The Ambassadeurs Show 1927
The second Ambassadeur’s show presented by Edmund Sayag in the summer of 1927 was described as ‘not a revue but a series of acts to entertain the classy diners’ and primarily featured a range of top American acts headed by Georgie Hale.
In the Spring of 1927 Sayag visited New York and with William Morris Jr, the son of the theatrical manager, made plans for his summer spectacular show. American talent comprising forty principals and twenty chorus girls were booked and the troupe began rehearsals in New York before sailing for France on 20th April.The Ambassadors show of 1927 (variously entitled Broadway – New York, Broadway in Paris, ‘Revue America’) opened on 1st June with an impressive line-up headed by Georgie Hale (the dapper American light comedy singer and dancer who also staged the dances), Margie Finley, Cyril and Ethel D’Ath, Cal and Ethel Norris (acrobatic dancing), the Four Admirals (musicians, singers and dancers), the jazz band of the Aaronsons Commanders, Johnny Hudgins (black performer who was the star comedian and dancer in the previous season), Robert Stickney (the Charleston dancer on stilts, who had already made a big hit at the Piccadilly Hotel cabaret the previous summer), Helen Morgan (famous New York cabaret singer), Mabel Hill (Hawaian dancer), Gus Muleahy (eccentric dancer), Christine Matson, Viva Regor and Jean Marini. Another of the key principals was the famous British actress June with her dancing companion Billy Reardon.
The cuisine at the Ambassadeurs was top-rate and Sayag’s Chef Fabre became rather legendary especially for his chicken dishes and Sayag was quoted as saying he paid Fabre more money that he did his most expensive prima donna. William Morris Jr contributed a lot of energy in rehearsing and preparing each piece and helped as stage hand, curtain raiser, interpreter and major domo.
Johnny Hudgins who had made such an impression the previous season continued to astonish and delight Parisians with his tremendous energetic Charleston dancing cries of ‘Ooah ooah’.
June was described as being ‘very pretty’ and was a ‘perfect exponent of old French and modern dances.’ Rather pompously, in her autobiography June thought that she was the star of the show, and according to her Sayag ‘refused none of my somewhat exorbitant demands.’ He paid her £250 per week, selected her own dancing partner, couturier and showmaker, supplied two dozen pairs of silk stockings a week, six gowns to begin with from Worth and a new one every week and in addition she could have two supper parties per week free. ‘This is like having life served to you on an emerald-and-diamond tray!’ she squawked. June ‘s dancing partner was the Irish-American Billie Reardon who she had seen dancing with Irene Castle at the Embassy in London in the summer of 1923. She said ‘Billy was not a great dancer but he had chic and a large following among the international set and he was fun.’ June claimed she was feted by the beaux of Paris and found herself the toast of Paris.
The English designer Dolly Tree, who had re-located to New York from London and had worked with Sayag before, (it was reported that she had created costumes for the second edition of the 1926 show) was commissioned to design the costumes and sets, with the costumes being executed by Brooks Costume Company who had dressed the Blackbirds show the previous summer. Although Dolly Tree created the bulk of the costumes ‘the dancing was lavishly embellished with the most gorgeous costuming’ some of the other performers were dressed by other couturiers of their choice.
Such was the importance of the reopening of the smartest Parisian venue that in the inaugural audience everyone who was anyone was there including the Royal Princes’ George and Henry and many leading figures of French stage and public life such as Sacha Guiltry, Yvonne Printemps, Jane Marnac, Jane Renouardt, Georges Carpenter, Josephine Baker, Mistinguett, Earl Leslie, the Dolly Sisters, the Maharajah of Kapurthala and Damia.
Dancing Times observed ‘Paris is coming more and more under the influence of English and American taste, especially the latter for its theatre and music hall shows. First came their dances, then their artistes in ever increasing numbers to show how they should be done and now the whole style of the entertainment tends to become purely American. The transformation is complete at the Ambassadeurs. The title of the show is no misnomer. You dine luxuriously amid pergolas of flowers, luminous cascades and thousands of coloured lights where you dance between courses and watch tabloid turns between the dances.’
As usual, Sayag made changes to the show, and in August the American comedian Lester Allen joined the cast, (a comedian of varied effects, at one moment he appeared in the role of young dandy dressed up to the nines and in another his style was that of Little Tich) followed in September by the ballroom dancing of Jack Holland and Joan Barry. At the end of the Paris engagement it was muted that the show would be taken to Berlin and then perhaps Broadway but this did not happen.
During rehearsals the atmosphere was chaotic and the noise and confusion were unbelievable as the interior of the Ambassadeurs was being re-decorated with the ceiling and walls being trellised and festooned with life-like wisteria and lilacs. June was due to do a song with Georgie Hale, the dapper American light comedy singer and dancer. She thought it was banal and Sayag refused to provide her with another. She was furious and tracked Sayag down for a discussion with two other men in a garden room. She tried to retreat but Sayag said ‘Mes amis, this is my charming but temperamental English star’. One of the other men introduced himself as the great Russian opera star Chaliapin. They asked what was the matter and she said that Sayag had given her a stupid song and she refused to sing it ‘what I need is something with a lilt and, if possible, with a point to it’.
The other man said that he had written a few songs and asked if she’d liked to hear one or two. She reluctantly led him to a piano where he sat and played and sang ‘Let’s Misbehave.’ She thought it was good but ‘too risqué for London, but perfect for Paris.’ As the lyrics got naughtier and naughtier, the chorus girls and musicians gathered smiling and chuckling and when finished burst into applause.
June exclaimed ‘I must have it…. Sayag must buy it for me.’
The man kissed her hand and said ‘I give it to you.’
She turned to Billy Reardon and said ‘I guarantee it will make his name’ Billy gaped ‘Make his name! My god, don’t you know who he is? Cole Porter! One of America’s top song-writers.’
One presumes that June sang the song in the show….
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent