Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Josephine Baker

From Alice T. Friedman, Women and the Making of the Modern House (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2007)—

Much has been written about the house that [Austrian architect] Adolf Loos designed in 1928 for Josephine Baker, the African-American dancer and star of the Paris stage. By now it is quite clear that the unbuilt project, which exists only as a model and a set of drawings, had everything to do with Loos's desires and nothing to do with Baker's. Having met Baker at "Chez Josephine," her Paris nightclub, the architect boasted that he could design a beautiful home for her: the result was a passionate displacement of desire, an architectural reverie in which Loos imagined a series of spaces in which Baker was displayed for his private entertainment, including a deep indoor swimming pool with windows below water level.

And from the autobiography of Richard F. Sterba, titled Reminiscences of a Viennese Psychoanalyst (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1982)—

A group of us went with [Hungarian psychiatrist Sandor] Ferenczi to a nightclub at which the famous American dancer Josephine Baker was performing. We all enjoyed the graceful, supple movement of her beautiful body and were enthusiastic about her performance. After her appearance on stage, Josephine joined the audience. I have  no idea what made her pick out Ferenczi for an enchanting little scene. She came to our table and in a most natural fashion sat on Ferenczi's lap. She glided her hand through her own black hair, which was smoothly and tightly glued to her scalp by a heavy pomade. Then she stroked the bald center of Ferenczi's head and, rubbing the pomade on his hairless scalp, said, "So, that will your hair grow."

A few years, while browsing through a reference book on Modern writers, we came across a statement by Nebraska-born writer Virgil Geddes (an expatriate in Paris in the 1920s), in which he claimed that it was he who, as an English-speaking backstage assistant at the Folies Bergere, was responsible for helping Josephine Baker with the outfit for her famous banana dance (or Danse sauvage). She was, according to Geddes, "cavorting, clad only in a string of bananas fastened around her waist. My job was to clasp the bananas from behind her on two hooks before the stage curtain parted for her act out front."