Advertisements

Paris: Hotfooting to the Moulin Rouge

Celebrating World Theater Day, let’s hoof it on over to the Moulin Rouge in Montmartre (GIF Image: Theadora Brack)

Celebrating World Theater Day, let’s hoof it on over to the Moulin Rouge in Montmartre (Image: Theadora Brack)

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.

Meet the plucky Betty Compson (Found Scrapbook clippings, 1920s, Theadora Brack’s collection)

Meet the plucky Betty Compson (Found Scrapbook clippings, 1920s, Theadora Brack’s collection)

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.

An early advocate for equal pay, Betty created her own production company (Black Patent Leather Handbag, 1960s, Theadora Brack’s collection— Moulin Rouge by Antoine Blanchard)

An early advocate for equal pay, Betty created her own production company (Black Patent Leather Handbag, 1960s, Theadora Brack’s collection— Moulin Rouge by Antoine Blanchard)

Worth it

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!”

Lights! Camera! Action! Alfred J. Hitchcock directing during the 1920s (Image: Guardian)

Lights! Camera! Action! Alfred J. Hitchcock directing during the 1920s (Image: Guardian)

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.

Hitchcock made several scouting trips to the Moulin Rouge (Postcard, 1920s, T. Brack’s collection)

Hitchcock made several scouting trips to the Moulin Rouge (Postcard, 1920s, T. Brack’s collection)

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.

Hitchcock dressed his stage in windmills and chats noir (Hitchcock’s set, 1923, Moviestillsdb, Moulin Rouge by Montmartre resident Charles Laborde, Gazette Bon Ton Magazine, 1924, T. Brack’s collection)

Hitchcock dressed his stage in windmills and chats noirHitchcock’s set, 1923, Moviestillsdb, Moulin Rouge by Montmartre resident Charles Laborde, Gazette Bon Ton Magazine, 1924, T. Brack’s collection)


Hello, Dolly

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.

Dolly Tree, a Folies Bergère designer, created the costumes (Photograph: Theadora Brack)

Dolly Tree, a Folies Bergère designer, created the revealing costumes (Photograph: Theadora Brack)

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.

 

The silent love saga returned to the screen as a talkie in 1929 (Poster, 1923, Moviepostersdb, Betty, Found scrapbook clippings, 1920s, Theadora Brack’s collection)

The silent love saga returned to the screen as a talkie in 1929 (Poster, 1923, Moviepostersdb, Betty, Found scrapbook clippings, 1920s, Theadora Brack’s collection)

The Moulin Rouge still shines (Moulin Rouge, 1960s, Postcard, Theadora Brack’s collection)

The Moulin Rouge still shines (Moulin Rouge, 1960s, Postcard, Theadora Brack’s collection)

Keep on dancing. Keep on exploring the globe. (Betty Compson, Found Scrapbook Clipping, 1920s, Theadora Brack's collection)

Keep on dancing. Keep on exploring the globe. (Betty Compson, Found Scrapbook Clipping, 1920s, Theadora Brack’s collection)

 

Advertisements

51 thoughts on “Paris: Hotfooting to the Moulin Rouge

  1. “Even with muted titillation, the film still swayed.” What a marvelous writer you are! And what a marvelous tale you’ve shared here, too. Thank yo for another great read!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the marvelous words! (It was a fun post to create! I’m always, always on the hunt for the time travel-inspiring postcards. I’m hooked. So stay tuned for more sharing . . .

      Enjoy the weekend!
      Theadora

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice. Thank you for this trip back in time. I don’t remember the Cyrano brasserie to the right of the Moulin rouge. 🙂
    Will check whether it is still there in July.
    Be good Thadora

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh my ruffled crinolines and ruby red dancing slippers, Miss Twinkle Toes. I high kicked my way reading your word. The music of Offenbach thundering in my ears. The very floor was shaking. The audience cheering. The windmills whirling. The Tin Man keeping time with his axe. We had a glorious time. XXOO Virginia

    Liked by 2 people

    • (I penned the message on Friday. For some odd reason, it didn’t appear! Oh, la la.)

