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Art Cinema Clown Photography Vaudevisuals Bookshelf

Vaudevisuals Bookshelf ~ ‘Limelight – Photographs of James Abbe’ in Time

A pioneering photographer of the early cinema, James Abbe captured the spirit of entertainment in New York, Hollywood and Europe in the 1920s with his magically-lit portraits of the stars of screen and stage. A unique album of show business personalities, this book brings together Abbe’s iconic images of silent movie stars, his exuberant studies of revues at the Folies Bergere, and his fascinating record of early British cinema. Concluding with his reportage of the turbulent politics of the 1930s, Limelight encapsulates an era through one man’s brilliant career.

Billie Burke ~ 1920

Born in Alfred, Maine, James Abbe’s boyhood took place in Portsmouth, Virginia. His family owned the most important bookstore in that maritime city. At its counter James sold his photographs of ship launchings and arrivals taken with an inexpensive camera. Saturated with the print culture of the period, Abbe realized that photography was underutilized as illustration in American periodicals. He began placing photo illustrations with magazines in 1916. In 1917 he moved to New York City.

A sociable, witty man, Abbe had little trouble placing photographs in periodicals, but his break into the world of theatrical photography took place when he made a number of memorable portraits of the Barrymore brothers on stage in costume during dress rehearsals for “The Jest” in 1919. Abbe became fascinated with the nascent movie industry. He did portrait photography for several New York based cinema groups, especially for D.W. Griffith, and became the third New York based camera artist (after Karl Struss & Frank Bangs) to venture to the West Coast and work as a lensman in Hollywood. He worked for Mack Sennett for several months, even directing a now-lost comic two reeler, and as a photographer for Photoplay for another several month stint. He was the first bicoastal entertainment photographer.

Abbe had a remarkable talent for inspiring trust in stars and Lillian Gish convinced him to come to Italy in 1923 to work as a lighting consultant and still photographer for “The White Sister.” He closed his Broadway studio, abandoned his wife and children, and moved to Italy. He spent the next period of his life in Europe, photographing movie and stage productions in Paris and London and working as a photojournalist. Several landmark photographs of Joseph Stalin in a trip into the Soviet Union during the late 1930s would make him a celebrity of news photography during the late 1930s. His book, I Photograph Russia, was one of the important volumes of early photojournalism. He signed his vintage prints with his last name in red crayon on the lower-left corner of his images. He used a credit stamp for publicity images. Despite the relatively short duration of his career on Broadway, he was one of the greatest portraitists of the great age of theatrical portrait photography.

Charlie Chaplin by James Abbe

Abbe’s theatrical work was one of three photographic specialties he cultivated during his career. He also became an expert movie still photographer in 1920 and an important photojournalist in the 1930s. Brought to New York by magazine publishers interested in his experiments for using photographs as illustrations for narratives, Abbe won overnight renown in 1919 for his stage portraits of performers in costume. Enhancing the available stage lighting with a battery of portable lamps, he made intensely vivid images suggestive of interrupted stories.

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Categories
Charlie Chaplin Cinema Film Photography

James Abbe – Celebrity Photographer 1920’s-30’s

James Abbe – 1883-1973

James Abbe deserves his place in the hall of fame of great photographers for the two important strands of his career: as portraitist to the glittering stars of the 1920’s world of theater and film, and as a pioneer American Photojournalist observing firsthand the dramatically changing European cultural and political situation in his various travels throughout the late 1920s and 1930s.

Abbe was lured to the limelight of the east and west coast film studios of America and the theater stages of New York, London and Paris. In each place, he managed to encapsulate the illusions of performance into still visions of enchantment.

Russian film director Serge Eisenstein 1927  ©2019 James Abbe Archive

The first film star Abbe photographed was Marguerite Clark. Although now more or less forgotten, Clark was one of the highest-paid and most popular stars of her day. The New York Times ranked his as one of “the big four”, her fame rivaled that of Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks Sr., all of whom Abbe also captured.

Charlie Chaplin in The Pilgrim ©2019 James Abbe Archive

Perhaps his most enduring relationship in the film world was with the Gish sisters. Lillian Gish is thought to be the greatest dramatic actress of the silent era, and her sister Dorothy, capable of a wide range of acting styles, was one of the greatest comediennes of the time.

Anna Pavlova ©2019 James Abbe Archives

Abbe visited Hollywood in 1920 and 1922 where he took portraits of Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin, and also directed a film for Mack Sennett. After working for seven months on location in Italy with Ronald Colman – Lillian Gish film ‘The White Sister“(1923), Abbe made his base in Paris. His main reputation as a theater photographer preceded him and soon he was gravitating towards the best in French theatre and revue, including the Dolly Sisters, and Mistinguette, introducing them to a worldwide audience through his picture syndication.

George Gershwin ©2019 James Abbe Archives

Abbe soon became one of the leading celebrity photographers of the 1920s and is best known for these iconic portraits of both cinema and stage. He quickly established an international reputation, appearing in Vanity Fair, Ladies Home Journal, Vogue, British Tatler, French Vu, and many other publications.

