Ray Jackson and I opened the Casino De Paris Striptease Theatre Club at 5-7 Denman Street, W.1. in London’s Soho on the 21st of April 1958, writes Eric Lindsay. It was above the old S & F Grill where, as an actor, I used to gravitate every afternoon from there to Taylors Sandwich Bar in Rupert Street, W.1. when I wasn’t working.
We had been looking around for premises for about 6 months. Originally we thought of opening a night club with a complete drag show. We approached Danny La Rue, who was then working at Churchills Night Club with Ted Gatty, and he gathered a group of drag artistes together that he had worked with in the shows that used to tour the variety theatres in the 50s. We talked with them and told them that Ray and I were thinking of opening a sophisticated night club along the lines of the Carrousel Club in the Rue de Colisee in Paris. We had seen a night club in Lower James Street, funnily enough also called the Carrousel, which had a great atmosphere and for a long time we contemplated buying it. Fortunately for us, the original owner, who was a friend of ours and who had built it and ran it for many years, talked us out of it because he told us that the place was a white elephant. The gentleman’s name was Morrie Conley (now that is a name to conjure with!). A lot has been written about him, mostly bad, but I can only say that to Ray and myself he was a good friend and adviser and we had many happy times and dinners with him and his lovely wife Nan.
During this period a new Licensing Law 1957 had been passed which allowed theatrical performances in private members clubs for nudes to move, which meant that striptease had become legal. Previously all nudes had to be static in artistic poses a la the Windmill Theatre. The Windmill had had the complete monopoly of that genre of show business for years and the queues of gentlemen outside the theatre each day proved it.
It stood to reason that there were more people interested in seeing the naked body on exhibition than there were in going to see a load of “poufs” in a drag show, so striptease it was going to be!
Daily we used to see gentlemen in raincoats waiting in line to get into the Windmill Theatre. So with the new laws the market was wide open. Already a few clubs had got on the bandwagon and were doing excellent business.
My Aunt, who ran a members social club in Brighton, told me of a social club at 5-7 Denman Street that was up for sale. It was the adjoining street to the Windmill Theatre. So Ray and I made an appointment to look over the place. We went along late one afternoon and climbed the wide staircase to the first floor. Above the first floor it turned out was a shoulder pad factory and above that an office suppliers. There were sliding gates in front of the double doors to the social club so we rang the doorbell to let whoever was there know that we had arrived and open the gates.
A very tall, grim looking man stood behind the gates who looked like Lurch from the Adams Family. He frightened the shit out of me! Anyway we told him who we were and he unlocked the gates and we went in, into what was an enormous room with loads of card tables. It looked like a speak easy from the 20s, and what with Lurch it made it even more authentic. The room had an enormous mahogany fireplace in the centre of the opposite wall, but the size of the place made it ideal to convert into a small intimate theatre. When I say theatre, we meant a real theatre run on the strict lines of a legitimate theatre with all the calls, half hour, quarter, five minutes and overture beginners please.
Lurch called for his other two brothers and they introduced themselves as Elliott, who was the youngest at about 50 years old and also the spokesman for the three, and Johnny, the eldest, and Lurch, whose real name was Mark. These were the Gold brothers. To me and Ray they were more like the Marx Brothers.
They were still running the place as a social club with Johnny cooking food in the kitchen, Elliott running the club and Lurch frightening everyone on the door. In the evenings they turned the place into a jazz club where Johnny Dankworth and George Melly used to occasionally play and sing; apart from the other Jazz Musicians who used to play. But really they were not doing any real business.
To make a long story short we agreed to go into a 50/50 partnership with Elliott and Johnny Gold providing Lurch (Mark) had no connection with the business and stayed away from the premises. We didn’t want to frighten the customers away with him on the door!
We got Peter Mullins the Art Director to design the theatre. I managed to buy theatre seats from the Q Theatre at Kew Bridge, which was just about to close. Doing business with Beatie de Leon who ran Q was some ordeal, as she was known to be a very tough lady and she was.
So the conversion started.
When the builders were about to remove the fireplace we had a major drama with Johnny who said it had to stay as it had been there for over 50 years. I thought it must have been a family heirloom. So I asked him how many theatres he knew that had a fireplace in the middle of the room? Finally the fireplace went. Although there were a few tears and unhappy faces.
We built two dressing rooms for the girls and one for the boys, which was in the kitchen at the back of the theatre. The bar, which could hold about 20 people was at the very back of the theatre it had arched corinthian pillars around the whole bar similar to those on the walls, so you could watch the show whilst you had a drink. The theatre could seat about 70 people in total. It wasn’t large, but it was a ‘real’ theatre with so much atmosphere and a stage that was the width of the room at the very end.
“GETTING IT TOGETHER”
Whilst the conversion and building was in progress, it took a period of just over 3 months, Ray and I went to every variety theatre that was in the London area and saw every nude show that was to be seen. We also visited the Irving Theatre Club and the Panama and Gargoyle Clubs, which were already open with their nude shows. I have to say that we were not impressed. The shows were tatty and crude; there was no class or taste shown. We knew with our own experience in the legitimate theatre we could do better.
The girls looked as though they had just come in off the street. Their makeup was nonexistent and the costumes were appalling. The comics, if there was one in the show, did not seem to have any respect for the girls. In fact all the shows were bad.
From that moment Ray and I decided that if we were going to be in the nude business we would do it, as Gypsy Rose Lee said, “with finesse,” and that we proved over the many years that the Casino de Paris was open. We would bring the customers up to our level and not go down to theirs, as we proved, and they appreciated it. We would give them good entertainment in luxurious surroundings.
Our girls would look elegant and classy. Our girls would not look as though they had just come in off the street. Our girls would look glamorous and beautiful, and they were.
During this period we really got to know our partners Elliott and Johnny. Their name was Gold and they had hearts of gold. They were both the kindest and most honest pair that one could ever wish to do business with.
Johnny was caring and like a broody mother hen. He was always concerned that everybody was happy and had plenty of tea. His only problem was that he would worry about everything, you name it, and he would worry about it.
Elliott it turned out was a professional gambler, who would spend hours on the phone betting. The whole time we had the Casino de Paris I could never understand what a monkey or a pony or a Yankee was, it was all double Dutch to me. Gambling did not interest either Ray or me. Despite his gambling vice, and like all gamblers his fortunes used to fluctuate up and down, he would never involve the Casino’s money. He was completely honest and trustworthy. Being a gambler, he was very superstitious. Elliott taught us all the finer points of life, food and wine, where to shop for the best clothes and shoes etc., in fact everything. He was a kind of mentor to us for the finer things in life. He had a wife who was an invalid and lived in Brighton, but that did not stop his womanizing and having a lineup of some of the most glamorous and chic ladies I have ever seen. He was charm personified, a real ladies man. When one day I mentioned his ladies to Morrie Conley, he said, “You know why he gets all those birds?” I said, “No.” “Well, you see he’s hung like a horse!” So that was how I discovered Elliott Gold’s extra charm and that was why he was forever adjusting himself. The thing must have had a mind of it’s own!
Having seen all the theatre shows and those that were playing in the other clubs, we decided that we would follow their lead and start with a pianist/singer and drummer for the shows. We engaged a pianist called Alan Leigh who had a beautiful singing voice and also a drummer called Leslie. We had to get a choreographer because Ray and I hadn’t got a clue how to put a variety show together and do the dance routines. We found a girl who had been working at the Windmill Theatre, so she knew the score. We chose all the numbers and told her what we wanted. We did know what was good and what was bad and what was in good taste. We had realized earlier on that we would have to run our own censorship after seeing the way some of the other clubs were performing.
From Strand Lighting we installed the smallest lighting board that they made with 4 dimmers, as the backstage area was very limited. Later on I think we added one more dimmer to the side of the board, altogether I think we had about 15 spotlights to cover the whole stage area. Remember, we were novices at all these things. Ray and I were learning at the same time as we were rehearsing how to properly run a theatre. We learnt fast. One of our customers from Heaven and Hell told us he was a Stage Manager in variety shows, so we engaged him. He turned out to be useless and just lasted 3 months. We decided that we would do 4 shows a day from 2:30p.m. to 10p.m. and each show would run approximately one and a half hours at 2:30p.m., 4:30p.m., 6:30p.m. and 8:30p.m. It was a little like a factory, but it allowed us an hour till 11p.m. to keep the bar open for that last drink.
