This week: singers, performers, movie stars. Jim Morrison's (The Doors) description will follow soon.
Bettered descriptions of last week writers: De la Fontaine, Molière en Proust.
Étienne-Gaspard Robert (Liège 15 June 1763 – Paris 2 July 1837) better known by his stage name ‘Robertson’. Robert was the prominent inventor of ‘phantasmagoria’, a pre-cinema type of ‘ghost’-show that became massively popular. Among his admirers was Charles Dickens. He developed an assortment of devices, like rear screen projection, to achieve his incredible illusions. He could, for instance, let his own head disappear as if lopped off with an axe. Anything was possible and the public could not get enough of his magic. His ghosts and demons made some people leave his performances terrified, convinced that they had seen real demons and ghosts. His grave is a genuine monument and pays tribute to his refined ‘savoir-faire’. Go to Père-Lachaise and see for yourself!
Sarah Bernhardt (born Rosine Bernardt) (Paris 22 October 1844 – Paris 26 March 1923). Here is the most famous actress the world has even known. She was the daughter of a Dutch mother, Julie Bernardt, and an unknown father. Known all through her life as exaggerating and distorting the truth. Alexandre Dumas, who knew her well, described her as ‘a notorious liar’. While she was fast and loose in real life, on stage Sarah was all seriousness, focus and drama. The public couldn’t get enough of this actress of such extraordinary power. She bore a child, her only, Maurice (1864 – 1928), fathered by the Belgian Prince de Ligne. After numerous affairs she married a Greek actor in 1882. He was addicted to morphine, a complete mess and died in 1889. In the meantime she had an affair with…. The Prince of Wales, really!, the later King Edward VII of England. In 1905 she seriously injured her right knee during a performance in Rio de Janeiro. The (right) leg was amputated in 1915, due to gangrene. She told everyone that P.T. Barnum had personally made her an offer to show her amputated leg as a curiosity. Barnum, however, died in 1891… She was a bit of a liar, don’t you think? She died of kidney failure in the arms of her son Maurice. Her voice is to be heard at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjyB18FVGNc
Stéphane Grappelli (Paris 26 January 1908 - 1 December 1997) was born to Italian/French parents: his Italian father, marquess Ernesto Grappelli, was born in Alatri, Lazio. His French mother, Anna Emilie Hanoque, from St-Omer, died when he was four, and his father left to fight in World War I. As a result, at six, he was accepted into Isadora Duncan's dance school, where he learnt to love French Impressionist music. Grappelli started his musical career on the streets of Paris and Montmartre with a violin. He began playing the violin at age 12 and attended the Conservatoire de Paris studying music theory (1924 – 28). He made a living busking on the side until he gained fame in Paris as a violin virtuoso. Grappelli, together with guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910 – 53), founded the Quintette du Hot Club de France in 1934. It was one of the first all-string jazz bands. In 1937, the American jazz singer Adelaide Hall opened a nightclub in Montmartre along with her husband Bert Hicks and called it 'La Grosse Pomme.' She entertained there nightly and hired the Quintette du Hot Club de France as one of the house bands at the club. His fame came playing with the Quintette du Hot Club de France with Django Reinhardt, which disbanded in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II. After the war he appeared on hundreds of recordings including sessions with band leader Duke Ellington, jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, pop singer Paul Simon, classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin, orchestral conductor André Previn, cello player Yo Yo Ma and harmonica and jazz guitar player Toots Thielemans. There was also his Parisian trio of many years. Grappelli recorded a solo for the title track of Pink Floyd's 1975 album Wish You Were Here. This was made almost inaudible in the mix, and so the violinist was not credited. A remastered version, with Grapelli's contribution fully audible, can be found on the 2011 Experience & Immersion versions of Wish You Were Here. In the 1980s he gave several concerts with the young British cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. He has been called ‘the grandfather of jazz violinists’ and continued playing concerts around the world well into his 80s. In 1997, Grappelli received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He is an inductee of the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. He died in Paris after undergoing a hernia operation. Listen to him and Django Reinhardt on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4GA7OVONTj4