Throughout the 1920s, Abbe made regular trips back and forth between London, Paris, and London to photograph theatre and film-making activities. He also traveled to Spain, Germany, Russian, the USA, and Mexico as a correspondent.

Louise Brooks ©2019 James Abbe Archives

For more information and to view additional Abbe photographs go here!

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Categories
Burlesque Cabaret Music Performing Arts Photography Video

Weimar Cabaret and Le Pustra’s ‘Kabarett der Namenlosen’

This blog post is authored by our Berlin Correspondent Victoria Linchong.

For most of the world, the mention of Berlin invokes a decadent underworld of androgynous women in beaded gowns and men in monocles smoking from ebony cigarette holders while Marlene Dietrich straddles a chair and tosses out a saucy song. But you would be quite disappointed if you were trying to find that vanished world in Berlin today.

True, state-run varieté exists in every city, but these are mainstream family-friendly dinner theaters. They are not the underground cabarets of the Weimar era with its barbed political satire and transgressive sexuality. It’s hard to believe, but with the Nazis and the war followed by the division of the city, it’s only now that Berlin is recovered enough to start revisiting the legacy of its underground cabarets.

The glamorous mother of all Goldene Zwanziger parties in Berlin is the Bohéme Sauvage and that only began in Else Edelstahl’s apartment in 2006. The following year, neo-burlesque found its way from New York City to a Berlin tiki bar and this activated a new generation of underground cabaret. Since then, a dozen or so burlesque and cabaret shows have opened in various bars in Berlin, most notably Pinky’s Peepshow and Fête Fatale at Bassy Club, and Sunday Soirée at Primitiv. One of the latest and most exciting additions to this burgeoning scene is the Kabarett der Namenlosen, which premiered in Berlin two years ago. Invoking the unsettled ghosts of Weimar cabaret, it almost immediately was a legendary hit.

Kabarett der Namenlosen is the brainchild of Le Pustra, a performance artist originally from South Africa who performed for many years in London. On a visit to Berlin in 2012, he took a walking tour through Christopher Isherwood’s haunts in West Berlin. The tour guide mentioned the Kabarett der Namenlosen, a notorious open stage of the 1920s, where amateur performers were often reduced to tears by malicious audience members. Le Pustra was struck by the evocative name and after moving to Berlin, he set about creating a cabaret-theater piece around the idea of the nameless lost performers of the Weimar era.

Kabarett der Namenlosen is essentially a classic varieté revue with several international performers doing their signature acts loosely framed by a story. But it’s a vastly different experience from any other varieté in Berlin, with its lush visual style, copious nudity, and dark subject matter. Yes, there are plenty of comedic moments – a British Music Hall number with Miss Annabel Sings, a gag with Julietta la Doll as a telephone sex operator. But Le Pustra also plays a drag artist who is betrayed by a friend (performance artist Reverso) and London burlesque sensation Vicky Butterfly is heartrending as a flighty party girl who accidentally overdoses on cocaine. It’s an immersive experience that leaves you feeling like you’ve somehow traveled back in time to 1930, went on a bar crawl from the Kadeko to the Weiss Maus to the TingelTangel, and got to know some of the fragile and needy nightlife denizens of that fleeting time period.

The most evocative moment in this cabaret-theater piece comes at the end. The audience is given little pieces of paper with what looks like a German poem and the cast comes out with a large board with the same writing. Le Pustra begins to recite the English translation:

“What makes them think they have the right
to say what God considers vice?
What makes them think they have the right
to keep us out of Paradise?
They make our lives hell here on Earth
poisoning us with guilt and shame
If we resist, prison awaits
so our love dares not speak its name.
The crime is when love must hide
From now on we’ll love with pride.”

These are the lyrics to Das Lila Lied (The Lavender Song), the hugely popular gay anthem of Weimar Berlin. At the end of the Kabarett der Namenlosen, everyone is encouraged to sing along using those little pieces of paper, which have the refrain in the original German. It’s a powerful moment, even if most audience members don’t know the song and have no idea that they are participating in a remarkable homage to all the nameless artists lost in the untimely end of Weimar cabaret.

Written by Russian émigré Mischa Spoliansky and native Berliner Kurt Schwabach, Das Lila Lied was first recorded in 1921 by the Marek Weber Orchestra. Even though censorship was relaxed and there were several gay cabarets in Berlin, it was still illegal to be homosexual, not to mention socially taboo. Spoliansky wrote the song under a pseudonym and no one knows who sang the original recording. Most people think the uncredited singer was Leo Monesson, one of the most popular crooners of the Weimar era, who is credited on over 1,400 recordings for all the major labels of the era and starred in 11 films.