We placed an advertisement in the Stage newspaper for girls and held auditions for nude dancers and showgirls. We also placed another ad for boy dancers and also for another Assistant Stage Manager. We were lucky because there were many girl dancers who unfortunately were not tall enough to be in a chorus line like the Tiller Girls, but they were trained and disciplined. Two of the boys from the drag shows we engaged to work as young ladies in the show. They were Tommy Osborne who had the most beautiful soprano voice and Dougie Currie who looked like Marilyn Monroe when he was in drag, but the main thing was that he could also make costumes, which was much more important than his talent. In Drag they both looked great and passed as girls with the customers.
So there in the dressing room every day whilst we were rehearsing Dougie sat and made costumes, except for when he had to go on stage to rehearse, but he was a dreamer and very, very slow with making costumes. It would take him forever to sew on a sequin. In fact I would stay up with him all night trying to get him to finish a set. I would spend the night making black coffee and supplying him with pep pills. This went on for weeks until finally I said, “Enough is enough! We open next week on the 21st of April,” and somehow miraculously, I don’t know how, it all came together.
The CASINO DE PARIS WAS IN BUSINESS!
BY COMPLETION IT WAS A PERFECT BIJOU THEATRE
“OVERTURE AND BEGINNERS PLEASE”
Act 1 Scene 1
By the time we opened we already had over 2000 members, so the 2:30 opening show on the 21st of April was full and the Audience loved it. In fact they stayed for the second show and one guy even sat through the whole four shows. Not good for business, but it proved we were on the right track. For the 8:30 show we had invited a few of our theatrical chums, including Frankie Vaughan and his lovely wife Stella. I think they left in shock. It was the sight of seeing so much nudity!
Diana Dors, my old mate from the Rank Charm School, came with her then current boyfriend Tommy Yeardye. They both loved the show. When I asked Di why she kept on calling Tommy “Tommy Teapot,” she said, “He had a big Spout!” Luckygirl!!! We all then went for dinner after the show to Veeraswamy’s, an Indian restaurant in Regent Street, for a Vindaloo.
Then there was the film producer and director Herbert Wilcox, who came without his wife, the actress Anna Neagle. He became a regular, dropping in for the odd drink and a chat with the girls, especially when Anna was starring in “Charlie Girl” at the Adelphi Theatre. He would pop in for a drink and then go on to collect her after the show. Herbert had quite an eye for the girls, and they enjoyed chatting with him. Sometimes he and Ray would go to the Garrick Club for dinner.
Another stalwart of the club was Victor Spinetti. There were a few others but I’ve forgotten who they were.
The whole cast wore full body makeup, which looked great when they were lit and gave them a real Parisian Follies look. Unfortunately, this was something that we had to stop as it was ruining all their costumes, so I had to get the same effect with lighting.
I used the coloured Cinemoid Sheets that were sold by Strand Electric for their spotlights, and with trial and error I managed to get an even better effect than with the body makeup. In fact, I became quite an expert and painted their bodies with my lighting. This was to prove so handy for me when I became Zee as I had it in my contract that I always did my own lighting.
Here is a copy of the first program, all 6 pages and also a souvenir brochure of “Paris Sensations” the No.1 edition which started the run.
We produced around forty different editions at the Casino de Paris until its closure in 1976 when the lease ran out. We did so many that I lost count. I have copies of many of the adverts that we placed in the weekly magazine “What’s On In London.” I will intersperse them throughout the story with all the exotic names that I gave to some of the girls, but they will not run in chronological order as I’m too old to remember the sequence and the dates. Really, I’m just lucky that I found the ads. The same goes with the photos.
Ray and I agreed that we would do four editions a year. So fairly soon after opening the No. 1 edition, we started preparations and rehearsals for the next show, and so it went on and on. It was like a factory, but a very enjoyable one. I think it was soon after we had opened that a young lady joined the show called Audrey Crane (that was the name I gave her). Over the years, she blossomed and bloomed into a glamorous artist who could hold her own with all the continental stars that we engaged. She worked with us for many, many years. We took her with us when we went to the Cannes Film Festival, in fact we used to take her everywhere. Unfortunately we parted on very, very bad terms, which I have regretted to this very day. Ray and I both adored her.
Rehearsals would continue every day and I or Ray would be there. We would try to schedule it so that each artist would only come in a maximum of three times a week because they were working a full eight-hour shift. All those kids worked so very hard.
We never ever received a bad notice or write-up for the shows in either the newspapers or journals. The write-ups we received from Peter Hepple of “The Stage” made us sound as though we were the “Old Vic” of striptease. Even if I say so myself, the show was good, in fact it was excellent!
Well, rehearsals continued and I sat there every day for a year watching and remembering everything our choreographer did. Although she appeared in the show, she was off more than she was on. If I were to say that she was prone to accidents, it would be an understatement.
She would tell me that she was up most of the night setting a dance routine, and I believed her. That is until one day, when she had already set half of a ballet number the day before, she came back and ran through the part she had set only to say that she had forgotten what she had set and reset it all. The more I watched her the more I realized she was making it up as she went along. So I said to Ray that I could do the same thing, without having the trouble of trying to explain what we wanted. We would also not have the hassle of censoring numbers that she set, as she thought, as sexy and erotic, but which we thought were pornographic. There is such a fine line between what is sexy and what can be interpreted as pornographic. So it was the parting of the ways.
From the War days when I was still at school, I would go to Sadler’s Wells Ballet at the New Theatre at least twice a week. I could remember most of the lifts and dance moves, but I didn’t know what their names or the names for certain steps were. The choreographer would count when she did a routine, but I didn’t know it was either 4 or 8 to the bar. So, I would sit at home working out a number and count 11 beats, pause, 17 drum rolls, pause, etc, etc. No one had the nerve to tell me it was only 4 or 8 to the bar. I would make all the kids write down the different numbers, not knowing that they were transposing them into 4 or 8. It wasn’t until after a year that one of the boy dancers said to me, “Eric, it’s all just a count of either 4 or 8.” He explained why and I said, “Oh shit! You must all think I’m off my head.” Well it certainly made life a hell of a whole lot easier for me.
From 1958-1976 are what I call our Gypsy years because we never stopped moving. As the shows progressed, we progressed. We moved from Suzy’s flat above Heaven and Hell to the White House in Regents Park. We were becoming affluent! Next it was onto the Penthouse at 81 Boydell Court in St. Johns Wood, followed by the Stratford Court Hotel in Oxford Street. Then we had a new Neo Georgian House built at 14 Marston Close, Swiss Cottage. I couldn’t cope with all the stairs, 3 flights, and I was always forgetting something on the top floor so we moved to Edinburgh House in Portland Place opposite the BBC only to discover that the taxi phone in the street below would ring all day and all night. We couldn’t wait to move. Our next stop was 17C Sussex Heights in Brighton. The train journey to London took just one hour and it was beautiful travelling on the Brighton Belle, but when there were leaves or snow on the line it took between five and six hours, with no corridors! Nuff said! Finally, we moved into 68 Barons Keep in West Kensington. Phew! I’m out of breath. We never stopped. All this time the shows went on and they got better and better.
Anton and Andree. Andre (Angela) went on to marry Richard Lyon, the son of Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels, the famous stage and radio act, who were a notable couple in show business society.
We would go to Paris frequently to see an agent there called Lillette Voland who managed all the top striptease artistes, and to buy feathers from Madame Fevrier. Arthur Helliwell, the No.1 journalist at the time for The People Newspaper, was known and feared for his vitriolic and scathing penmanship by most people in the business. Laughed about Madame Fevrier, when we met him in Cannes one year and wrote a very amusing article about us buying feathers in Paris. But truthfully, they were unobtainable in England. All in all we always had good relations with all the Press.
