Le Temps Des Fleurs: Remembering Dalida

Yolanda Christina Gigliotti was born into an Italian family in Cairo on 17th January 1933. As the first violinist at the Cairo Opera House, her father Pietro Gigliotti instilled her and her two brothers with a appreciation for music from an early age. After attending an Italian Catholic school in the Egyptian capital, and Yolanda dreamt of becoming a model, an ambition that would be easily realised on account of her breathtaking Mediterranean beauty.

Winning the title of Miss Ondine at a beauty pageant in 1950, Yolanda was again triumphant when she competed for the crown of Miss Egypt four years later. Her new found status brought her to the attention of the French painter and film director, Marc de Gastyne, who promised to help her pursue a film career and she moved to Paris in December 1954. Changing her name to the more French sounding Dalila, she later decided upon its variant Dalida. In Homage to the continent of her birth, it was of African-Swahili and Arabic origin, from the former, her new moniker translated as ‘gentle,’ and from the latter, ‘to tease.’

Isolated and far away from her family and friends, Dalida found solace in music and took singing lessons. Not only did she have natural talent, she also had a powerful stage presence and was hired to perform her own cabaret act at a the Olympia, a music hall in the 9th arrondissement with her signature tune being Étrangèr au Paradis, a hit from the 1953 musical Kismet. Dalida also appeared in several films including the Egyptian motion picture Sigarah wa kas (1955) and Marc de Gastyne’s Le masque de Toutankhamon (1955), but it was whilst working at the Olympia, that she met Lucien Morisse, a produce at Europe n° 1, the biggest radio station in France at that time, and the record producer Eddie Barclay. Instantly captivated by her, Morisse proposed despite already being married. Morisse later divorced and they would eventually wed on 8th April 1961, although the marriage dissolved in matter of weeks following Dalida’s affair with the French actor Jean Sobieski.  Continue reading

Le Grand Jeu: René Daumal’s Peradams

Like his literary hero the poet Arthur Rimbaud, René Daumal was a native of the Champagne-Ardenne region of north-eastern France. His brilliance and tragically early demise, were also shared by his predecessor. In the seventy years since his death, Daumal has become a cult figure, with his influence evident in the works of other ideologists and truth seekers, notably the legendary Chilean film maker and guru, Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Hailed as ‘a hallucinogenic daydream’ by The New York Times, the underlying cinematic inference of Jodorowsky’s psychotropic creation, The Holy Mountain (1973), is in fact far more numinous and esoteric than such a description implies. The film can be viewed as an extension of Daumal’s remarkable vision, for as the French writer and poet believed, and Jodorowsky himself has suggested, the irrefutable reality of human existence is that, ‘Every one of us lives in a different world, with different space and different time.’

Above: Trailer for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain (1973)

Born on 16th March 1908, in the village of Boulzicourt, Daumal’s childhood was an unsettled one, given his parents’ propensity to routinely uproot the family. The most stable figure for the young boy was his paternal grandfather Antoine, a bee keeper whose interests included freemasonry and spirituality.

Moving to Reims in 1921, Daumal befriended a group of fellow students, and their shared bond would provide each of them with an enduring source of personal and professional inspiration. Originally known as the Phrères Simplistes, Daumal along with Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, Roger Vailland and Robert Meyrat would go on to form the collective, Le Grand Jeu. Continue reading

La Plus Belle Femme De France: The Charm Of Agnès Souret

Born in Biarritz on 21st January 1902, with her wavy chestnut hair and large dark eyes, Jeanne Germaine Berthe Agnès Souret, known as Agnès, had a charm that encapsulated prevailing European standards of beauty during the early twentieth century. After her birth, there was some confusion about her father’s identity, and her mother Marguerite was unemployed and unmarried, something that would later be covered up by press reports that she had in fact been a ballet dancer. In early childhood, Agnès and her mother moved to the village of Espelette in the Aquitaine region.

At the age of 17, Agnès, who had reached a height of 1.68 m, won a beauty contest and was crowned Miss Midi-Pyrénées; and as result, her photograph was entered into the first ever Miss France competition, launched by the newspaper Le Journal in an attempt to discover ‘the most beautiful woman in France’ along with a letter written by Agnès, which read ‘I am only 17 years old, tell me if I have to cross France to take a chance.’ Over 2,000 young women were put forward as contestants and the rigorous and widespread voting system saw more than 200,000 votes cast, with Agnès receiving around 115,000. In the New York Times, she was hailed as ‘the fairest in France,’ and the journalist Maurice De Waleffe wrote that Agnès realised ‘the ideal’ of ‘French charm.’ Continue reading

Dernière Chanson: Harry Fragson Et La Belle Époque

The toast of Edwardian London and Paris, as 1913 drew to a close, Harry Fragson looked forward to his continuing reign as the leading man of European music hall, his thrilling stage performances, wax cylinder song recordings and even a starring role in the 1912 film, Entente Cordiale having won him a legion of admirers on both sides of the Channel, including King Edward VII. But like the peace Europe had enjoyed for nearly half a century, Fragson’s life was foreshadowed by impending catastrophe.

Léon Philippe Pott was born in Soho, London, on 2nd July 1869, to a Belgian yeast merchant, Victor Pott, and his French wife, Leontine. Dashing his father’s hopes that he would follow him into the yeast business, from an early age Léon displayed an extraordinary ability for writing and performing songs, learning to play the piano in London before studying music in Antwerp. Coupled with brilliant comic timing and, as one friend described, ‘a mobile face’ and ‘a spiritual eye,’ the era’s immensely popular music halls beckoned as the most obvious outlet for Léon’s outstanding talent.

Yet Léon struggled to find fame and consequently changed his name to the more English sounding, Harry ‘Fragson,’ a play on the words ‘frog’s son,’ and a humorous nod to his continental roots. After performing at Le Chat Noir in Paris, Fragson’s career gained the boost it deserved after he met the revered café chantant entertainer, Paulus, who took the aspiring star under his wing. Discovering a particular gift for mimicry, Fragson learnt to imitate Paulus and other respected chanteurs, which brought him to the attention of French audiences. Adapting his act accordingly, whilst in England, Fragson  portrayed himself as the archetypal music hall comedian and became associated with pantomime, through his appearances in a 1905 performance of Cinderella in Drury Lane, Sinbad the following year, and Babes in the Wood in 1907. In France, however, he was known as a singer of sophisticated and romantic songs, with titles such as Amours Fragiles, Tendresses d’ Amant and Dernière Chanson. Written by Fragson in 1911, the Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso was so captivated by Dernière Chanson’s refrain, the he called one of his own works, Ma Jolie, in homage to it.

Above: A recording of Harry Fragson singing Dernière Chanson (1911)

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