Spoliansky, Schwabach, and Monesson were all Jewish. One by one, they fled Berlin as the Nazis rose to power. Spoliansky emigrated to London where he eventually became a film composer and never returned to Berlin. Schwabach had a more difficult time and hopped from London to Prague to Palestine during the war years. Although he found relative success after returning to Germany in 1949, he never recovered from the persecution he suffered and committed suicide in 1966.

Monesson also never recovered from the Nazi era. He went from Paris to Spain to New York, where he settled in the town of Ardsley and became a postage stamp dealer. In 1952, he applied for compensation to the Berlin State Office, asserting, “I managed, after 1933, never again to earn money by singing. My playing has been developed by German culture and elsewhere is strange and unpopular.”  

It’s the tragedy of these artists that gives the Kabarett der Namenlosen its profound depth of poignancy. At the end of the show, when Le Pustra has the entire audience singing Das Lila Lied, it feels like a bridge is finally being created between the underground cabarets of the Weimar era and Berlin today. After all this time, Berlin is finally able to pick up the threads from the 1920s that were so untimely cut short. The ghosts have been summoned, a ceremony has been performed, and at last, Berlin is free to embrace a part of its past.

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Original version of Das Lila Lied

 DAS LILA LIED (“THE LAVENDER SONG”)
Original German Lyrics by: Kurt Schwabach
English Translation by: Jeremy Lawrence

What makes them think they have the right
to say what God considers vice?
What makes them think they have the right
to keep us out of Paradise?
They make our lives hell here on Earth,
poisoning us with guilt and shame.
If we resist, prison awaits,
so our love dares not speak its name.
The crime is when love must hide.
From now on we’ll love with pride.

CHORUS:
We’re not afraid to be queer and different.
If that means Hell, well, Hell! We’ll take the chance.
They’re all so straight, uptight, upright and rigid.
They march in lock-step, we prefer to dance.
We see a world of romance and of pleasure.
All they can see is sheer banality.
Lavender nights are our greatest treasure,
where we can be just who we want to be.

Round us all up, send us away,
that’s what you’d really like to do.
But we’re too strong, proud, unafraid.
In fact, we almost pity you.
You act from fear. Why should that be?
What is it that you are frightened of;
the way that we dress,
the way that we meet,
the fact that you cannot destroy our love?
We’re going to win our rights
to lavender days and nights.

Kabarett der Namenlosen is playing from February 24-26 in Berlin. You can find out more on their Facebook event page. Hendricks Gin is a creative collaborator of Kabarett der Namenlosen. The show is produced by Boheme Sauvage.

 

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Categories
Burlesque Cabaret Dance Dixon Place Jazz Music Performing Arts Photography Video Women

Mad Jenny and the Society Band’s ‘Love Und Greed’

Mad Jenny and the Society Band’s ‘Love Und Greed’

Presented at Dixon Place on January 13, 2016

2016.01.13_JennyL.007Jenny Lee Mitchell performs her show “Mad Jenny” at Dixon Place. 

2016.01.13_JennyL.248Jenny Lee removes half her clothes to reveal the other half of her personality.

2016.01.13_JennyL.033From the depths of the Berlin cabaret scene in Germany comes the show “Mad Jenny”.

2016.01.13_JennyL.169Andrianna Smela added the ‘soprano’ voice to the evening’s mood.

2016.01.13_JennyL.192Marry Isenberg (Bass) and Ric Becker (Trombone) added the right amount of instrumental music.

2016.01.13_JennyL.040Pandora (Anita Berber) enticed the audience with her exotic dance.

2016.01.13_JennyL.086The women of ‘Desert Sin’ added a very surreal comic touch to the show.

2016.01.13_JennyL.348Maria Dessena with the accordion added musical talent to the evening’s songs.

2016.01.13_JennyL.291With paper in hand she leaves the audience with one last romantic song.

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Mad Jenny and the Society Band’s Love und Greed.

Cast & Creatives

Jenny Lee Mitchell (concept, translations, vocals & clarinet)

Maria Dessena (arrangements, piano & accordion)

Patrice Miller (staging & choreography)

Pandora (Anita Berber)

Djahari Clark (artistic director)

Desert Sin

Andrianna Smela (soprano)

Ric Baker (trombone)

Marry Isenberg (Bass)

David Palmer (lighting & projection design)

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Two wonderful reviews of the show!

One by Jed Ryan here.

And One by Laura Vogels here.

Categories
Comedy Fringe Festival Marx Brothers Music Performing Arts Vaudevisuals Interview Video

Vaudevisuals Interview with Noah Diamond – “I’ll Say She Is”

Noah Diamond plays GROUCHO and also had his hand in recreating the lost Marx Brother’s show “I’ll Say She Is” which is opening at the Fringe Festival in NYC on August 10th, 2014.t 10 – 22

Here is an interview with Noah talking about all things Marx Brothers and the upcoming delightful “I’ll Say She Is” Marx Brothers lost play.

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 3.49.12 PMNoahChanged

For more information about the play and to get tickets go here.
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Directed and Produced by Trav SD.