One of the first artistes we brought from Paris was Ketty Rogers who had the audience standing in more ways than one! Occasionally we would have the odd customer who would misbehave. The girls were the first to point them out. It was Johnny Gold’s job to go along and speak to the offender. He would gently tap him on the shoulder and whisper, “Put it away old chap. You’re upsetting the girls!”
Act 1 Scene2
The shows were running swimmingly, but Ray and I were not happy with the music, it sounded so thin. We had already got thru three drummers and we were on our second pianist. Our latest drummer changed the tempo according to how he felt, and we were relying on a pianist who spent most of the time sitting on the loo and not at the piano. Imodium wasn’t around in those days otherwise I would have slipped him a couple every time he had his tea break! The girls were also not happy with the situation. It came to a point where we found ourselves having to incorporate so much taped music into the show, just to satisfy the whims and bowel movements of the musicians, that we finally decided to do the whole show on tape. We came to an agreement with the Musicians Union and The Performing Rights Society, and low and behold it was wonderful! The Theatre was overflowing with the sound of music and it was great!
There was an agent from Italy who frequented the Casino de Paris since we had opened whenever he was in London. He would always ask us to take a show similar to ours to the “Auberge des Pyramids” in Cairo for three months with all expenses paid, including food and accommodation and transport for fifteen people and hotel accommodation for myself. The show could then tour Greece and other countries. The money was excellent and the whole thing sounded great. Ray and I checked on the venue and found it was the No.1 nightclub in Cairo.
We also checked with quite a few artistes that had worked there and they all gave glowing reports. Ha! Ha! It is so strange with artistes, they never tell you the truth about the bad things that happen to them. Everything is always so wonderful and rosy. We were warned by our agent in London, Rosemary Andree of the Gaston and Andree Agency, that they promise you everything and then screw you when you’re there, but Ray and I were both hot headed in the excitement of it all and unfortunately we didn’t listen to her. By the way, in her day, Rosemary Andree was a famous beauty known as the Pocket Venus and worked consistently with Jimmy Gaston. They starred in their own shows as Gaston and Andree with their Nude Adagio Act in music halls throughout the 30s and 40s.I know I am digressing, but I have to show you these wonderful portraits that were taken by Walter Bird (1903-1969) of the Beautiful Rosemary Andree. As this story progresses, she became an important part of the Casino de Paris Story.
Walter Bird’s portraitures were in their time regarded as second only to the great Karsh of Ottawa. He was one of the giants of the London scene in the 1930’s. His impeccable taste ensured that his figure studies were unsurpassed. His images of beautiful women soon sent him into London’s top ten photographers.
To cut a long story short, we agreed to take a show to Egypt called “Eric Lindsay’s Folie de Londres.” I really should have called it “Eric Lindsay’s Folly!” We had fourteen artistes – two female singers, two girl dancers, four nude showgirls, two strippers, two boy dancers, one stage manager, one sound operator, and me. I had music specially orchestrated for a fourteen-piece orchestra which the agent told me would play for the show. Of course, he forgot to tell me that they couldn’t read music! I had new costumes made for the twelve artistes and we were to travel by train thru France to Marseilles and then get a boat to Egypt. I should have known it was doomed from the start when we had to stopover in Paris for six hours and change stations. My stage manager who was in charge of the costumes lost them in transit and didn’t tell me until we were 100 km outside of Paris on the way to Marseilles. He said he wanted to go sightseeing! The berk! So I pulled the emergency cord. The guard came and screamed and shouted at me, but finally I managed to explain to him what had happened and he arranged for the train to stop at the next hick town station, and all fifteen of us got off and waited while the powers that be in Paris tried to locate our lost luggage. Four hours later, we finally managed to get it on the next non-stop train, ‘Le Train Bleu’, to Marseilles, which made an emergency stop for us at the hick town so we could get on and precede with our ‘adventurous’ journey. I believe it was the first time in history that ‘Le Train Bleu’ made an emergency stop for a load of costumes!
The boat we caught in Marseilles had to be one of the oldest cockroach-infested trawlers that was sea worthy and I threw up most of the way to Alexandria. We were met at the docks by an agent from Mohammed Abdul- Nabi, the owner of the Auberge. The coach trip from Alexandria to Cairo seemed to me as though we had gone back to biblical times it was all so primitive. Still, I was optimistic, look on the bright side. After all, what more could happen? ? ?Duly ensconced, we started rehearsals in earnest for a week. Abdel-Nabi’s staff were as thick as planks, nodding all the time, but nothing was sinking in. So finally I made them write down all the lighting, sound, curtains and set changes over and over again. Abdel-Nabi would watch all this and say nothing. The opening night show was a disaster. If anything could go wrong it did. My stage manager was screaming at everyone. He had no lights, no curtains, nothing, and the music sounded as though they were skinning cats. Mohammed Abdel-Nabi said that he would try and make the show the second night, as my stage manager was upsetting his staff and he would speak to them and explain more, etc. etc.On the second night, the show went perfectly from beginning to end, just as I had planned and set it. Abdel-Nabi said to me later, “You see, you make show big catastrophe. Me, I make show big success.” I bit my tongue and thought,‘You crafty fucker!’ But I said nothing. I was hoping to get paid. Ha! Ha! So the show ran for three nights and then we rehearsed for the New Year’s Eve Gala with a special number with real live white doves that were quite tame and lived in a loft in the roof of the night club. The number was to go in at the very end of the show, which went on for about three hours, including belly dancers and singers and on and on and on. Then came our special number. The showgirls and Strippers and boy and girl dancers each had four doves. At the end of the number they would just wave their arms and the doves would fly around the room and then go back up into the loft, or so I thought! Or so we all thought! Ha! Ha!Show time! Eric Lindsay’s“Folie de Londres” was a big success. The belly dancers were a big success. Everyone was a big success! Then came our finale, the special dove number to bring in the New Year. As the final chimes rang out, the girls waved their arms and the doves flew around the room and the elite of Cairo that were our audience grabbed at the doves and tore them apart and wiped one another with the blood! On stage there was pandemonium. The two girl singers fainted, the boy dancers were shouting and going to the aid of the singers, and one of the showgirls, who was an animal activist, went into the audience and punched a guy in the face as he tried to wipe some blood onto her. The audience came onto the stage, trying to wipe blood on the kids. BEDLEM! And I had envisioned this beautiful number with the lovely white doves that would just fly away. Nobody told us that just before the show all their tail feathers had been removed so the poor buggers could just fly low around the room until they were butchered. This is what they call a civilized society? The kids refused to work anymore at the Auberge. So that was the end of the show and we prepared to return to England. Meanwhile, I was still paying the kids their full salary. I explained to Abdul-Nabi that it would be better all round for us to go, and he smiled and agreed. Little did I know that he had no intention of paying me any amount of money. When finally I got the British Embassy involved, he paid me a pittance and deducted all the train and boat tickets – all the expenses that I had incurred for him! In fact, I was left with flumpence halfpenny and a bad taste in my mouth. He kept me waiting around for a week to collect some money. He would keep me waiting outside his office for six hours at a time, and when he did see me he would give me a little just to tide me over for the day and tell me to come back the next day. During this time I sent a telegram to President Naser telling him of the treatment we had received from Abdel-Nabi and how bad it was for the image of the whole of Egypt. On the final day when he paid me my pittance in front of all his staff to show how big he was, I thanked him and told him, “You sir, are a PIG! I would never treat anyone the way you have treated me.” I left the premises with everyone in shock. No one had ever had the nerve to say that to him.
To prove that I am not exaggerating about Mohamed Abdul-Nabi, here is a cutting from the Al-Ahram Weekly Newspaper: “AS WAFIYA EL-FRANSAWI, A BELLY DANCER STATED, “THE ARTISTES HAD A LOT OF TROUBLE WITH MOHAMED ABDEL-NABI, THE OWNER, WHO WAS CHRONICALLY IN ARREARS IN ALL PAYMENTS OF THE PERFORMERS SALARIES”So he didn’t just do it to foreign artistes, he also did it to his own. I was lucky to leave with the shirt on my back. Meanwhile, one of my dances came to me and said that another agent wanted to see me. I met up with the agent and he told me he could get us an immediate contract in Athens paying the full salary that I had been contracted with Abdel-Nabi, plus air tickets from Cairo to Athens and all the same conditions as my previous contract, but we would have to to double, playing The Acropolis Theatre and also a night club. I said I would talk it over with my artistes and let him know, but I didn’t hold out much hope after the treatment we had received in Cairo. I was keen to return to England. That evening I spoke to the kids and told them about the offer I had received. They spoke together and said that they wanted to go to Athens and do the theatre and the nite club show. “After all,” they said, “ it couldn’t be worse than what has happened to us here in Cairo.” Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!!!
