I had known Bradley for many years. Ever since he returned from his studies with master mime Etienne Decroux in Paris. We stayed in touch and spoke on the phone periodically during the last few years. He was living near Washington DC. I was producing/shooting some video interviews for my blog post on Jack Adams. Bradley was in NY visiting the APAP conference and came over for the interviews that are posted here.
A wonderful person and charming performer. R.I.P. Bradley Fields.
. Bradley as the ‘barker’ in the Broadway show ‘Barnum’ that Opened in 1980.
Bradley spent a few years as an assistant to magician Jack Adams. Here is an interview I did with Bradley about his time with Jack.
Bradley Fields at the APAP convention promoting all his shows.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“The most astonishing expression of vitality.” Baudelaire
Exuberant, agitated, impetuous, horrified by tedium and relentlessly and infectiously gregarious. – The GreatNadar by Adam Begley
A recent French biography begins, Who doesn’t know Nadar? In France, that’s a rhetorical question. Of all of the legendary figures who thrived in mid-19th-century Paris—a cohort that includes Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, Gustave Courbet, and Alexandre Dumas—Nadar was perhaps the most innovative, the most restless, the most modern.
The first great portrait photographer, a pioneering balloonist, the first person to take an aerial photograph, and the prime mover behind the first airmail service, Nadar was one of the original celebrity artist-entrepreneurs. A kind of 19th-century Andy Warhol, he knew everyone worth knowing and photographed them all, conferring on posterity psychologically compelling portraits of Manet, Sarah Bernhardt, Delacroix, Daumier and countless others—a priceless panorama of Parisian celebrity.
Born Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, he adopted the pseudonym Nadar as a young bohemian, when he was a budding writer and cartoonist. Later he affixed the name Nadar to the façade of his opulent photographic studio in giant script, the illuminated letters ten feet tall, the whole sign fifty feet long, a garish red beacon on the boulevard. Nadar became known to all of Europe and even across the Atlantic when he launched “The Giant,” a gas balloon the size of a twelve-story building, the largest of its time. With his daring exploits aboard his humongous balloon (including a catastrophic crash that made headlines around the world), he gave his friend Jules Verne the model for one of his most dynamic heroes.
The Great Nadar is a brilliant, lavishly illustrated biography of a larger-than-life figure, a visionary whose outsized talent and canny self-promotion put him way ahead of his time.
While visiting San Francisco I met up with Leonard Pitt. A former student of Etienne Decroux, prolific writer, performer, teacher and collector of all things ‘Paris’. He gave me a copy of one of his books ‘My Brain on Fire’ and I can’t recommend it enough. Wonderful reading!
This is Leonard Pitt’s story of growing up the misfit in Detroit in the 1940s and 50s. In a later age he would have been put on Ritalin and paraded before psychiatrists because he couldn’t pay attention in school. In 1962, at the end of a misguided foray towards a career in advertising he took the ultimate cure, a trip to Paris. He thought it would only be a visit. He stayed seven years. There in the City of Light, Leonard’s mind exploded. And it hasn’t stopped since.
Studying mime with master Etienne Decroux and living in Paris were the university he never knew. This inspiration unleashed a voracious appetite to understand the “why” of things. He asked a simple question, “Why did the ballet go up?” While building a theatre career performing and teaching, he embarked on a quest to study the origins of the ballet, the history of early American popular music, the pre-Socratic philosophers, early modern science, the European witch hunt, the history of Paris, and more. To his unschooled mind it all fits together. Who would see a historical arc between Louis XIV and Elvis Presley? Leonard does. And he’ll tell you about it.
~ ~ ~
“What makes reading Pitt’s book so enjoyable is not only following the intellectual leaps he makes between his many and varied topics of interest. It is also seeing the creative connections among apparently unrelated subjects such as Louis XIV, Elvis Presley, and the Hula Hoop. From start to finish, Pitt’s memoir is a lively autodidactic romp through a life well-lived in both mind and body.”—Kirkus
While visiting Paris recently to photograph the delightfully funny clown Rob Torres I came across a wonderful place that could only be possible in PARIS!
The Clown Bar
After discussing this wonderful place with a few friends I discovered that my dear friend Karen Gersch has been ‘hanging out’ at the Clown Bar for years.
I asked her to write this blog post for me. She consented! So here is Karen Gersch.