Édith Piaf (born Édith Giovanna Gassion) (Paris 19 december 1915 – Plascassier, Grasse 10 October 1963). It is told that she was born on the sidewalk. Her mother abandoned her, so her father took her to live with his mother – a prostitute and a madam. By the age of 14 she was singing in public. At only 17 she had her only child. A girl named Marcelle who died two years later of meningitis. In 1935 she caught the attention of Louis Leplée, the owner of a popular nightclub. Het gave her the name ‘La Môme Piaf’ (‘The Waif Sparrow’). Leplée was murdered in 1936 and Piaf was forced to stand trial as an accessory to his murder. She was acquitted but a barrage of negative media attention now threatened her career. She sang at any performance she could get and eventually regained her popularity. During WW II she became the voice of Le Resistance. Her greatest heartbreak was the loss of her lover, the boxer Marcel Cerdan, who died in a plane crash in 1949, traveling from Paris to New York to meet her. She was consumed by him and although he was married she gave all of herself to him. She never recovered. In later years she was married twice, her first husband being Jacques Pills (1906 – 70), her second Theo Sarapo (1936 – 70). Édith died of liver cancer and the world mourned. She died in her villa in Plascassier. It is said that Sarapo drove her body back to Paris secretly so that fans would think she had died in her hometown. She was given a state funeral, but was denied a funeral mass because of her lifestyle. The Paris streets were lined by over 100.000 fans in mourning. The singer Charles Aznavour recalled that Piaf’s funeral procession was the only time since the end of WW II that he saw Parisian traffic come to a complete stop. She is buried in a tomb together with her daughter, her father and her last husband. Her grave is among the most visited. Want to hear her sing? Go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBjctartwBQ
Yves Montand (born Ivo Livi) (Monsummano Terme, Toscane (Italie) 13 October 1921 -Senlis 9 November 1991). He was raised in Marseilles and worked on the docks. At the age of 22 he was discovered by Édith Piaf, who became his lover and mentor. Even though he was married, in 1951, to Simone Signoret he had many romantic dalliances including, in 1960, Marilyn Monroe. After Simone’s death he married Carole Amiel in 1987 and had his only child, Valentin, in 1988. A paternity suit was brought against Montand by another woman. He refused a DNA-test. After his death the woman was eventually granted the right to have his body exhumed for DNA. It was negative… Hear him singing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLlBOmDpn1s Simone Signoret (born Henriette Charlotte Simone Kaminker) (Wiesbaden 25 March 1921 - Autheuil-Authouillet 30 september 1985) She took her mother’s maiden name during the German occupation of France to hide her Jewish descent. Well educated she taught Latin and English before moving to Paris where she started acting. Her smoldering sensuality served her well, but she did not fall into the sex-pot that lesser actresses often do. In 1948 she married the director Yves Allégret. They had two children, in 1945 and 1946. Only the youngest survived. In August 1949 she left Allégret because she fell in love with Yves Montand with whom she lived together from then on. They married in 1951 and kept married until her husband’s death. In 1959 she was the first French actress to win an Acadamy Award (‘Oscar’) and it took 38 years before a successor presented herself (Juliette Binoche). She raised eyebrows when she appeared in Playboy naked to the waist and hugging Robert Mitchum. She had no hang ups about her body and had no issue with gaining weight for roles. A lifelong chain smoker, she died of pancreatic cancer. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7E6kK2cXPA
Marcel Marceau (born Marcel Mangel) (Strasbourg 22 March 1923 - Cahors 22 September 2007). He was born to a Jewish family. In 1944 his father was taken by the Gestapo and transported to Auschwitz. He did not survive. For safety Marcel and his older brother Alain changed their last name to the non-Jewish ‘Marceau’, after a general of the French Revolution. The brothers joined the French resistance and helped to save Jewish children. Marcel began miming as a distraction to keep the children quiet during their escapes from the Nazis. He joined the French army and at one point worked as a liaison with General Patton. After WW II he became a student in the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre in Paris. His early performances brought overwhelming acclaim and his career as a mime was underway. In 1947 he introduced his most famous character, ‘Bip the clown’. Bip was instantly recognizable by his striped sweater and silk hat with a flower. Marceau created classic mime routines that no one had ever seen before – like walking against the wind, pulling a rope and being stuck inside a box. He married three times and had four children. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i99k7nCnVwM