“BEWARE OF GREEKS BEARING GIFTS”
ACT 1 SCENE 3
The day of our departure to Athens I received a call from President Nasser’s Office asking me about the telegram that I had sent him, but I explained that we were just leaving for Athens and it was impossible for me to continue with my complaint. It was all too late! But I wonder what would have become of it had I stayed.
Athens, what a beautiful city! The Acropole Theatre was quite stunning and our Agent Frank Raptis wined and dined us and presented us all with flowers. What a gentleman! When I asked him about seeing the nightclub I was told that it was being renovated for our show. Fair enough. So we got down to sorting out the rehearsals and the running of the show at the Acropolis Theatre, which was to be incorporated into the variety show as a whole entity called Eric Lindsay’s Folies de Londres. The nightclub, we were told, would be ready in about a week or two, which was okay by me.
The reviews for the theatre show were excellent. Mr. Papadoppo-something, the the owner of the Acropole Thatre, loved the whole thing and he was very happy. Understandably! That week I was paid half salary as we were only fulfilling half of our contract, but I still paid the artistes their full salary. By the end of the second week we finally did a show at the nightclub. On the third week, we were told that the club did not have a license so we could not work there anymore. So there I was stuck with a contract for three months and only being paid half salary, which didn’t even cover the artistes’ salaries. While I was losing all round, the artistes were happy and the theatre was very happy. I found out later that it was their usual practice to arrange for two venues and only come up with one so that they would get everything for half price. The Greek agent Frank Raptis was screwing me to the wall!
After about four weeks and a lot of meetings with the theatre management, I had got nowhere. Mr. Papadoppo-something told me that he was holding me to the contract. Meanwhile mysStage manager and three of my girls who had worked for me before at the Casino de Paris told me that Frank Raptis had told all the cast that should I decide to take the troupe back to England, they could stay and keep all the costumes, etc. In fact, he promised them the whole show and said that if I caused any trouble he would have me arrested as he had done before to Monsieur Charley of the famous Charley Ballet in Beirut. I went berserk at the thought of losing everything to these crooks after all the work and money that Ray and I had put in to make the show possible. No way was I going to let them take everything away from me. Remember, I am a Scorpio. I went to the British Embassy (again) and explained the situation. The Ambassador told me that I was working for gangsters. Both Mr. Papadoppo-something and Frank Raptis ran their own Mafia group and they had all the judges in their pocket, so I couldn’t win.
Long story short, I had a meeting with all the artistes and put my cards on the table and explained the situation. I could not afford to subsidize their salaries every week and that I was ‘THINKING’of returning with them all to England. I didn’t say when. I told them that all their return fares were deposited with the British Embassy and if they wanted to come back with me they could. So I was not running off and leaving them. My five who worked with me at the Casino de Paris were quite happy to return to England, but the rest had already agreed with Raptis that they would stay and do the show and also keep my costumes.
Two days later there was a national holiday and the theatre was closed, so it was our D-Day. We got to the theatre early and started packing the costumes, leaving just left a few. I told the theatre staff that we were having them cleaned. So, with the trunks all packed, we went straight to the station and I booked the tickets and saw the kids off to England. This was where I made the big blunder. I had booked to fly out to England that evening. I checked into the airport and went through customs. As I was getting ready to board the plane, the police came running after me and took me back to immigration, where I sat all night waiting for transport to take me back to Athens. While we were waiting, the police sergeant who was there told me they all knew Frank Raptis and Mr. Papadoppo-something, who were well-known major crooks in Athens. Anyway I wasn’t arrested, I was just detained. To me it was about the same thing except I was free to walk about and still had my passport. I spoke to the British Embassy and they got me a lawyer who came to court with me the following day. My case was set aside for two weeks for a judge to hear, during which time I could not leave Greece. My solicitor told me that Frank Raptis had got all the artistes that stayed to sign a paper written in Greek which said that I had stolen all their costumes. Of course the kids didn’t know what they signing, but they signed just the same.
I spoke with Ray and the Gold Brothers and told them exactly what had happened and explained that I was perfectly okay and there was no need for any of them to come out. So that done, I decided to see what I could do. Every day I used to sit and try to work out an escape route. I thought maybe it would be a good idea to get a false passport, but I didn’t know where to get one. I thought of escaping across the border to Turkey dressed as a nun as I thought maybe passport control wouldn’t ask a nun for her passport. I thought I could wear a burka and just have my eyes showing until I realised I would have to be travelling with someone. All these things were going through my head, but I stayed and waited. Oh, fuck it! I might as well sit it out!
I gave my solicitor all the papers and receipts that I had for the costumes that I’d had made in England and also the insurance policy that I had with Lloyds of London, but he said that they wouldn’t mean a thing as the judge was already in Frank Raptis’s pocket. So much for Justice! It was all corruption, corruption, corruption! On the day of the trial I went to court and the judge adjourned it for a further two months so that he could study all the facts, but he allowed me to leave the country on condition that I would RETURN! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! You didn’t see my arse for dust! Bye, bye Greece!
“WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND.” YEARS LATER, I HEARD THAT FRANK RAPTIS HAD BEEN MURDERED. WELL, IT COULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED TO A NICER CHAP! ! !
“HOME SWEET HOME”
ACT 1 SCENE 4
Back in England, thank God! What a hiccup all that was! I arrived back with my tail between my legs. The whole experience left me with a nasty taste in my mouth and a desire never to do another show again on foreign shores. I had learnt very fast that those people had no respect for a contract or the law. In fact they made their own laws and rules. Rosemary was the first to say to me, “I told you so,” and she was right.The Casino de Paris, however, was going great guns and I quickly got over my bad experience and got back into the swing of things. We brought over many artistes through the Lilette Voland Agency in Paris and they were normally booked for four weeks at a time.
There was the exotic Cha Landres (pronounced ‘shall undress’. Get the pun?), ‘The World’s Highest Paid Striptease Star,’ who arrived at the theatre wearing a floor length Ranch Mink Coat and then stripped on top of a grand piano and then played Clair de Lune with one hand whilst the other removed her G-string. She was a very classy act!
There was Dany Faret from the Crazy Horse Saloon in Paris who was stripped by a puppet whilst she was asleep in her boudoir. Her act was quite intriguing. Being French she was very temperamental and used to beat the ‘shit’ out of the puppeteer regularly. Maybe he liked it?
During this time a young man named Gerry Maycock came along to the Casino in reply to an ad that we had placed in the Stage newspaper for a stage director. He came to us directly from the Savoy Theatre, where he had been working as Chief Electrician for 4 years. Well, the Savoy’s loss was our gain. He became our mainstay for running the whole show backstage; he did the electrics, the organizing and running of the whole show and still had time for a game of chess whilst everything else was going on.
Ray and I relied on him completely. He was loyal and trustworthy. Gerry worked for us for over 10 years. How he ever managed to perform all the lighting cues that I gave him I will never know, but the trouble was that he was so good at doing them that I would take advantage of him and always expect more.
At dress rehearsal time things would be a little fraught and I would yell that he was late with a lighting cue or a cross fade and he would rightly yell back to me, “I’m not a bloody octopus!” But he did it. They were great times. He married Edwina (Sheena Gray), who came to the Casino de Paris in 1970. They finally decided to leave and start a family in 1974.
I’m very happy to say that Gerry and Edwina have come back into my life after 40 years, and it’s all through the magic of the Internet. They have been reminding me about many of the things that occurred at the Casino de Paris that I had completely forgotten. So it all makes to further the story.
