The story of an American in Paris, Baker!

On a rainy cloudy and cool humid what have you Sunday evening, and my game already , something in my blog. From a story by fame French presenter on the history secrets that I like, Stéphane Bern. Let me tell you a story about a lady not so much mentioned now but worth it in gold.

The story goes from Cabaret to Resistant fighter, as she was, let me tell you a bit about Josephine Baker. She was born very poor in Saint Louis ,Missouri on June 3rd 1906, her mother a laundry lady and her father never knew him, some says he was white. Her mother Carrie put her to work in rich families who mistreated her and exploited her. However, by 13 yrs old she gets into the spectacle virus and gets her first job in a small theatre., where she makes a sensational impression.

She even accepts to follow the troop of performers in exchange for menu services ,and dresser of the group Shuffle Along, a group of black performers on a musical comedy. One day a dancer is hurt ,and she replaces her, the rest is history as it is said.

By 1921, she marries here first husband Billy Baker and therefore keeps the last name, even if she divorced him to continue her dancing career. In New York she is hired by a cabaret at Broadway, the Plantation Club. It is there that Caroline Dudley finds her and brings her to Paris. There is great curiosity in Paris for black performers and there is even an exposition on Black Culture at the Museum of Decoratif Arts . In October 2 1925, it is shown the first of the Revue Négre (black review) and she plays on doors closed with some famous entrepreneurs in the place. It is also played at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées ; these shows are a complete success for her;

The queen of the wild dance becomes a star. By 1926 she plays at the Aux Folies Bergére in the review of Folie du jour or crazy day, and brief change to Vent de folie or wild wind she stays there from 1927 to 1931. She was an eternal lover and marries several times , at least five times with several lovers in addition. She married Jean Lion that allows her to become French citizen even if the union did not lasted too long,she kept in good relation with the inlaws as well as protected them during WWII. She marries orchesta leader Jean-Claude Bouillon, from which together they adopted 12 children, and also married briefly an American artist Robert Brady. By 1933 she hands out food in Montmartre in charitable organisations.

During the review La Folie du jour she encountered Giuseppe di Abatino aka Pepito, and becomes her manager,who advised her to open a nightclub and negotiates publicity contracts making the figure of Bakerfix, a lotion that does the hair as hers, and women love it. She opens at the Casino de Paris in leopart outfit with the theme Chiquita with a song calle J’ai deux amours ( I have two loves) and a cigar the show lasted 421 days! She does some cinema such as Zou Zou next to Jean Gabin in 1934 and later Princess Tam Tam in 1935 with Albert Préjean, as well as the operetta de Offenbach, La Créole receiving advise for the role from Sasha Guitry ,and becomes another success.

By 1935, Pepito obtained a contract for the Ziegfeld Follies on the great cabaret of New York. They are both disappointed with the stay of discrimination there, and the relationship with Pepito weakens.   Joséphine decided finally to open her own cabaret, Chez Joséphine that opens full while separating from Pepito. He fell sick and eventually died in 1936, so Joséphine decided to come back to Paris.

She finds a new contract at the Folies Bergére in the show En Super Folies, that became another success! ; and this is where she meets Jean Lion in 1937. With him she discovered the Dordogne region and the dream of her life,Château des Milandes; she has found her house. She retires from showbiz to concentrate on family life and sadly could not have babies, causing the divorce in 1940.

As WWII starts she find herself French from her marriage to Jean Lion, and chose to be at the service of her adopted country joining the French resistance. She was on a world tour and returning to Paris was preparing her review at the Casino de Paris. In agreement with the management she makes a visit to the front lines at the Maginot line with Maurice Chevalier to give support to the troops. A French information agent contacts her and ask for help, which she enthusiastically accepts. She refused the title of spy for the honorary correspondant and with her fame and contacts becomes an useful tool for the French resistance.

She was informed of the resistance directed from London by a Gen de Gaulle and with a spy Abtey aka Jacques François Hébert, with the title of Choreographer she makes the illusion of a tour of South America and return via London , but first Vichy where she gathered information on the nazis positions and hides on the theatre scenes sections where they find the ink to write their finds. Finally, London decide another way and she goes into Algeria, Portugal, Morocco and Spain . To disguise all this she takes the job at the Opéra de Marseille playing La Créole of Offenbach. By January 1941, and with fears of the South of France fallen to the Nazis she departs for Algeria. There she participate on a gala for support of the troops and later to Portugal with full luggage of information to the resistance and then onwards to Morocco and quickly to Spain,with fears of the invasion of Morocco, she gathered full information again.

Even sick she stays on the resistance trail of support for her adopted country. Peritone, intestinal occlusion, comas, fever, embolias, and others spending 19 months in the hospital near death. Even with this she goes into the scene in Morocco then Algeria, Egypt, Libya, and the middle east to support the troops and benefits the Red Cross. In Algers, Algeria she finally meets Gen Charles de Gaulle that pins on her a small Cross of Lorraine in gold to thank her for the services rendered to her adopted country. She put in auction this and other belongings to raise funds for the troops and do so for 300K FF at Beirut which goes to the Resistance movement. In 1943 at the Oran hospital she sings the national anthem in front of the American troops!