Maria Callas (born Maria Anna Sofia Cecilia Kalogeropoulos) (New York 2 December 1923 -Paris, 16 September 1977). Her parents moved from Greece to New York when her mother was pregnant with Maria. They had recently lost their baby boy to typhoid fever at the age of three and it never occurred to them that their new child might be a girl. Later on Maria believed she was an ugly duckling but defiance was in her nature and she sets her sights not only to be the best singer in the world, but transforming herself physically into a beauty that others would admire. After singing, in 1942, the part of Tosca in the opera of the same name by Puccini she would be known as ‘La Divina’ within 10 years. She received ‘star-status’ treatment from the public and the press such as the opera world had never seen. In 1949 she married Giovanni Battista Meneghini, an Italian from Milan. When being young, Maria was still chubby; between 1953 and 1954 she lost some 36 kilograms and remained slender for the rest of her life. Her marriage lasted for 10 years; in 1959 she found herself openly pursued by billionaire Aristotle Onassis. She passionately loved Ari and devoted herself to him – however, after happy years together as lovers, Onassis began avoiding Maria and openly pursuing Jacqueline Kennedy. Maria’s hope for marriage to Ari was shattered when he married the former First Lady. Her humiliation was total and she never recovered emotionally. Maria shut herseld off from the public and lived a quiet life in her Paris apartment. Learning of Onassis’ death struck her a mortal blow – she always had secretly hoped for a reconciliation. She died of a heart attack in her Paris apartment, suddenly after a breakfast in bed. Want to hear her? Go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJMH4ZnGIWs
Gilbert Becaud (born François Gilbert Léopold Silly) (Toulon 24 October 1927 – Paris 18 December 2001). When young, Becaud learned to play the piano. He was a pupil at the Conservatoire de Nice but left the school in 1942 to join the French Resistance during WW II. He began songwriting in 1948 and was a successful pianist during the following years. While touring as a pianist with Jacques Pills, then married to Edith Piaf, he began singing at her suggestion in 1953. The years after he was successful with numerous compositions in France, eventually leading to a translation of his ‘Je t’appartiens’ into ‘Let It Be Me’, a huge hit by The Everly Brothers – and later on by Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley, among others. In 1961, Bécaud wrote and recorded ‘Et Maintenant’, one of the biggest selling singles in French history. Translated as ‘What Now My Love’, the song became a hit by Shirley Bassey, Elvis Presley, Andy Williams, Herb Alpert, Frank Sinatra – and others. Last but not least he wrote ‘Seul sur son Etoile’ which became ‘It must be Him’, a huge hit by Vicky Carr. The 1980’s and 1990’s saw a slowdown of his activities. ‘Monsieur Cent Mille Volts’ died of incurable long cancer in 2001, 74 years of age, on his houseboat on the Seine. His song catalogue runs to around 450 songs. For one of his most famous, ‘Nathalie’, follow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asAepCRxpek
Jim Morrison (full name James Douglas Morrison) (Melbourne, FL 8 December 1943 – Paris 3 July 1971). Morrison was an American singer, songwriter and poet – best remembered as the lead singer of the legendary band ‘The Doors’. His father served in the U.S. navy, so Jim’s family moved often. He was born in Florida, his sister in New Mexico, his brother in California. Education took place in the states of California, Texas, California (bis), Virginia, Florida and again California. After graduating with a degree from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Morrison wrote the lyrics of many of the songs, later performed by The Doors, like ‘Moonlight Drive’ and ‘Hello I Love You’. Together with a fellow UCLA student, Ray Manzarek (1939), The Doors was formed during the summer of 1965. The Doors took their name from the title of Aldous Huxley's book The Doors of Perception (a reference to the unlocking doors of of perception through psychedelic drug use). Before The Doors became famous, Jim met his long time companion, Pamela Courson (1946–1974). After she moved to Paris, Jim joined her in March 1971. Jim Morrison was found death in the bathtub on the 3rd of July 1971 in their apartment on the Rue Beautreillis. No autopsy was performed because the medical examiner stated that there was no evidence of foul play. This has left many questions regarding the cause of death. Officially he died of a heart attack in a bath tub; probably his death was drug related. Although Morrison and Courson were not married, their relationship was qualified as a ‘common-law marriage’. Therefore she inherited Morrison’s estate – and consequently her family after she died. Hear him one more time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lS-af9Q-zvQ