The time was 1964 and it was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, so we did a complete Shakespearean revue called “Twelfth Night or As You Like It.” We brought Lady Chinchilla, who did the most sensational act in a cage, over from Paris. What she had to do with Shakespeare I have no idea. Chinchilla was Bridget Bardot’s screen double and caused a sensation at the press call, which we held at the Savoy Hotel, when she stated in her beautiful French accent, “I am ere to play zee Lady Macbeth in Zee Tvelfth Night or As You Like Eet.” We’d primed her well and she was word perfect. She hadn’t a clue what she was saying, but she was in every paper the next day. Unfortunately all her press cuttings are either stored in a garage somewhere or else lost in some attic.
Maybe a reader might come across some of Chinchilla’s publicity from when she was at the Casino de Paris? If so I would like to hear from you.
For the Shakespearean revue all the costumes were designed by Mark Canter who was the equivalent of Erte, the famous artist and designer. Later Mark designed all the costumes for Danny La Rue and also for Zee and Co. The show included Ming as Portia in the Merchant of Venice declaiming, ‘The quality of Mercy is not strained etc. etc. etc.,’ as she slowly dropped her robes and finished up in the altogether. There was Lesley Glory as Lady Macbeth quoting, ‘Out damned spot,’ as she rushed around the stage with her lighted candelabra and little else. Serena Shalimar as Ophelia was standing there holding Yorick’s skull which slowly started to float around her body and kept multiplying. Then the skulls stripped her. All this was done in black light with three assistant dressed completely in black with hoods. Serena, who looked so ethereal, could be a bit of a bitch at times,and she definitely disliked the girl in black who had the job of removing her clothes. The other two boys just dealt with Yorick’s multiplying skulls. So during this beautiful and picturesque number a disembodied voice would occasionally state, “You bitch, get off my fucking hand!” Ophelia would just stand there looking quite ethereal. A highlight in the show was the lovely and multi-talented Rhoda Rogers as Doll Taresheet dancing on a table in a tavern and slowly stripping. The show, I have to say myself, was great and looked wonderful with all those medieval costumes. It was so successful that we extended the run.
Chinchilla and her husband Don Adam became firm friends with Ray and myself and they frequently urged me to go with them to Turkey and make a show together similar to my last “Folly,” which they had seen when they were in Athens before my dramas. I must be a glutton for punishment and I said that I would look at the place first before I would agree to do a show with them. So Eric trots off to Turkey to see how the land lies. Chinchilla and Don were already there and she was performing at the top nightclub in Istanbul. I remember seeing a poster in Istanbul of Kalanag who was there with his Magic Show. Well, if it was good enough for Kalanag, surely it was good enough for me? But I thought I would check it nevertheless. Wherever we went Chinchilla drew crowds – only men, no women. Sometimes we had to fight through the crowds who were just standing there gaping at her with their mouths open or else playing with themselves! It was very disconcerting. After a few days we had been talking with the management of the nightclub about a big spectacular revue and we were having an early dinner at the Hilton Hotel, where we were staying, before Chinchilla did her show. I remarked to Don that there must be a festival on because I could hear fireworks. “Oh, no!” said Don. “It’s a revolution!” Well, the meal got left unfinished. I have never got out of a seat so fast. I got up and went to my room and packed. “Jesus Christ! That’s all I need, a fucking revolution!” At the airport, which was crowded, I was kept waiting all day before we were allowed to fly out. Would I never learn? Chinchilla didn’t work at the nightclub anymore and was kept there a week before she was allowed to leave the country. No wonder Don Adam said that they always had to collect their money every night. He knew the score. Thank God it was only Ray who knew why I went to Turkey. All I needed was Rosemary to find out. That would have been the last straw.
The Casino de Paris became a mecca for firsts. We were literally the first in everything. We had the first male stripper, who at the beginning just stood there and posed in various positions for an art class scene with the girls. That was for his first show. As he got bolder, he started strutting his stuff! From then on the boys became more adventurous and became experts at stripping. My advice to the boys before they went on was always, “Warm ‘it’ up first!” I must say, it did bring the ladies in.
We had the first nude knife throwing act on a revolving wheel, called Jacqueline and Ruger. Jacqueline left and was replaced by Cicelle. I’m not sure whether Jacqueline left of her own accord or was sliced up! One day Ruger unfortunately cut Cicelle. There was a lot of blood, but really it was not a serious cut. Gerry, our stage director, said, “Quick, get some brandy to disinfect the wound.” He gave a bottle of brandy to Cicelle with some cotton wool. She dabbed a tiny amount on the wound, swigged the rest of the bottle down, and was on for the next show. Now, that’s what you call a real touper!
We had the most beautiful first completely nude Adagio Act; The Perfumed Garden. There was Helmut Rittmeir, the ex-Mr. Universe, and Anne (the daughter of Tony Holland Mr. Muscles). The first nude contortionist act, Suzy Q., and believe you me she could contort in more ways than one! That’s what the audience wanted a new slant on things! You name it, we had all the firsts.
During the War, for my 13th birthday my father took me to the Aldwych Theatre in London to see the Great Lyle in his “Cavalcade of Mystery.” I was into magic at a very early age, but it was only the big illusions that interested me. Forget card tricks! Doing card tricks on stage when you are sitting in the gallery is like looking at a load of postage stamps. It was illusions, illusions, illusions for me! So I always tried to have a magician in the show at the Casino de Paris. Whenever a magician worked there, I would always dress the act with my strippers as showgirl assistants, and include as many illusions as possible. Basically, the magicians were only used to doing small magic like cards, silks and billiard balls and they couldn’t really move and use the stage. They would just stand by a table and do their magic.Well, that was how I met Robert Harbin, because Deveen, a magician who was working at the Casino de Paris at the time, brought him in to advise him during rehearsals on two of Harbin’s illusions that he was using. We soon became friends. Later Robert Harbin became my mentor in my new career as an illusionist.We also had the first nude male magician called Malcolm Vadell, who would appear completely nude at the end of his act from a substitution trunk where just before, his assistant Sue went into the trunk nude and came out dressed. All the magic fraternities were up in arms and in shock, but they couldn’t wait to see him and as I explained to them, “at least he proved that he had nothing up his sleeve!” While he was in the trunk, he had plenty of time to warm ‘it’ up and that’s Show Business!
TRIXI KENT AND THE END OF ACT 1
“Another Opening, Another Show”
In early 1963 a book was published called the Naked Heroine by John Izbicki It was the biography of a lady called LYDIA LOVA who in addition to being the principal nude dancer at the world famous Folies Bergere in Paris, was also, as Lydia de Korczac – heroine of the French Resistance, the most decorated woman in France having been awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Legion d’Honneur. What a wonderful chance if we could engage her to appear at the Casino de Paris!
I phoned through to the publisher and managed to get John Izbicki’s phone number. We rang him and explained who we were and that we would like to engage her for a short season at the CDP in London which he knew, and how the publicity would help with the sale of his book, etc. etc. He gave us her number in Paris and we spoke to her and arranged that we would fly to Paris immediately and meet with her to see whether we could arrange a contract for her to appear at the Casino de Paris. We wanted to get there fast before Paul Raymond had a chance to chat her up. We did have a friendly relationship with Paul but there was always a sense of competition between us. Pauls Revue Bar was on a far grander scale than the CDP. But artistically our shows were far superior.
We booked into the Scribe Hotel in Paris which was by the Opera and very central to everywhere. The following night Ray and I waited by the Stage Door for Lydia after her performance.
We hit it off with her immediately, we explained who we were and where the CDP was in London and that she would appear as a Special Guest Star and that we would like to engage her for a month. We knew that she was under contract to the Folies Bergere but maybe (fingers crossed) they would release her for a month and we explained to her that it would be great publicity for her, the book, and the Folies Bergere (like they needed it) but it sounded good. She said that she would speak with Michel Gyarmathy
She said that she would speak with Michel Gyarmathy who was the director and running the Folies, and see whether it was possible for him to release her. Lydia was so gentle and amusing and lovely. It was just impossible for us to imagine that with all the suffering and pain that she had lived through, she could emerge from it all like a beautiful butterfly. Lydia explained that she had never done a solo act but we soon calmed her and said that we could arrange the music and choreography and that with our lighting and presentation she would be a hit.
