Clifford C. Fischer, the originator of the French Casino Project
One of the most picturesque figures in show business, Clifford C. Fischer was an internationally distinquished booking agent and producer who really made a name for himself staging spectacular stage shows as part of the French Casino theatre-restaurant project in the mid 1930s.
Born in Belgium in 1882, Clifford Fischer was the son of a purveyor of horses to the Belgian Army and as a result horses fascinated him. It was in fact a horse that was responsible for his entry into the world of show business. At the turn of the century aged 18, he was in London earnestly learning the printing and engraving trade in his uncles shop. One night at a music hall he saw a horse that could count and bow and did not mind when a pack of dalmations popped on and off its back. He signed up the creature for $250 and took it to USA and toured it for two years, thus starting his career as a booking agent. Thereafter, he joined the William Morris agency and worked with them until 1918 and brought various European acts to America including Charlie Chaplin, Arthur Lloyd (the ventriloquist), Polaire, Harry Lauder and Sarah Bernhardt.
For several years, from about 1910, he also acted as an agent for the Shubert organisation – New York theatrical producers – and for example in 1915 he brought over the French dancing team of Samya and Albert to appear at William Morris New York Roof cabaret. Admiring their Last Tango dance (a sort of Apache) he thought they would be perfect for the Shubert’s revue the Passing Show of 1916.
In late 1915 Fischer took over the running of the two cabaret floors in the Shubert’s Winter Garden Theatre also called the Palais de Danse. This had been a thriving cabaret venue with different themes and various people providing attractions. The last was the society dancer Joan Sawyer who had operated the Persian Gardens (top floor) but after a period of success, interest waned when Maurice and Florence Walton opened in the floor below.
Fischer redecorated both rooms, made one a night-club and the other a dancing – cabaret which he named the Montmartre. Joan Sawyer was seemingly retained for the Monmartre but this did not last and he terminated her engagement resulting in a law suit. Meanwhile downstairs he installed the European entertainer Nilson Fyscher and others. By the summer of 1916 Fischer had engaged the Hawaiian dancer Doraldina, who was sailing on a wave of popularity at the time, for the Montmartre and turned the fortune of the venues around. However, problems developed with the Shuberts and in late 1916 Fischer was forced out and there was a lawsuit resulting in Fischer winning $35,000. Thereafter Fischer managed Doraldina and flirted with another venue in late 1919 when he took over the Old Pekin restaurant turning it into Larue providing an entertainment of dancing and singing chorus girls, but this did not last long.
At some point Fischer married the Indian Princess Radjah who was neither Indian nor a princess but an Egyptian snake charmer from whom he subsequently separated.
Allegedly, because of a penchant for lawsuits Fischer was blacklisted by the UBO when it was first organized and finally returned to Paris in an enforced exile. Here he worked as a booking agent based in Paris as part of the William Morris Agency with Henry Lartigue and organized a brisk traffic of celebrities and assorted acts to and fro across the Atlantic.
For example, via Morris Gest, he sent Nikita Balieff’s cabaret or variety troupe called La Chauve Souris to the USA in 1922. Balieff had been immensely successful in Russia prior to the revolution and in exile Balieff presented his shows in London and Paris before making it big in America. Fischer also sent over Maurice Chevalier and imported Jeanette MacDonald and Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians. It is significant that the William Morris agency with Fischer and Lartique were responsible for booking American talent for Edmund Sayag’s series of spectacular shows at the Ambassadeurs Theatre – Restaurant in Paris during the late 1920s. Later, in the 1930s he managed the shows at the Ambassadeurs and spent most of his time in his villa in France raising pigeons.
In the 1930s he returned to America and went into production creating a series of floor shows in resorts called the French Casino in Chicago, New York and Miami Beach and the London Casino. They were opulent cabaret-restaurant shows in which acrobats, clowns, dancing duos, novelty acts, mannequins and chorus girls were sprinkled among spectacular production numbers. They were at one time grossing $5million per year.
Fischer also staged two of his shows at the International Casino, New York in 1938 and one of his shows played the San Franscico World Fair in 1939. He was stranded in America by the outbreak of the Second World War and lost his house, his restaurants and his racing pigeons.
Later, with the Shuberts he produced the variety shows Priorities of 1942 and 1943. He tried to revive vaudeville with the Shuberts in Keep ‘em Laughing. He also imported Edith Piaf to the Playhouse in 1947.
Clifford C. Fischer died at Westwood New Jersey in October 1951 after a long illness. He was 69 and left a widow Alyce.
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
Take a look at the page about The French Casino Project
Take a look at the page about The French Casino
Take a look at the page about The London Casino
Take a look at the page about The Revue Folies Bergere
Take a look at the page about Folie Parisienne
Take a look at the page about Folies De Femme
New York Times and Variety