Thursday, 25 October 2012


She was the Queen of the French Music-Hall.
Twenty years ago I published a biography of her, and was stunned when it entered the American best-sellers list as I assumed they would have forgotten about the woman who created the song.'My Man', immortalised by Fanny Brice and and then by Barbra Streisand. Madonna even optioned the book, albeit briefly, because she wanted to film her life story. Now, I've been commissioned to write a play based on the book--concentrating not on her infamous relationship with Maurice Chevalier, but with another. The play is already under way--I completed a first draft in 2000 after being asked to transcribe--not translate--several of her songs into English. There were great problems at the time, though, because Georges Guétary was still alive and had asked for me to remove his character as, he said, I had not portrayed him in a favourable light. Well, Spiros as he's called, is very central to the action so he stayed put. Another of the central characters, the celebrated mannequin, Manouche, celebrates her centenary next year. We visited her several times in Paris and she once cooked us the most unforgetable breakfast--the one that ended up being shoved in a plastic bag in Jeanne's handbag while she was not looking--and when she was shown the draft, she complained that I had not made her vulgar enough!

A kiss can be a comma, a question mark, or an exclamation point. That's basic spelling that every woman ought to know. -- Mistinguett Luckily there are happy, ordinary people in the world who earn an honest living and love their wives and children. All the rest is vanity. -- Mistinguett

There have been greater comediennes, greater singers, greater dancers--but all in a single package, there has been only one Mistinguett. Complete shows were built around her, she would carry an entire revue on her lovely shoulders, the spirit of the whole evening. Truly, there is no one like her now--and if another great personality like hers should come along, she would be a star exploding across the sky. -- Maurice Chevalier


I am pleased to report that there IS a biography of Mistinguett readily available in English: "The Mistinguett Legend" by David Bret, published by St. Martin's Press in 1990. My local public library has a copy of it.

The best source for viewing more photos of our lady is "The Moulin Rouge" by Jacques Pessis and Jacques Crepineau, a coffee table size volume also published by St. Martin's Press (1989). This exceptional book could have been subtitled "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Moulin Rogue." There are many, many pictures of Mistinguett, as well as poster and sheet music cover illustrations

There is also an autobiography, "Mistinguett by Mistinguett --Queen of the Paris Night," an English traanslation of which was published in Great Britain, in 1954, by Elak Books. As with any autobiography, you may expect to find some discrepancies in the facts as presented in the lady's own version of her life. This book is not easy to find, but is worth the search, if only for the many photographs not found elsewhere.

Another volume worth checking out is "Showgirls" by Andrea Stuart, published by Jonathan Cape, London, in 1996. I'm not sure if it is available outside of Great Britain, but our gal appears on the cover and has a chapter devoted to her, along with a couple of nice photos I've not seen elsewhere.

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