The Elegance of Roseray and Capella
Roseray and Capella were one of the most famous French dancing acts of the Jazz Age. Not only were they accomplished acrobatic and adagio dancers but they were also extremely elegant and beautiful if somewhat audacious in terms of the brevity of their costuming which some thought rather salacious. Indeed, if the gossip about them being mother and son were true, it was an extraordinary act.
Simone Roseray and Jacques Capella rose to prominence shortly after the First World War and were described as a Franco-Russian pair. In the summer of 1919, a photograph of Roseray appeared in the Tatler describing her as ‘a young newcomer to the Parisian stage who studied with the famous professor Stilson’ and by late 1923 the pair were clearly an established dancing team ‘applauded in turn at Folies Bergere, the Marigny and La Gaite-Rochechouart.’
However, it was not until the Spring of 1924 that they really came to prominence. After making a splash on the Riviera in early 1924, especially in Nice, they became one of the main attractions (along with Rose Amy, Gaby Montbreuse and Rene Thano) in the Concert Mayol show Toute Neu from March 1924. Here they gave ‘a number of acrobatic dances which show off the beauty of physical form of both partners’ in such exotic numbers as Nuit de Sheherazade, La Favourite and L’Amant (the lover), La Boite de Jeux – Le Jeu des Dames (play of the ladies) and La Javaise des Roses – L’Ame des Roses (the heart of the roses). At the same time they doubled at the fashionable Canari nightclub in the Rue Faubourg.
Later in 1924, along with Maurice Chevalier, Yvonne Vallee and the Irvin Sisters, Roseray and Capella starred in Vive Les Femmes at the Palace Theatre. From Paris they made a trip to Berlin with other French performers, to appear in Herman Haller’s lavish revue Noch und Noch staged at the Admiralspast in Berlin from August 1924 through March 1925 with a possible short tour to Vienna. The next big production that they entered was Paris En Fleurs at the Casino de Paris launched in November 1925 starring the Dolly Sisters, Maurice Chevalier and Yvonne Vallee. Their dances in a Grecian number, India of a thousand and one nights and Versailles in the autumn were greatly admired.
Their elegance and allure clearly made an impression with the Shubert brothers, New York theatrical producers, and they snapped them up to headline in their new musical revue called The Great Temptations that was launched at the Winter Garden Theatre, New York on 18th May 1926. Dancing was a big feature and there were other notable dancing acts including Pat and Terry Kendall, the Guy Sisters (also from Paris) and the 15 Foster Girls. Variety particularly enthused about Roseray and Capella by saying ‘the real sensation of the show is an almost naked duo.’
Roseray and Capella appeared midway in the first half (scene 12 On the Veranda) ‘to a very fancy dance with very few clothes and lots of thrills. Capella is a well built fellow who wears a tiny beaded loincloth, skillfully adjusted and open at the sides to allow for a great flesh display. Roseray wears some beads on a head-dress and a rhinestone thingamajig judiciously spotted. Otherwise she has freedom of the body and with her partner does the dance that will keep this show in town for a good run. Roseray’s body is whitened to make us believe she is a statue being adored by a worshipper. The much discussed undressed dance done by Roseray and Capella is handled so delicately it is art in all its dancing glory. Miss Roseray’s perfect form sports a rhinestone girdle as well as a tiny bodice. In another number she has a well-marcelled wig of gray with an accordian pleated little skirt held in place by a wreath of rosebuds and a white chiffon simple throw trimmed in these buds.’ The show carried on to packed audiences until early November 1926 when the dancers presumably returned to Europe.
In April 1927 the pair were invited to London by Albert de Courville, who had started to produce the cabaret shows at the prestigious Embassy Club in Bond Street. Their performance was nothing less than sensational and guests climbed on chairs and tables to see them and cheered and clapped. However, something happened after a visit of a police inspector and their performance suspended. There was allegedly a complaint about the brevity of their rather scant costumes and concern over the danger to the audience if Roseray should slip from her partner when they were conducting one of their acrobatic turns. In one dance Roseray spun horizontally her only grip being with her toes behind Capella’s neck. Roseray, aghast, exclaimed in her piquant French way ‘do they want me to dance in a fur coat?’