“Le Clown Bar”
By Karen E. Gersch
If one turns right onto Rue Amelot after leaving Cirque d’Hiver and walks two elephant lengths, there appears the rather plain portal to one of Paris’s best kept secrets: “Le Clown Bar”. To step through these doors is to find oneself in an unheralded palace: the world’s smallest musee de clown.
Behind the long curved wooden bar, the walls gleam with handpainted enamel tiles of augustes and whitefaces caught in classic reprises. The very same motifs are repeated in the plates on which meals are served; the wine glasses are etched with acrobatic figures, too. Look up: a large circular painting of clowns looms from the heart of the otherwise Art Deco Fleur-de-Lis ceiling. There is nowhere the eye can move without resting on photos, sculptures, drawing, canvases, vintage posters or knick-knacks depicting world-class buffoons. Most of them are portraits: recognizable and legendary, of those who have frequented the bar throughout the century.
Le Clown Bar is registered as having opened in 1902, the creation of one Jean-Baptiste Menery, who conceived the original imagery woven into the walls and ceilings. Joe Vitte, the current proprietor, is the fifth owner, and with his wife, daughter and sister, have run it for more than twenty years. From its earliest days, this charismatic café has served as a meeting hall for circus clowns from around the world. It once even served as home for the three clowns whose black and white photos hang near the windows; that trio lived upstairs.
In the early 1990’s, when I first came to attend the much regaled “Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain” at Cirque d’Hiver, I was not aware of this little phenomenon set in its shadow. Caroline Simonds, longtime friend and once-partner had already founded her stellar company “Le Rire Medecin”, which placed clowns in hospitals throughout Paris. Her repeated descriptions of the Festival and the creative luminaries who atttended got my envy bone jiggling. I was also longing for new inspiration for my paintings. Having told other circus friends around the globe I would finally be going to Mondial, the universal response was: where can we meet?
“That’s easy”, said Caroline. “Le Clown Bar”.
It is one thing to enter Cirque d’Hiver, a permanent circus building in France, reputedly built for Napoleon. A perfectly round building, with glass display cases built into the curved lobby walls which hold old programs and artifacts, props and photos of the Bouglione Family. But the first time entering into the inner hall is not just enchanting, it takes the breath away. The deep red velvet drapes of it’s ringside tiers, the steeply raked seats that hurtle down to its carpeted ring, with white stairs rising above the facade to a balcony where the orchestra holds court. You can feel the weight of time and sense the unearthly descendants who have spun and tumbled here. It is only fitting that these two aesthetically magical places: Cirque d’Hiver and Le Clown Bar, neighbor each other.
Having picked up my festival tickets a bit after five that first night, (the show was scheduled for nine) I strolled down Amelot, arriving just as the cafe’s metal doors rolled up on their tracks. And once again stood transfixed at a remarkable inner world. Tall, leather-seated stools lined the long bar, and a bustle of closely set tables filled the front and back areas. There were shelves and glass-fronted armoires filled with clown souvenirs, figurines, pottery, toys, novelties and signs. Perhaps because of the coppery ceiling, the room seemed to glow with sun blessed lighting, soft and intimate.
As I stepped inside, Joe met me and announced they weren’t quite open. I nodded and asked if I could just sit and look. I think my obvious fascination amused him. His strongly featured face intrigued me. I inquired if I could reserve a table, as I had friends coming to join me after 6 or so. He told me no. They never took reservations. Then pointed me to a small table across from the bar. He returned to setting up and I immediately pulled out my sketchbook and drew him at work.
I needed a good warmup for the drawings I would rattle out at the Festival later. And my favorite way to sketch is innocuously blending in with domestic activities. I made studies of several objects in view, then of the waiter and a young woman who had appeared. At one point, the woman approached and placed a glass of wine on my table. I tried to explain that I hadn’t ordered one. She pointed to the pages beneath my hand, smiled and walked away.
The first of my friends who showed up that night were Brazilian acrobats; we ate dinner, and ploughed through two bottles of wine. By then I was joking with the waiters and woman who had served me. At a quarter to nine, I asked for the bill and left as tip, a generous amount of francs plus most of the portraits I had done.
It was amazing to see, over the course of those four hours, how the bar had filled to capacity; when I left there were people still waiting outside in long trails down Amelot. Circus performers, circus directors, booking agents, the ring crew, television crews, animal trainers, journalists… Of course, the fuller it got, the less people took any notice of the stunning archives of art all around.