I knew that on the day she left an envelope with all her passport details that we had clinched the deal.
Lydia Lova was engaged to appear at the Casino de Paris for 3 weeks commencing July 8th. 1963.
By this time Rosemary Andree had fallen for Elliott Gold’s ‘extra charm’ and I must say that under his influence she blossomed. With her doll like beauty Elliott treated her like a Queen and he dressed her like one. She became his No.1 Lady, and was always on hand. So apart from her beings our Agent she was also Elliott’s ladylove. Which meant that we had the choice of every girl or act that went into her office. Lucky for us! Of course he still kept his hand in with a few of the old regulars, so there would always be the extra bit on the side who would meet up with him for the odd service. Let alone he was hung like a horse, he must have had the stamina of one!
Apart from Elliott’s sex life he still carried on with his gambling which was on the rise, we could always tell by the jewellery and furs that Rosemary would be wearing. I have to say that he took such good care of her. Meanwhile Ray and I continued with the shows, and they got better all the time.
Around this period a pretty young lady came to the Casino de Paris, it was either through Rosemary’s Office or she just came in off the street. Her name was Sadie Powell and she was from Wales and a real rough diamond. I asked her ‘whether she had had any dance training or whether she had stripped before?” and she said “No, but I’se can do it! You just show me and I’se do it.” Whatever I asked her she said she could do. She reminded me of myself when I was an actor and would be asked whether I could ride, fence or ski. I would say yes to everything; although I hadn’t a clue. Well, I liked her gall and enthusiasm and Ray thought that she looked good and moved well. So we engaged her and that was how Marissa Lang was born. Sadie loved her new name and soon gathered around her a number of admirers. This included Frank who was known for his association with the criminal fraternity. Still he behaved himself when he was in the Casino and very soon Sadie moved in with him. So she became Sadie the Gangster’s Moll or otherwise the glamorous Marissa Lang.
To motivate Sadie you had to give her a plot once she had a plot and a character she was away. If she was the heroine, villainess, vamp or just stripping she had to have a plot. We did this raunchy Stoker number which took place on a supposedly Cruise Ship, which whenever I asked her to explain it to me had me doubled up with laughter. In fact it became her party piece.
In Sadies words: “ Well, I’se a Lady of Quality and I’se on a cruise wiv me Millionaire Usband. Well ees gawn orf to our Luxury Cabin to kip, cause ees old and nackered. Me, I’se young and orny and I’se on the deck thinkin about nuffin in particular and listening to the dance band and suddenly I’se can hear the noise of the engines down below decks and it gets louder and louder and I’se getting ornier and ornier.”
Breath “Well I’se goes down below in search of the noise and in the hold I’se comes across these two stokers. Stoking!” Breath “Well, these two orny guys rip me cloths orf and we’se goes into this sexy dance and when I’se finished wiv em both. I’se goes back to me cabin. To kip and see whever me old man is still alive!”
By this time I usually finished up on the floor. Sadie certainly had a way of turning a phrase.
Lydia Lova arrived in London on the 3rd of July, 1963. We had booked a suite for her at the Mayfair Hotel and on the following day we held a press reception. Brian O’Hanlon, who was our PR at the time, pulled all the stops out. She was in every single paper in England and her story was syndicated throughout the world. Lydia was ecstatic about the results, and so were we. Rehearsals began on the 5th of July and went really smoothly. Up until her opening day and between rehearsals she was being interviewed all the time by various member of the press.
Her story was so intriguing. This young girl had been in the French Resistance during the War and had been captured and sent to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. She had finished up in the experimental wing of the camp, where they tried out all manners of vile tortures. She was injected in November 1944 by Dr.Hans Gerhart, one of the camp’s butcher doctors. When she asked what it was for, she was told not to worry, and that she would find out in about 20 to 25 years. This was the inhuman way the Germans treated their prisoners. The miracle was how, through all that she had endured, there emerged this glamorous and charming lady who wowed the Press with her Parisian style and elegance.
Lydia’s act was a smash hit. We staged it so that she appeared onstage between the covers of her book, “The Naked Heroine.” She sang, danced and finally stripped with such elegance that even the most prudish would have found her performance enchanting.
The three weeks just flew by, but during that time we had become firm friends and she left with the promise that whenever she wanted to come to London she would come and stay with Ray and myself at Marston Close. The house was quite large and she would be a welcome visitor.
One Sunday later that year when she was staying with us, Lydia and I were lounging around the house. Ray had gone off in the car with his mother to see her mother and sisters so that she could boast to them as to how well her son was doing.
We had a manservant at the time called Carl Coffee who was a wonderful cook and a very amiable person. I couldn’t understand why he was not around pottering in the kitchen. I said to Lydia, ‘I suppose he’s been out on the tiles and stayed with friends. He’ll most probably be back soon.’ So I thought nothing more about it and we had our breakfast. A little later the doorbell went and there on the steps were two uniformed policemen. The first thing I thought was that there must have been an accident.
‘Does Mr. Carl Coffee live here?” asked one of the officers. ‘Well, yes,” I asked. ‘Why?’ ‘I’m sorry to inform you that he is dead,’ he replied. ‘As you were the last person to see him alive, you must come and identify him.’ I nearly shat myself.
Apparently Carl was in a cinema in Edgeware Road for the last performance. When they played ‘God Save the Queen’ and the audience stood up, Carl was the only one sitting! I began to think quickly. I had never seen a dead person. I really had no desire to see a corpse. I thought that maybe I could palm the task off on Ray when he got back. I told the policeman that I had no transport, but he informed me they could take me in the police car. I didn’t like the idea of that. It was bad enough that the neighbours knew that Ray and I owned a strip club. God alone knows what they would think if they saw me being dragged off in a police car. After I explained that I couldn’t leave the house until later that afternoon the policemen agreed to come back at 3p.m. I breathed a sigh of relief and shut the door.
I turned to see Lydia, who had heard the conversation, standing there ashen and shaking. I said to her, ’Why are you shaking? You must have seen loads of dead people in Ravensbruck.’ When I added, ‘ As a matter of fact, you know what Carl looked like, you can go and identify him!’ She nearly fainted. I was trying to palm it off onto anyone. To cut a long story short, it was decided that I would go, if Ray hadn’t returned in time. Of course, he didn’t, but I made Lydia promise that she would come with me and stay outside whilst I was in the mortuary.
The police car came back right at 3p.m. When Lydia and I got into the car, a few of the neighbours were hanging out their windows. Oh the shame! Lydia and I sat in the car not uttering a word. It was all a bit of a haze thanks to the half a bottle of whisky we had got through while we were waiting. All I remember of the mortuary was that it was freezing cold. There on a slab was poor Carl. My eyes really focused on the label that was hanging from his toe. After I had identified Carl’s body, the police thanked me and buggered off, leaving Lydia and I to find our own way back to Swiss Cottage. So much for helping the police out!
Ray and I would see Lydia whenever we were in Paris which was very frequently and she also spent Xmas and New Year with us in London in 1964.
A favourite restaurant of ours in Paris was Au Mouton de Panurge, which was an old monastery, were the waiters dressed as monks. One of their specialties was a garter that they fitted on all the ladies.
It was all great fun and the food was excellent.
The last note I received from Lydia was at Xmas in 1965.
At the conclusion of the “The Naked Heroine,” John Izbicki wrote, “The effects of the injection which she was given in Ravensbruck have yet to make themselves felt. What they will be, no one can guess. Doctors have examined Lydia thoroughly but they have been unable to make any conclusive diagnosis. But until then, Lydia Lova will go on dancing and praying and living with her memories-the memories of a Naked Heroine.”
Lydia Lova died on the 3rd of February, 1966, 22 years after being injected.
We lost a wonderful friend, and a beautiful spirit, but the memories will always stay with me.
