Monday, January 28, 2013

Happy birthday, Colette, sensation of Paris

Colette as she appeared in Réve d/Egypt.
It is the birthday of the French novelist and performer Colette (1873), who is best known for her novel Gigi (1944), upon which the Broadway musical (1951) and movie (1958) were based. Critics consider Chéri (1920) her best work. It is the story of end of an affair between wealthy young man and his older mistress. The book and its sequel, The End of Chéri (1926) were the basis of a film Cheri (2009).

Colette was a sensation in Paris, known for her affairs with both men and women. She scandalized the city with her infamous performance at the Moulin Rouge with Missy de Morny, the daughter of a French statesman. In 1907, the two presented a pantomime called Réve d'Egypt, in which their onstage kiss caused a riot. Police had to be called in to restore order and the two were banned from ever performing at the Moulin Rouge again.

Colette had a child with Henri de Jouvenel, a newspaper editor, whom she married in 1912. She apparently left the child, whom she named Colette, to be raised by an English nanny.

During World War I, Colette was asked to write a ballet for Paris Opera. She selected Maurice Ravel to write the music and she wrote the libretto. It became the opera The Child and the Spells: A Lyric Fantasy in Two Parts, first performed in 1925.

Colette is also said to have discovered movie star Audrey Hepburn. When a 1952 movie called Monte Carlo Baby was being filmed in southern France in the early 1950s, the star-to-be had a small part in the cast. One day as Hepburn walked across the hotel lobby, Colette spotted her and exclaimed to her companion "There is my Gigi." When the Broadway production of Gigi opened, Hepburn played the title role.

Colette also wrote a series of books about Claudine, an autobiographical story of a brazen 15-year-old girl. The first, Claudine at School (1900), tells of Claudine's difficulties with her headmistress and her fellow students. Sequels continued Claudine's story as a young adult. Colette also wrote The Vagabond (1910), My Mother's House (1922). Ripening Seed (1923), Break of Day (1928), The Other One (1929), The Pure and the Impure (1932), and The Blue Lantern (1949).

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