They re-appeared the following night and Capella wore an extra green singlet, Roseray was also less exposed and the tables were set further back from the dance floor than normal to give more space for their spectacular swing that was the final of the dance. Luigi, the manager of the Embassy said ‘I have been assured that there is no objection to the act now.’ Needless to say the press coverage certainly helped attendance.
From the Embassy, the dancers were due to appear at the Carlton Hotel, London, also under de Courville’s management but they had an argument and they returned to Paris just as de Courville married Edith Kelly, suffered a nervous collapse and seemingly went bankrupt. They were lured back to London almost immediately by the management of the Savoy who offered them $1,750 per week, Their debut in early June was called ‘a miracle of grace and strength’ and was once again a huge success.
‘Capella wore, if anything, rather less than a prizefighter while Roseray was clad in diamond bracelets. She also wore a snow white wig and when she came down into the ballroom she wore an opera cloak of Prince of Wales feathers over her shoulders. This she soon discarded.They began with plastic posing and very gracefully and artistically went through into a dance. A little later they came back and repeated their terrific dance that so shocked the Bond Street police, They wore rather more clothes, but the acrobatics were just as unrestrained and in the climax Capella swung Roseray around like a whirlwind with his foot somehow fastened to her neck. There was no sign of the police.’
As they packed them into the Savoy (capacity 1300 nightly) the critics raved about them. The Stage said they are ‘far above other acts of the same type in both their grace and acrobatic daring’ and Variety said they gave a ‘breathless and daring performance.’
By the end of June they were back in Paris and swiftly added to the Casino de Paris revue Paris-New York (launched at the end of May) that starred the Dolly Sisters and doubled in cabaret including the Florida club in November 1927.
By early 1928 Roseray and Capella were back in the USA to headline at the Casa Lopez nightclub. Casa Lopez (at West 54th Street) had been one of New York’s hottest nightspots since opening in October 1925 under the auspices of the famous band-leader Vincent Lopez and his business partner Gene Geiger. But for many months business had been slack and the booking of Roseray and Capella was the last stand as a make or break for the venue. After one week at the Casa Lopez in mid-February, business was still slow an over zealous PR man Irwin S. Strouse conceived various publicity ruses to stimulate interest. Roseray called off the suggestion of her accidentally losing an abdominal tunic which would have left her nude but agreed to another plan which was ‘… one of the best framed publicity stunts of this nature ever put over.’
Strouse planted stories in the gossip columns that Roseray was madly in love with Lopez and miserable because he was spending his time with two Ziegfeld girls. Roseray then allegedly attempted suicide early one Sunday morning by jumping into a rather cold Central Park lake due to the unrequited love of Lopez. She was ‘saved’ by Thomas Moore (25) a security company investigator.
The press fell for the story that was leaked immediately and it was printed everywhere in their Monday editions. It helped that Roseray was ill from exposure contracted as a result of her overlong immersion in the park lake and had spent the night in hospital. However, two reporters Mark Hellinger and Walter Winchell smelt a rat, uncovered the con and condemned the ‘suicide’ as a publicity hoax. It was also swiftly exposed that Thomas Moore, Roseray’s rescuer, was the brother of Joe Moore, the amateur ice skating champion who was Vincent Lopez’s most intimate pal and buddy. Lopez and Geiger were vilified and the word was that Lopez was finished and would not be mentioned in the papers for a least a year. On March 18, 1928, after a stormy disagreement with Geiger, the Casa Lopez closed permanently. Vincent was penniless and mired in debt and said ‘Broadway ain’t what it used to be.’
One significant story to come out of the subsequent coverage was that Roseray was in fact the mother of her dance partner Capella – an idea which an international showman who had known the team for many years emphatically denied. Clearly if such a story had been confirmed at the time it would have ruined their act and thus the denial not surprising. In later years Vincent Lopez confirmed the story in his autobiography.