Clockwise from lower left – Pat Bellard, co-founder of Cirque Jo Bithume, Carlo Pellegrini, Director of Amazing Grace Circus, Caroline Simonds-Director, Le Rire Medecin, Ernest Albrecht – Editor of Spectacle Magazine, Karen Gersch (balancing spoon on nose) and Patrick Loughhan, Sculptor and Ceramic Potter.
Directly after the show that night, I returned to the Clown Bar and stayed until closing, sharing with Joe and his daughter, Myriam (the kind woman who had served me) my sketches from the show. I was maybe slightly drunk on wine, more so on the imagery that had bombarded me that night.
The following evening, when I returned at 5:30, the doors of Le Clown Bar were already open. A lone and formal “RESERVED” sign graced the table where I had sat the night before. I noted it, puzzled and slid into a nearby seat instead. Then Myriam appeared, scowling. “Whattt?” I said. (I’d been trying to teach her Brooklynese the night before). “Eeet EEESe for YOU”, she scolded, pointing to the sign.
Thereafter, every night when I stepped into Le Clown Bar – no matter how crowded and thick with patrons, that table sat untouched with its small “RESERVED” sign. Once I entered and sat, the sign was whisked away and a bottle of the house Gamay placed in front of me. I dined there each night, eventually joined by a myriad of friends from other countries.
So began my longtime friendship with the Vitte & Dub family, which has continued to this day. Le Clown Bar became my studio away from home, where I warmed up my quick-sketch hands each night before friends appeared to dine and drink with me until the show. Years later, when Myriam took up my offer to visit New York and came to stay with me on the Bowery, she called my loft Le Clown Bar II, marvelling at my own treasure trove of clowns and odd circus paraphanalia.
The Festival Mondial, originally founded by Dominic Mauclair, has changed hands over the past decade, and no longer resides at Cirque d’Hiver.
Pascale Jacobs (another noted historian and costume designer, whose clients include Ringling and Cirque du Soleil) runs the Festival out of his own 5,000-seat tent, Cirque Phenix, in a park quite a distance away.
The Bouglione family keep a constant roster of prestigious shows running at Cirque d’Hiver (hosting most of the professional circuses that come to France. The feature film, “The Devil wore Prada”. shot many of its end scenes inside the building.) But the absence of the Festival Mondial has had a big impact on Le Clown Bar’s business, not to mention the generally poor economic climate that has prevailed. Myriam left Paris to start a family – Joe had depended on her support and management skills since she was a teen. During Festival week, the bar still draws late night contingents of directors and executives from famed circuses, from Roncali and Knie to Ringling and Cirque de Soleil. They find their way back to Le Clown Bar after the Phenix shows finish each night.
But Joe now fears for the future.
He is hoping that the city will make good on its recent promise to give the bar landmark or museum status to preserve its unique artistry.
Its reputation stands not only as an unusual and brilliant homage to the world of Clowns; the restaurant is very well regarded for its native cuisine and traditional French dishes. Both the food and wine menus, under Joe’s direction, have earned him a strong neighborhood clientele and followers outside the world of circus.
Circus buffs or not, anyone who ventures to Paris and wishes to step into an enchanting old world café, to sip an excellent glass of wine or nurse a rich expresso while musing over wonderful art, should make Le Clown Bar a starred designation. Be sure and ask for Joe and tell hiim “Karen” sent you!
It is natural that Louis Dejean, who led the Cirque d’Ete in the Champs Elysees, the district chose the Boulevard du Temple, called “Boulevard du Crime” and devotes a popular fun to build a second circus that was become the temple of the circus arts. Grace the Duke of Morny, permission to build was granted December 17, 1851. This is a Jacques Ignace Hittorf architect Cirque d’Ete and the Gare du Nord, which appealed Dejean. Work began April 17, 1852 and would last eight months. It was Prince Louis-Napoleon who inaugurated, 11 December 1852, the circus which he would lend his name. Cirque Napoleon emerges of 42 meters in diameter, 40 windows spread over 20 sections, 21 chandeliers Gas, 5900 places. A decoration and outdoor entrusted to the great sculptors and painters of the time: Pradier, Bosio, Gosse, Barrias. Franconi and Baucher are the custodians of the Cirque dedicated mainly to the equestrian art.