Edmund Sayag’s Extravaganza’s
Variously described as the ‘liveliest man in show business’, ‘showman par excellence’ and ‘the Florenz Ziegfeld of Europe,’ Edmund Sayag arose to prominence in the mid 1920s owning or managing several prestigious European venues. He was hailed for putting Ostend back on the map and making Les Amabassadeur café-restaurant in Paris, the world’s most famous night-time rendezvous for the rich and famous.
Edmund (or Edmond) Sayag (real name Saiac) was French and from Oran, Algeria and was described by the English actress June as ‘a slender, sardonic-faced man with a curious diagonal scar on one cheek.’ He was clearly a man of great energy, drive and innovative ideas and once said ‘I like everything zzzzzzip, fast, big, brrrr. Some people think I am crazy.’ He emerged seemingly out of no-where and how and when his meteoric career began and where his financial backing came from is a mystery, but he was variously described as a financier, so perhaps his background was in banking.
His brother Max (Simon-Max Saiac) founded a music company called Maxsa in 1923 to market American jazz and dance music. Through Edmund’s extensive contacts the company became one of the first labels to deal exclusively with jazz music and had significant impact and very collectable today.
Sayag’s first big project was to revitalise the popular beach resort of Ostend after the devastation of the First World War and he took control of the Casino Kursaal, a pleasure palace without equal, and began to stage spectacular summer shows, featuring a range of international stars, during the height of the season usually from the end of May to the end of September.
With Ostend a big success, sometime in the mid 1920s Sayag turned his attention to Paris. He either bought or managed the Theatre de la Michodiere, that had been built by architect Auguste Bluysen and opened in November 1925 as a jewel of the Parisian art deco style of architecture and also managed the Theatres des Champs Elysees Music Hall. However, his most important acquisition was the Ambassadeur Theatre on the Avenue Gabriel just off the Place de Concorde and the Champs-Elysees from M. Dufrenne who had run the venue since 1917. He was clearly intent on replicating his success at the Kursaal, Ostend in Paris to reap even great financial reward from the huge American contingent that regularly flocked to the city of night each night in growing numbers.
After massive renovations, Sayag’s presented his first show in May 1926. Lew Leslie’s all-black production Blackbirds of 1926 starred Florence Mills and her troupe direct from London and New York. Blackbirds capitalised on the success of The Revue Negre staged earlier in 1925 and was an instant hit. That summer Sayag had well and truly made the new Ambassadeurs the world’s most famous night-time rendezvous for the rich and famous. It became a template for all future theatre-restaurant operations that were to blossom in the 1930s.
For the next three years, Sayag would visit New York in the Spring and secure talent for his new summer shows at the Ambassadeurs. Each were hugely successful and made history. At the end of the 1928 season Sayag renovated the Amabassadeurs and constructed a bigger building around the existing one creating two equal parts of the music hall and the restaurant with a shared stage. Then in April 1929 it was announced that Sayag was to open an Ambassadeurs restaurant in Barcelona.
As the summer 1929 season grew to a close, Sayag announced he was to close the Ambassadeur and that it would be demolished. In its place would be built the Theatre de Concorde to become the home of smart revues. Adjoining the theatre would be the Ambassadeurs Restaurant aimed to be the duplicate of the Central Park Casino in New York. Both places were due to open in the Spring of 1930. However, any thoughts of greater expansion of his business interests or any further extravagant floor shows was completely halted by the devastating affect of the Wall Street crash in October 1929 which had serious repercussions for his various enterprises that had thrived primarily on American tourist spending power.
Meanwhile, that autumn Sayag was appointed to revitalise and manage Monte Carlo’s declining entertainment and gambling industry. Sir Basil Zaharoff, the chief owner of Monte Carlo, had become increasingly alarmed by the demise of business as millions poured into the French casinos in Cannes, Nice, Juan Le Pins and San Rafael. Sayag had to reverse this trend and restore Monte Carlo’s status and wealth by instigating a series of sweeping changes and innovation.
Firstly, he secured Noble Sissle and his band for the winter of 1929. Next he completely renovated and updated the Casino, installed an ingenious system of night illumination in the gardens, extensively redecorated the Café de Paris and installed three American Jazz bands providing music from morning to midnight, created a gigantic bathing beach and laid plans to create a brand new, luxurious gambling venue, a world beauty contest and prolong the season and to make a success of the summer one.
By March 1930 it was remarked that Sayag had ‘instilled new life into the world’s most famous resort’ and his plans met with success. With his attention diverted he gave a 27 year lease of the newly re-built Ambassaseurs to Clement Hobson who ran the Ciro’s restaurant chain. The restaurant re-opened on 28th May with a short show supported by Noble Sissle and his orchestra but it was nothing like the extravagant shows that Sayag had staged before.
Thereafter, Sayag continued his work in Monte Carlo and in 1939 married the Spanish singer Raquel Meller. who had been featured in his shows at Ostend but the marriage did not last long. In the 1960s he owned and ran a private club with membership comprising authors, publishers, journalists, painters and others in the arts called Cercle Rive Gauche in Paris.
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
Variety, The Stage, Vogue (Paris), Chicago Tribune, Eve, The Era, Billboard, The Tatler, The Dancing Times and New York Times.
Florence Mills. Harlem Jazz Queen by Bill Egan
The Glass Ladder by June
The Life that He Led. A Biography of Cole Porter by George Eels
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrD5VfpuyzE (the roaring twenties Oostende – amazing colour images of Ostend)