“A TIME FOR TEARS”
In 1964 Danny La Rue opened his own club in Hanover Square which became a legend in night club history. This left a void at Winston’s where Danny had been performing for years. Bruce Brace, who was the owner of Winston’s, approached us and asked whether we would put on a glamour revue at his night club as Danny was no longer there.
I asked Danny what he thought and whether he would mind if we did a show for Bruce, and he said that it was fine. He forgot to mention that most of his weekly cheques from Winston’s bounced! So his salary was always in arrears. If only Danny would have told us the truth!
The show we put on was, if I say it myself, beautiful, glamorous, funny and with plenty of nudity. In fact perfect for a night club audience.
As you can see we had a multi talented cast and the show was a big success. After three weeks, however, the shit hit the fan! Our cheques for the production and costumes, etc. bounced. I told Bruce that he had a week to sort out our finances; otherwise we were pulling the show, which we did as no money was forthcoming. Fortunately I had insisted on making a contract with Bruce. He wasn’t too happy about signing at the time, but I told him ‘no contract, no show!” We took him to court and won the case with damages, which he was allowed to pay in weekly instalments as he was pleading poverty, so the payments would go on forever. The first week he paid, then nothing, so we took him back to court again and went through the same procedure. This went on for months and months. He’d pay the first week then nothing. So it was back to court again and again until finally I think it was Mr. Billy Howard who came to see me at the Casino De Paris. He told me that he was taking over Winston’s Club and he wanted to settle the whole amount and not have any more litigation. The man was a gentleman.
So it just goes to show that there was no need for me to go to Egypt or Greece to get ‘screwed’, I could stay in England and get ‘screwed’ here instead!! But at least here we had English law on our side. In the long run we finished no better off financially with all the wasted time and all the extra expenses, and with the money coming back in such small dribs and drabs. We just had to write it all off to experience, but we did learn that we could mount a very good night club show.
In 1964, Hello Dolly opened on Broadway and we managed to get a copy of the cast album as soon as it was released. Listening to all the wonderful songs and music, I couldn’t wait to do a show at the Casino de Paris using some of the music and songs. David Merrick, the American producer of the show was a regular visitor to our club and would always pop in for the afternoon show whenever he was in London. I knew that his visits to London were always on business, and seeing our show was his form of relaxation in between his meetings. Well, we mounted a new show and were using music from Dolly for the opening of our show and also for a big finale. This was way before it opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, with Mary Martin. Really it was not quite legal. Ahh-Hmmm! In fact it was completely illegal, but it was worth taking the risk as the music was so good.
One afternoon my secretary told me that David Merrick was in, so I nervously waited for him to come out at the end of the show. He said to me, “You know you’re being very naughty using ‘Hello Dolly.’ It hasn’t even opened in London yet!” I took a deep breath and said, “I know, but you must admit that we do it beautifully.” He replied, “You’re right, you do!” With that, he left the Club and the show continued its run without any problems from Mr. Merrick. He must have really liked what we did because I was told that on Broadway he was a tyrant and sued everyone! He was quoted as saying, “It’s not enough for me to win. My enemies must lose.” So it was wonderful that we managed to get off scot free and he still kept on coming back to see our shows.
Ray and I were still thinking of opening a night club as I had ‘ants in my pants’ and was always wanting to do something else, and seeing the exceptional way Danny La Rue’s club was going we went back to our original idea of a female impersonator fronting a night club. A very good friend of ours at the time was Sonne Teal whom we had known for many years since before opening the Casino de Paris. He was one of the stars at the Casino de Paris Theatre in Paris (coincidence of names – they were there first!). He also worked at the Carrousel Club in the Rue du Colisee in Paris, where he was starring with Coccinelle and Bambi, both very famous French female impersonators. Sonne had the voice of an angel and the looks of Marilyn Monroe.
(Listen to Sonne Teal’s wonderful voice in this video tribute.)
He could belt out numbers like Ethel Merman or be soft and melodious like Lena Horne. His sense of comedy was great and he already had a great following in London from when he worked at the Astor Club in Berkeley Square, which was not one of the easiest Clubs to play, but he played there time and time again and they loved him. Apart from being a brilliant artist, he also had a good business brain and his feet were firmly on the ground. So we put a proposition to him whereby he would have a third share in the club, to be called “Sonne Teal’s”, and we would finance the whole thing. He eagerly agreed and a deal was clinched. This meant that we were out looking for premises again!
By chance in late ‘65 a club came on the market that was called Annie’s Room (the famous Jazz singer Annie Ross ran the place) and we took Sonne along to look at it. He loved it. The premises, which were quite large, were in the basement of a building in Russell St. in Covent Garden, practically opposite the stage door of the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane and three or four doors away from the Fortune Theatre. Remember, this was 1965 and Covent Garden was not as it is today – Swinging! The Covent Garden Market was still running and when it closed at night, there really wasn’t any real business in the area. But we thought that Sonne would be a big enough pull to bring the carriage trade along, because parking there was easy.
Décor wise, the place was a dump and had to be gutted because there was nothing there that was worth keeping. We exchanged contracts with the owners and we had a lease for 15 years. The building would take at least three or four months to rebuild and redecorate, so Sonne asked us whether he could take up a contract to star in the Carrousel Show with four other artistes in Tokyo, Japan. It was just for six weeks, so we said okay and he went off to Paris to rehearse for a week and then fly off to Japan. There were a few weeks before the builders started work, so Ray and I sorted out the way the Club would look.
Of course I got completely carried away with the design and insisted that we put a glass dance floor in the centre of the club with colour changing lights underneath. This would also be used as the cabaret floor so it would serve two purposes and also add extra glamour to the show which was an important thing. “Sonne Teal’s” was going to look great!
As building started in Covent Garden, we heard the tragic news of Lydia Lova’s death, which saddened us greatly. On the 3rd of March we received a postcard from Sonne telling us that the show in Tokyo was a big success and that he would be back in London in two weeks. The following day on the B.B.C. we heard that a BOAC passenger jet had crashed into Mount Fuji 25 minutes after taking off from Tokyo, killing all 124 people on board. We were shocked at the tragedy but thought, “Thank God Sonne wasn’t on board.” But we had forgotten that the postcard took about two weeks to be delivered. Two days later Bruce Cartwright, who was Sonne’s partner, rang us from Paris to say that Sonne had been on the plane. Ray and I were devastated. In just two months we had lost first Lydia and now Sonne. Those beautiful young and lovely people were gone forever! It was just too much to comprehend.
When later we had time to reflect, it dawned on us, that there we were in the middle of building a night club for a star who was no longer with us. We were really in the shit!
This is my tribute to Sonne Teal a beautiful and multi talented spirit.
We couldn’t stop the building, it had gone too far. Too much money was already involved. We were truly up the creek without a paddle! Who could possibly take Sonne’s place? There were the French female Impersonators, but none of them spoke English well enough to banter with an audience. There was an American drag act called Ricky Renee who had worked at Al Burnet’s Stork Club in Swallow Street for quite a while a few years before and whom Sonne had talked about favourably as they had worked together at the 82 Club in New York. Maybe he would be interested?
I rang Bruce Cartwright in Paris, who was still in a state of shock and explained to him our situation, which he already knew about and sympathized. I asked him whether he knew where Ricky Renee was, whether he was still in Europe and if he had a phone number for him. He had! Ricky was working in a night club in Berlin at the time. Apparently he had been there for a number of years. It seemed that he had made Berlin his home. So we rang him and explained our situation, telling him the full story of poor Sonne. Was he interested in coming back to London and fronting a night club with his name as Ricky Renee’s?
Everything was under the same conditions as we had arranged with Sonne. Ray and I flew to Berlin to see Ricky and fixed the deal with him. He came to England that month and stayed with us in Marston Close whilst we finished building the club and getting a cast together for the show. Ricky had worked with Teddy Green when he was at the Stork Club and he was happy working with him again, so he was engaged. We also engaged Maria Charles, Melvyn Hayes and Anne Hamilton, all West End performers, plus a few other dancers and singers. We had a very strong supporting cast for Ricky.
