One of my favourite books is a collection of Janet Flanner’s Letters from Paris to the New Yorker. Just found a lovely memoir by her of her early years in the city of light. It includes this lovely story:
In October, 1925, I started the biweekly “Letter from Paris” for this magazine. The only specific guidance I received from the editor, Harold Ross, was his statement that he wanted to know what the French thought was going on in France, not what I thought was going on. Since my assignment was to tell what the French thought was going on, my only obvious, complete, facile source of information was the French press. In one of my first letters, I reported on a completely new type of American theatrical entertainment that had just opened in Paris, at the Champs-Élysées Theatre. It was called “La Revue Nègre.” I wrote about it timidly and like a dullard.
As a matter of fact, it was so incomparably novel an element in French public pleasures that its star, the hitherto unknown Josephine Baker, remains to me a still fresh vision—sensual, exciting, and isolated in my memory today, almost fifty years later. She made her entry onstage entirely nude (except for a pink flamingo feather between her limbs), carried on the shoulder of a black giant. Midstage, he paused and swung her in a slow cartwheel to the stage floor, where she stood like his magnificent dark burden in an instant of complete silence. She was an unforgettable female ebony statue. A scream of salutation spread through the theatre. Within a half hour of the final curtain on opening night, the news and meaning of her arrival had spread by the grapevine through the cafés on the Champs-Élysées, where the witnesses of her triumph sat over their drinks excitedly repeating their report of what they had just seen. She had become the established new American star of Europe.