      Gorgeous Passage, Virginia! Thanks for the words. Thanks for the inspiration. And don’t forget the headpieces! We all looked divine, including and especially the Tin Man.

      One recent rainy day, I not only got to stand center stage at the Moulin Rouge, but I also got to study one of the towering feathered headpieces. They are incredibly lightweight. Amazing.

      And I was in Heaven!
      Theadora

      Like

    • The 2001 “Moulin Rouge” movie with Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor? I’m also a big time fan. Great soundtrack, to boot! In fact, I have the jaunty numbers on my running iPod.

      I also highly recommend John Huston’s 1952 “Moulin Rouge” cinematic celebration, starring José Ferrer as Toulouse-Lautrec and Zsa Zsa Gabor as Jane Avril.

      Tip for the Rue: The flick is often playing nonstop at the Musée de Montmartre et Jardins Renoir in Montmartre. A treat! It’s difficult not to start doing the can-can in the galleries. Oh, la la. 😎

      Enjoy the weekend!
      Theadora

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, it’s the one with Nicole Kidman. The critics didn’t appreciate her singing but the acting was fantastic. When Ewan McGregor is singing to her in tears when she is dying I start weeping like a baby. : ( Superb acting … Thank you for the recommendation with John Huston. I’ll have to watch that one. My favorite – all the song are great – but Roxanne with the tango dancers is powerful. I wouldn’t mind dancing among them. : )
        You have a fantastic weekend too.
        All the best,
        Isadora 😎

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Theadora, long time did not read anything from you. This is why I had a real joy to read this lovely story. You are like a Paris historian introduce some facts which are not really known by majority of public. Thank you for your hard work and our joy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Alexander! As always, your words make my day. My week. My month! Thanks for the thoughtful, thoughtful words.

      And as you know, the feeling is mutual. I love the way your lens captures the world. Thank YOU for the inspiration, always. Keep on snapping.

      And have a wonderful week!
      Theadora

      Liked by 1 person

    • I know! I know! I also love the action shot of Hitch and his wife Alma Reville in action.

      Fun fact: They met on the set of the “Woman to Woman” movie. She was the editor.

      “I began by admiring her from afar,” Hitchcock said later, “I much preferred admiring her from a-near.”

      Have a GREAT day, Mélanie. And thanks for the kind words.

      Like

  5. Thank you for this trip back in time! I love the postcard images – it feels like I could be transported to that time and place if I stare at them long enough. That’s funny that Hitchcock would always go to mass before the Moulin Rouge. I hope this inspired you to brush off those twinkle toes and dance through the city streets!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Sheila! And YES. I’m now obsessed with Paris and the dance world. There’s a fabulous dance studio in the Marais. I’m currently working on a story about Zelda Fitzgerald and her dance classes at little studio above the Olympia Theater. Apparently, she wanted to dance with the Ballets Russes. She had a plan!

      Enjoy the week!
      Theadora

      Liked by 1 person

  6. These are my new life goals: “Jolly, effervescent, and practical.” Wait, I’m already practical. I want to be plucky like Betty. Thanks for bringing that word back, Twinkle Toes.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As well as being a big fan of musical theatre, I also love Paris, but your article contained information totally new to me, so thank you. Also, I adore your name. What I wouldn’t give to be called Theadora! I shall follow you from now on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your kind words! Say, do you have a favorite theatre in Paris? Or a favorite Paris-related musical or film? If so, do tell.

      Enjoy the evening!
      Theadora

      Like

    • Great question, Frank! Maybe I’ll start a list . . .

      Moulin Rouge directed by Ewald André Dupont, 1928
      Moulin Rouge directed by John Huston, 1952
      French Can Can directed by Jean Renoir, 1955
      Moulin Rouge directed by Baz Luhrmann, 2001

      (John Huston’s Moulin Rouge is often playing and replaying on a little television set at the Musée Montmartre. It’s a favorite. Great Can Can scene.)

      Enjoy the weekend!
      Theadora

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Theatre is a very important medium of art and performanceship. You should read some of Brecht’s essays if you haven’t and ever get the chance; riveting theory of theatre. Thanks for noting the special day!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: