I particularly love an art deco sketch by Erna Carise from 1927 that I discovered in one of my Parisian magazines simply called ‘Jazz’. So I decided to do a little digging and discovered that she had been a rather glamorous dancer and songstress in Paris, Berlin and New York from the late 1920s through to the 1940s and also had a talent as a costume designer or artist.
Erna Carise was in fact born Erna Kaiser on 2nd October 1906 in Vienna and her parents were named Charlotte and Ernst. She made a name for herself as a dancer in the 1927 Folies Bergere show Un Vent de Folies in Paris that starred Josephine Baker. Erna was described as ‘a beautiful dancer … who is one of the highlights.’
Five foot ten inches tall with blond hair and blue eyes, she startled Parisian audiences with her crocodile dance dressed in a tight fitting costume resembling the hide of the crocodile. She created the dance herself because she became immersed in ancient Egyptian religion and the snake god Sobek. Observing crocodiles in the zoo she saw in their eyes ‘a certain fatalistic calmness, a philosophic and static demeanour’ that provided the idea for the dance which was sluggish and strikingly sinuous. Subsequently, she joined Josephine Baker in the film La Revue des Revues (released November 1927) and she was also painted by the famous artist Kees Van Dongen.
Described as a ’Parisian songstress’ Erna Carise was booked by Lou Irwin in New York in February 1928 to appear as a cafe attraction and appeared in a show at the Little Club along with Ben Pollock and his orchestra for a few weeks.
Back in Europe she was featured in the Emil Schwartz revue Bitte Recht Freundlich! at the Stadt Theatre in Vienna in Spring 1929 and she was then seen in a operetta at the Marseille Varieties in early 1930. Next, she was featured once again at the Folies Bergere in L’Usine a Folies in 1931. During the summer of 1931 she was one of a host of Parisian stars taking part in an elegant sporting event and event that was repeated the following summer.
Thereafter, her activities become less obvious although she clearly was still working. During a skiing holiday in Kitzbühel in 1933, she broke her leg and spent seven months recuperating. Later in 1950 she bought a house in Kitzbühel.
In August 1936 she was appearing in her own ballet called ‘ballet Carise’ staged at the UFA Palace in Berlin. There was a trip back to New York in January 1937 but there is no indication of what she was doing. Back in Paris she starred in a show with her 12 dancing beauties at Les Ambassadeurs on the Champs Elysees with George Carpentier in November 1938 and then in a ballet at the Wintergarten, Berlin in January 1939.
Perhaps because of the Second World War Erna Carise may have relocated to America as she arrived in New York in August 1939 and stayed. In late 1941, described as ‘a former European dancer’ she appeared in show called Vogue Ballet at the Latin Quarter in Boston with a chorus and Jerry Andrew. One of her numbers was a semi-sexy song and she then did an adagio dance speciality with Andrew. Later, in late 1942, she stage a show at the Royal Casino in New York.
Interestingly, in 1944 she was living in Los Angeles and had married a Robert Gerling from Cologne who was several years younger. What happened to him and the marriage is not know because after the war she was listed as being single when she returned to Europe in August 1948. The following year, and living in Park Avenue, New York, she was granted American citizenship but continued visiting Europe on a regular basis from New York.
Later in life Erna Carise wrote and published two books: All About Kitzbuehel (1953) and a diet book called The Point Count Diet (1968). She died in 1981 in Kitzbuhel, Tyrol, Austria.
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
Images from the internet
Internet Movie Database
The Tatler 24/8/27
Le Petit Provencal 10/1/30
Chicago Tribune 22/7/31
Paris Soir 26/7/32
Paris Soir 4/11/38