, ever fails to roar after a soda pop and some tête-à-tête action with WWI pilot, Jules Védrines.
Grab your goggles and tweed knickerbockers, and follow me. I’ve got a story to tell. (more…)
By Theadora Brack
Lend me your whiskers and pointy ears.
Flying sky high on a lark, I knock. Grab a perch because I’ve got a feathered tale to tell. A great ball of yarn to re-wind, so to squeak! Ever since watching Walt Disney’s “The Aristocats” movie at the age of nine on the family television set, I’ve been obsessed with France and les chats domestiques. There. Full fur confession.
Set in Paris, the cartoon flick was a life changer. Not only did I yearn to be the rhinestone-laden, Parisian glamour puss (a.k.a., “Duchess”), but I also fancied running away with her swashbuckling, orange tabby beau, the flamboyant prince of the boulevard, “Abraham de Lacey Giuseppe Casey Thomas O’Malley—O’Malley, the alley cat.”
“Oh, c’est très jolie, monsieur Thomas!” I’d purr again and again at my reflection in the mirror, channeling my inner-Duchess.
And now, I see cats. I see cats in Paris. All the time! Where? Where? They’re everywhere! Heck, once, during a winter tempest, I rescued a teeny, tiny tortoiseshell cat found trembling on the wet cobblestones outside the Grand Hotel de Clermont, just a fur ball’s throw from where Édith Piaf made one of her legendary busking debuts in Pigalle. Kitty was coming home with me. (more…)
By Theadora Brack
Juggling social media platforms like a smooth operator (if I squint), I’ve recently added Instagram to my grapevine repertoire.
That’s right. During the month of November, I created a short stack of photographs of Paris—a baker’s dozen, to be exact! Pirouetting straight to the point: I am hooked. So stay tuned for more images.
In the meantime, if you are a fellow Instagram fan or fanatic, please leave a link to your Instagram portfolio below.
Always keeping my peepers peeled for inspiration, I’d love to pay a visit.
As Henry Miller once penned, “The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”
I completely agree.
In advance, thanks for sharing your own indescribably magnificent world, too—through your art!
So carpe the diem, folks! Keep on snapping! (more…)
By Theadora Brack
Paging all saints and old souls: Snuggle tight because it is time to crack open my pleather-bound volume of spirited adventures in Paris for another retelling. ’Tis the season! For tricks, I’ve added new photographs and one divine tale, too. I’ve also got the wine and a tongue-twisting tarte aux pommes—all à la Julia Child ode.
Now, let’s go raise some spirits.
1. Saint Vincent de Paul
Whenever my mood needs a boost, I make a beeline to the Chapel of the Lazarists, tucked behind the Bon Marché department store on rue de Sèvres. It does the trick each and every time. Never looking more beautiful, here Saint Vincent de Paul hovers over the altar. Sprightly, lightly tiptoe up the tight flight of stairs in the back of the sanctuary for a closer view of the reposed gent and patron saint of horses.
Keeping it real
Ordained as a priest in 1600, Saint Vincent not only championed the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy, but he also encouraged them to work together on charity missions financed by public subscriptions (much like today’s Kickstarter funding schemes). Fully embracing crowdsourcing on the streets, the ahead-of-the-curve saint fundraised for prisons, orphanages, and hospitals. Nobody got left behind. (more…)
By Theadora Brack
I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: Never, ever underestimate the power of a good old-fashioned “air bath”— whether it’s in the middle of the day or all alone in the moonlight.
As my fit-as-a-fiddle grandmother Emmae used to sing, “After an air bath, this little Brack birdie is back on track. Hear me soar!”
I couldn’t agree more. And I’m not the only big time believer in the benefits of a bain d’air.
Because bathers are gonna bathe
Apparently, francophile Benjamin Franklin also possessed a mad penchant for launching each day all au natural. Nestled naked in a chair by an open window sat the bigwig polymath—winter, spring, summer, and fall.
“You know the cold bath has long been in vogue here as a tonic; but the shock of the cold water has always appeared to me, generally speaking, as too violent: and I have found it much more agreeable to my constitution, to bathe in another element, I mean cold air,” Franklin wrote to a Parisian friend in 1768.
“With this view I rise early almost every morning, and sit in my chamber, without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season, either reading or writing. This practice is not in the least painful, but on the contrary, agreeable!”
A royal treatment
Royal S. Copeland, M.D. would have certainly put his stamp of approval on Franklin’s daily pet ritual. In fact, he did.