The pair appear to have stayed in America for most of 1928 and kept themselves busy in vaudeville and in Publix stage shows through to November when they returned to Europe opening in a new edition of Playtime at the Piccadilly, the cabaret show at the Piccadilly Hotel, London in mid November 1928.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s big appearances seemingly slowed down. They were on the Riviera and performed in a Mimosa ball at the Hotel Bellevue, Menton in February 1929, then the Café de Paris in London (June 1929), the Chateau Madrid in Paris (July 1929), the Palladium, London with a third partner Sylvio (October 1929), the Olympia Cinema de Luxe in a stage show called The Altar of Love (October 1930) and the London Pavilion with Debelle in John Southern’s non-Stop variety show (October 1932). Thereafter, it is not known what happened to them.
However, much later, with the advent of the 1940s, Capella was dancing in New York in cabaret and while he was at the Rainbow Room, Walter Winchell was gossiping about his alleged romance with Anne Blanet, the Toledo heiress in February 1941. Shortly afterward Capella met Patricia Reynolds born in Detroit Mitchigan and a former New Yorker. She became his dancing partner and wife and for the next decade they became one of America’s most sought after ballroom dancing acts appearing as Capella and Patricia all over the country in cabaret and vaudeville such as the Bamboo Room of the Royal Palm, Miami (May 1942), the variety revue Yours For Fun (1943), Nixon Café, Pittsburgh (April 1943), Belmont Plaza, New York ‘Glass Hat ‘ show (August 1944), William Penn Hotel (March 1945), the Swank Brook Club, Miami (December 1945) and Chez Paree, Chicago (April 1946). They also made an appearance in the Universal film Moon Over Vegas released in April 1944.
By the 1960s they had retired and led a wonderful life based in New York, wintering in Palm Beach and returning to France regularly spending the summer in Monte Carlo.
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
Two photographs provided with great thanks (credits in captions) by The Shubert Archive, New York, www.shubertarchive.org
1919 Emerged in Paris
1923 Already appeared at the Folies Bergere, the Marigny and La Gaite-Rochechouart, Paris
1924 Riviera, including Nice (Jan/Feb)
1924 Toute Neu, Concert Mayol, Paris (from March)
1924 Berlin and Vienna (summer?)
1924 Vive Les Femmes, Palace Theatre, Paris (from
1925 Paris En Fleurs, Casino de Paris, Paris (from November)
1926 The Great Temptations, Winter Garden Theatre, NYC (from May)
1927 Embassy Club, London (April)
1927 Savoy Hotel, London (June)
1927 Paris-New York, Casino de Paris, Paris (from late June)
1927 Florida Club (November)
1928 Casa Lopez nightclub, NYC (February)
1928 Vaudeville and Publix stage shows (from March)
1928 Piccadilly Revels at Piccadilly Hotel (from November)
1929 Mimosa ball at the Hotel Bellevue, Menton, France (February)
1929 Café de Paris, London (June)
1929 Chateau Madrid, Paris (July)
1929 London Palladium (October)
1930 Olympia Cinema de Luxe (October)
1932 London Pavilion, London (October)
1941 Capella in the Rainbow Room cabaret (February)
1942 Capella & Patricia in Bamboo Room cabaret of the Royal Palm, Miami (May)
1943 Capella & Patricia in The Smash Laff Variety Revue
1943 Capella & Patricia in the Nixon Café cabaret, Pittsburgh (April)
1944 Capella & Patricia in the Universal film Moon Over Vegas (April)
1944 Capella & Patricia in the Belmont Plaza, New York ‘Glass Hat ‘ show (August)
1945 Capella & Patricia in the William Penn Hotel cabaret(March)
1945 Capella & Patricia in the Swank Brook Club cabaret, Miami (December)
1946 Capella & Patricia in the Chez Paree cabaret, Chicago (April)