In 1944 ,she received the title of Sub Lieutenant of the women auxiliary corps. Upon returning to Paris she is received in great aura and she again swear to be at the service of the French army giving concerts in liberated zones, this is the period where Jo Bouillon accompany her and later becomes her husband. As such, she helps motivate the French air force out of London given a big check to the commander of this troops out of London, Alla Dumesnil-Gillet to help the resistance. Her actions are publicly thanks by De Gaulle and Churchill; thereafter receiving condecorations such as the Knight of the Legion of Honor, Cross of War. She visited the wounded of the war prisioners that were rescue and received treatment at Shenley hospital in London.

After the war, she continues to work and raise funds and also for her dream of buying the Château des Milandes in Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, Dordogne 24. As a renter, she creates there a world village as the world capital of fraternity. She is sorraunded by several children she helped raised . She is ,also involved in the civil rights movement in the USA and lents support to Dr Martin Luther King, she is the only women to speak on the March to Washington on August 28 1963, the same scene where Martin Luther King proclaims his famous I have a dream…

Château des Milandes , the current owners have setup a museum on part of the castle to perpetuate the memory of Joséphine Baker, with photos, documents and the life of the artist with period furniture of JB, And I knew it finally found me an old pic from a paper pic to show here very timely. Quality may not be good but worth it for the souvenir of our brief stop by many many years ago.  The official webpage:  Château des Milandes and JB

Milandes Chateau des Milandes front JBaker

Joséphine Baker spent all her fortune on the Milandes project and does all kinds of work, without accepting financial help even at the insistance of Jo Bouillon, her husband. He left the project but stays taken care of the Children. By June 1964 she calls upon the newspaper men to show the situation of the castle and ask for help finally. The first ones to come forward are the French actress Brigitte Bardot given a donation to the mama of the world (as she call joséphine). Joséphine wanted to make a college of the world to educate the children but the lawmen are knockning on the door for lack of payments and finally expulse her of the property in 1968. After this event she is force to leave the castle and comes to the Yvelines at my well known place of Roquebrune where for raising funds for the Red Cross ,the Princess Kelly of Monaco offered her a house there by 1969, but Joséphine refuse. By 1975, she goes into a retrospective of her work entitled Joséphine à Bobino in Paris, and all of Paris is there! She did owned another property that she lived partially too at Le Vésinet at town on the limits of Saint-Germain-en-Laye in the Yvelines dept 78 well known to me. The house was the Villa Beau-Chêne and she used it from 1929 to 1947.

The story of her Vésinet property in French and a nice picture of the house here: Le Vésinet home Villa Beau-Chêne

A park on her name near the Chateau des Milandes: Parc Josephine Baker

After the 14th show she entered sleepy in ther house and the next day April 10th she is transferred in coma to the Pitié-Salêtriére hospital in Paris where she dies on April 12 1975. After receiving military honors and thousands of Parisiens present in ther tour to the burial. The last farewell to the well known artist but especially to the resistance fighter.  The first American woman to receive full French military honors at her funeral, Josephine Baker locked up the streets of Paris one last time before being laid to rest in Monaco.

One of her adopted children, Jean-Claude Bouillon who is the author of a book on her story call Un Château sur La Lune ( a castle on the moon) edition Hors collection. He describes his mother as a woman of eternal energy that lived   without retreating and extraordinaty generous putting all equals, humans and animals, she was carried by a mythical aura on the savage state, a human being of the sunshine. Her mother wanted to give to France what the country has given her and always sorry of the state of her native country civil rights. She adopted 12 children coming from the four corners of the world and teached them to be together as one family without differences and as well showing them their cultural roots. He said, they are still very much together as a family.

A very special lady and an inspiration by the thousands of Americans coming and living in France even today. Thank you Mrs Baker, RIP.

I have to remind you all that at this moment Josephine Baker is entering the Panthéon of Paris France! For her artistic and even more her resistance efforts for a free France in WWII. Honor where credit is due. Welcome Baker we are all proud of you!  More news! The metro station Gaîté, in the 14éme arrondissement and on the line 13 has a new name: Gaîté-Joséphine Baker!

Her official site in English: Official Josephine Baker

Enjoy your week wherever you are, and remember, happy travels, good health and many many cheers to all !!!

3 Comments to “The story of an American in Paris, Baker!”

  1. A longer post than usual for you and I enjoyed it immensely. I only knew of her young life. She was really amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Paris1972-Versailles2003 and commented:

    I have to remind you all that at this moment Josephine Baker is entering the Panthéon of Paris France! For her artistic and even more her resistance efforts for a free France in WWII. Honor where credit is due. Welcome Baker we are all proud of you!


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