In 1933, the Commissioner of Health of New York City shared a few D.I.Y. tips in his column: “Include air baths in the health campaign! Keep it up year ’round! Air baths improve the texture and tone of the skin . . . The baths should be taken in a moderately cool, well-ventilated room. For the first bath, only half the body should be exposed. As the body becomes accustomed to the cool air, more clothes can be discarded!” (more…)
By Theadora Brack
In celebration of Bastille Day 2016 in France, let’s once again doff our “bachi” to my favorite Franco-American collaboration, the gigantesque statue of Lady Liberty on Bedloe’s Island in the New York Harbor.
I’ve got new retro-rocking images, along with one tale of spunky heroism. So without further ballyhoo, let’s play forward with some homage to friendship, shall we? Grab a seat and a Perfect Manhattan in a coupe cocktail glass. Here’s the squeal.
The year is 1913.
Setting the scene: Witness if you will, two young women hustling up the spiral staircase to the Statue of Liberty’s crown. Nothing is going to break their stride. Not even their hip hugging hobble skirts! In fact, Margaret Donovan and Gladys Revere not only beat their fellow steamer passengers to the crown, but also commandeer the best vitrine in the room. Balancing on tipsy toes, they gaze out at the Big Apple, transfixed! The view from the grande dame’s starburst tiara is like nothing they’ve ever seen.
Suddenly, Margaret gets a wild hair, and attempts to wiggle through the teensy window and clamber down to the itsy-bitsy ledge just above Lady Liberty’s hairline. Then the unthinkable happened.
Sea legs, don’t fail me now (more…)
By Theadora Brack
Snapping to le point, I’ve been on the hunt for the fantastical, slip sliding all the way, up and down the wet rues of Paris. Suited with waterproof shoes, a parapluie, and sponge-like senses, I’ve been striving to capture the heady, surreal sensation of experiencing the rustling, bustling Parisian cityscape as if for the very first time.
I focused. I opened my eyes more. Seeking what Jean Cocteau called, “true realism,” I squinted and daydreamed, too. With cat-like whiskers and reflexes, I followed the poet’s recipe to a T—adding more than a heaping dash of transcendence in order to discover “surprising things which habit keeps covered and prevents us from seeing.”
I walked new rues, rode unfamiliar bus routes, often to the end of the line, while peering through my sea foam-tinted pince-nez spectacles.
I baked 33 batches of les Chouquettes from scratch. I rescued a toy cat from a fountain. I stepped, stepped to a dope Renaissance beat. I biked. I boxed. I saw tigers and clouds in my coffee-flavored “Dieu du Ciel Pénombre” beer, after bumping into Henri Rousseau’s spirit deep in the Jardin des Plantes at the end of a rain shower.
But still, still inside me, swirling deep, was a single burning question: Is it really possible to attach too many pompoms to one’s handbag? Always one to revel in the revival of a century-old craze, I think not. And let me tell you, the proof is in the puffing. I’ve spied the little darlings everywhere in the city—dangling from everything from scarves and necklaces to Gladiator sandals.
So yes! I’ve got much to share. Stay tuned for more limonade-flavored summertime Paris stories.
Clipping from Henry Miller yet again: “One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.”
I completely agree. Now, let’s roll the tape! (more…)
By Theadora Brack
This week, let’s talk turkey! Grocery store chains may be your best bets for cutting costs while living in Paris, and they’re perfectly fine and dandy for long-term stays. But what if you’re visiting for just a week or two? Well then, I say, live it up like there’s no tomorrow. “Queen For A Day!” has always been my mantra while holiday.
When visiting one of the finest food capitals of the world—a place chock-full of bountiful “Bon Produits” (specialty shops), all managed by certified experts who are more than willing to share their vast wealth of knowledge—it is absolutely not the time to stoop to shopping at chain grocery stores just to save a few centimes. If you’re in Paris long-term, sure, but if it’s just for a week or two, then take in all those wonderful boulangeries, pâtisseries, chocolatiers, confiseries, glaciers, éspiceries, fromageries, charcuteries, poissonneries, caves, and cafés with a clear conscience. That’s what you’re here for.
And don’t be shy. Ask for recommendations, and in the process you’ll take home more than the receipt. Make every meal an experience! After all, it was Julia Child’s very first lunch in France that changed her life, and set her cookbook project in motion. Years later she wrote, “I can still almost taste it. And thinking back on it now reminds me that the pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite!”
I completely agree. Here are a few of my favorite little pleasures not to miss while you’re in Paris. Grab a fork, and let’s dig in! Bon Appétit! (more…)