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Yvette Guilbert

February 9, 2013

Yvette Guilbert (1868/69-1944), French singer and entertainer
(photo: Camus, Paris, circa 1902)

Yvette Guilbert interviewed, New York, 1901
‘SONGS FRENCHMEN LIKE.
‘Yvette Guilbert’s New House – Also More Songs Like Those Which Have Enriched Her.
‘From The London King.
‘Out of the earnings of her music-hall career Yvette Guilbert has built for herself a gorgeous residence on the Boulevard Berthier. The house is a large white stone building, built from blocks extracted from the famous quarries at St. Denis. From the outside the hotel discloses the identity of its fair occupant, for the main feature of the corbet of the drawing-room window is the head of the singer smiling at the passerby.
‘From The London Pall Mall Gazette.
‘When Mme. Yvette Guilbert reached London from Paris last night she kindly granted the reporter of The Pall Mall Gazette the pleasure of being the first to see her. ”’What are you going to ask me?” she queries. ”It is a long time since I have been in England, but I have never forgotten a pretty English miss-journalist who asked me if our Parisian music halls were as proper as your English ones, and if I was going to dress decently. I gravely informed her that I was going to appear in tights simply, with a large hat and a walking stick. And, from her looks, she believed me. So you, you do not want to know how I shall appear? You want something about my repertoire?
”’In the first place, I have ‘La Légende de Saint-Nicholas,’ by poor gifted Gérard de Nerval, the promising young poet who died of consumption at thirty. The theme is a quaint and pathetic one. A butcher murders his three children, cuts up their bodies, and casts them into the salt tub. St. Nicholas comes by, is hungry, and asks the murderer for something to eat. The latter inquires what he would like. Nicholas, pointing to the salt tub, replies, ‘Give me some of what you have in there.’ The butcher, terrified, obeys in spite of himself. On his going to the tub the children emerge from it alive; the Saint has performed a miracle. Of course, the butcher repents, and le bon Dieu pardons him. ”’Another of my songs, my best one in fact, is called ‘Ma tête.’ It tells of a tramp whose habitat is in the fortifications of Paris. He boasts of the Hooliganism – for he is really a French Hooligan – of his conquests of the fair sex, for he is, in his opinion, a lady-killer. After a narrative of his nocturnal exploits he prognosticates the inevitable end in the following gruesome lines:

Fatal’ment j s’rai condamné,
Car y s’ra prouvé qu’ j’assassine,
Faudra que j’attende, blame et vané
Jusqua e’ qu’enfin on m’guillotine.
Alors un beau jour on m’dira:
‘C’est pour ce matin * * * faites vot’ toilette.
Je sortirni * * * la foule saluera
Ma tete!’

”’When singing this song I wear the casquette in favor with ces Messieurs des fortifications. At the end of the last stanza I drop the cap on the stage, thus representing, in a horribly dramatic manner, the head falling into the basket of the guillotine. It makes one shudder. Catulle Mendès says that the conception of this piece of ‘business’ is an ‘id-e tout-à-fait g-enisle’!
”’Moi je suis dans l’Bottin’ is a third song illustrating the ignorant vanity of a little Parisian shopkeeper, who bursts with pride because his name has at last been inserted in the great business directory of Paris.
”’And so,” she proceeds to say, ”a newspaper has stated that I was about to sing my ‘Souvenirs.’ That’s funny. No; I could not do that, it would take too long, and besides some of my recollections would be too amusing, oh, la-la! No; what I do sing are ‘Les Souvenirs d’Yvette.’ I am supposed to be singing in 1945, and I ask what has become of the people and things I knew years ago.
”’Of course, I have, as usual, an English song in my repertoire, ‘Mary Was a Housemaid’ – um, um, ym, c’est tout”
‘Yvette looks matronly in figure, but she had remained as arch and as full of diablerie as of old.’
(The New York Times, New York, Friday, 31 May 1901, p. 6f/g)

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