Friday, 12 April 2013

La Goulue (the Glutton) swings 'le French cancan'....

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Poster advertising La Goulue and the Moulin Rouge.

1893, and Louise Joséphine Weber, known as La Goulue (the Glutton) is the unquestioned star of the new dance sensation - le French cancan.

They come from across Europe to watch her raise her petticoats and go through her dazzling display of high kicks, cartwheels, vertical one-legged turns and flying splits.

She's a sensation!  So much so that when Joseph Oller, owner of the Moulin-Rouge cabaret club, needs a star attraction to inaugurate his new theatre on Boulevard des Capucines, there's only one kid in town - La Goulue and her chorus line of hot dancers!

La Goulue circa 1890 by an unknown photographer.

The opening night is slated for Wednesday 12 April 1893. All of Paris is there. The reporter from Le Gaulois is frantic in his poetic enthusiasm: 'Nothing is more admirable than the seats in the stalls, like chaises longues, in which we could easily fall asleep, if there weren't so many wonderful things to look at".

The programme includes a ventriloquist, performing dogs, acrobats, and female dancer called Bob. 

But the only star is La Goulue! And she is unstopable!  She whirls her lace petticoats revealing her underwear, kittenishly embroidered with a heart. In a high kick she knocks a male dancer's hat off, to wild applause from the spectators. And among the spectators, cabaret singer and actress Yvette Guilbert, is in raptures over her 'adorable, agile, spiritual' legs. 

The night is a triumph! Soon everyone wants to know her! She sleeps with the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII. She is painted by Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir. She is seen walking a goat in Paris! She breaks men's hearts, and is not indifferent to women. Rumours circulate of an affair with a girl dancer known as La Môme Fromage (The Cheese Kid), but La Goulue denies being gay.

La Goulue et La Môme Fromage (1892)
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. 

Then two years after her success La Goulue leaves the Moulin-Rouge, thinking to make more money performing at fairground stalls. Gradually she fades from the public eye. She becomes a lion tamer, marries a conjuror, and returns to the stage as an actress. And in 1929 she dies.

La Goulue Fairground Stall (1895)

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