All the costumes were designed and made by Dougie Darnell, who made exclusively for Shirley Bassey. So you see we had the best of everything. There was no expense spared. When the club was finished it looked beautiful, the furnishing, the exotic glass dance floor and the wonderful colour of the room. It was just the way I imagined a night club should look.
The only thing missing were the customers! Where were they? We had hoped for a phenomenal success, but it just wasn’t to be. Whoever came to the club adored the show and came back many times. The show was great and Ricky Renee was fantastic in his own way, although he wasn’t a Sonne Teal, but there just weren’t enough customers.
The headaches we had were every day. Years later even Elton John came unstuck with his restaurant “Yellow Brick Road,” which was also in Covent Garden. If only it was now, you would have had to book a table weeks in advance for both “Ricky Renee’s” and “Yellow Brick Road”. Every week we had to put extra money in just to cover expenses. Salary wise we never took a penny from the club, but we lost plenty and I must say it left a bitter taste in our mouths. Well, after about six months we admitted that we had made a big mistake and decided to call it a day. We had to close Ricky Renee’s. The place was a flop! We licked our wounds, counted our losses, which where enormous, and went back home to Marston Close and the Casino De Paris, which, thank God, was still doing good business.
Ricky Renee went on to further success and later appeared in the film “Cabaret” and is still working, I believe, back in Berlin.
To see what Ricky Renee’s club looked like, click on the link below to watch “Ricky Renne, Quick Change Artist, a British Pathe Pictorial which was filmed at the club. By the time it was released in cinemas in late 1967 the club had already closed.
“The Girl Who Saved The Show”
In mid 1968 Rosemary Andree came along to an evening show at the Casino de Paris with a handsome young Anglo-Chinese guy called Philip Seow whose claim to fame was that at 27 he happened to be the youngest hotelier ever in Singapore. We had drinks with him at the bar and then he and Rosemary watched the show. Ray and I went out for dinner that evening and thought nothing more about it until a week later when Rosemary rang and wanted to have a meeting with Elliot, Ray and myself. Of course she had a nightly meeting with Elliott, but that was neither here or there. The happy news she had to impart was that Philip Seow wanted us to put a small show together of 6 artistes for the newly opened Malaysia Hotel. She made it all sound so lovely and easy. The contract was for 6 months, beginning January 1969 with two months at the Hotel Malaysia in Singapore. This would be followed by one month at the Merlin Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, during which time we (“me!”) would rehearse a new show to open again at the Hotel Malaysia in Singapore for two months, followed by a final month at the Intercontinental Hotel in Jakarta.
This is where he held the prodigious role of Managing Director of the newly opened Hotel Malaysia in Singapore, which was a luxury 5 star hotel.
We had drinks with him at the bar and then he and Rosemary watched the show. Ray and I went out for dinner that evening and thought nothing more about it until a week later when Rosemary rang and wanted to have a meeting with Elliot, Ray and myself. Of course she had a nightly meeting with Elliott, but that was neither here or there. The happy news she had to impart was that Philip Seow wanted us to put a small show together of 6 artistes for the newly opened Malaysia Hotel. She made it all sound so lovely and easy. The contract was for 6 months, beginning January 1969 with two months at the Hotel Malaysia in Singapore. This would be followed by one month at the Merlin Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, during which time we (“me!”) would rehearse a new show to open again at the Hotel Malaysia in Singapore for two months, followed by a final month at the Intercontinental Hotel in Jakarta.
Didn’t she just make it all sound so lovely? And I just knew Eric was going to get lumbered again, but this time it would not be my doing! I said “No!” straight away and reminded them of what I went through during my time in Cairo and Athens and Istanbul – oops, I hadn’t told them about the revolution in Istanbul! Rosemary, however, said it wasn’t going to be like that. It was all going to be lovely. In fact it was going to be worse!
Anyway, I didn’t want to go, and neither did anyone else, but we all wanted the contract. So we put it to a vote and guess who lost? Fuck it! I was on the trot again! I forgot to mention that during the six months contract Eric would travel from England to Singapore three times to open the shows and rehearse in Kuala Lumpur. Lucky me! Then during my time in England, I would be rehearsing the new show for the Casino de Paris.
You may well ask what did I did with my spare time? I scrubbed the stage and cleaned the loos! ! ! I refused to do stairs!
In those days air travel was not quite as fast as it is today. A plane trip from London to Singapore would take about three or four stop-overs to refuel, so altogether the flight would take about 24-26 hours. What it did to one’s body clock was nobody’s business! By the end of the six months I didn’t know whether I was on my ‘arse or my elbow’! Did something happen in Singapore or was it London? Did Diana Dors give birth to a son, or did I dream it? Really, I hadn’t a clue! When I arrived in Singapore I would go straight to bed only to be woken an hour or two later by Philip Seow, who had become my best friend, (he had arranged with the front desk that they notify him as soon as I arrived) demanding that I join him in the “London Underground,” the disco that was in the basement of the Hotel Malaysia as there was always something important he had to tell me. Always there was some reason or other that I just couldn’t get out of. So I’d go down there only to be confronted by three large Canadian Clubs and ginger ale, plus three shots, all lined up for me. Whenever I was there, I was his drinking partner. So by the third “Yum Sing” I was wide awake again and raring to go. So much for jet lag!
But I digress. Rosemary told me that striptease was not allowed in Singapore, so I couldn’t use strippers. Then why did she bring Philip to see our show? Fortunately for us, we couldn’t get any at the time anyway, so that was one problem solved. She also told me that nudity was not allowed and that the girls had to wear pasties over their nipples as the Singaporean government were very strict about nudity, and of course I believed her!
She managed to find for us five girls, four showgirls and one singer, all of whom had worked at the Casino du Liban in Beirut, the no.1 night club in the world. The girls, who apart from being the most amazing looking creatures, were each in their own way stunning with bodies to die for.
She also found a young lady who had been a dancer in a circus and was quite as beautiful as the rest.
I have to point out that showgirls are a different breed from strippers. They do not show their nipples. They are like thoroughbred horses, majestic in stature, beautiful and regal, a breed unto themselves. They wear pasties. You may well ask what is the difference between a small bit of sequined plaster and raw flesh. To them it was everything and they would not dream of working without their pasties. It was a question of take it or leave it. So I took it because Rosemary told me that was the way they liked it in Singapore.
The show was great. I called them The Dolly’s-a-Go-Go. I say it myself, it was sparkling, glamorous and fast moving. It ran for just forty minutes. Once it started, it ran like a fast moving express train. I was very happy with it.
So I flew out to Singapore one week before the girls to set everything up. The new show at the Casino de Paris had just been running for two weeks, so there was no problem there. In Singapore there was a small press conference when I got to the hotel. Most of the press were charming and respectful except for one snotty bitch who kept pressing that there only 6 people on stage, “So little! Oh! It’s all so little!” So I told her I was going to use mirrors and that would double them up. That shut her up.
Philip was charm itself, We had dinner together that night in the exotic Golden Lotus Room, a wonderful Chinese room with a large stage where the girls would be doing the dinner show. Later, he took me up to the Supper Club, where they would be performing the night club show.
When we arrived in the night club, he proudly announced he had a surprise for me. He had an artist playing there, ‘A FRENCH STRIPPER!’ He said it with such pride. “YOU SEE IT’S JUST LIKE THE CASINO DE PARIS!” Yeah! Yeah! Ohhhh! Yeah! A stripper! I couldn’t fucking believe it! Rosemary had told me that there were no strippers allowed to work in Singapore. Was I going potty or was she? What was I going to do? Meanwhile, the Parisian stripper had removed everything. She was starkers! ! ! Running around the stage flashing everything to everyone! Then the dirty bitch started working on the chair which she had just used to sit on. Now the legs of the chair came into play and she had one favourite one that went into every orifice that she had on show. The dirty cow! I can’t say that she got a standing ovation at the end of her act, except for some of the males in the audience. The rest were in total shock. As for me, I was slowly sliding down to the floor with embarrassment, and realizing that after what I had just seen on stage that I was completely screwed! What the fuck could I do? She made my girls look like they were the nuns from the Sound of Music. My show was classy and erotic and beautifully staged. The French harlot looked like she’d just come off the street in Place Pigalle. I found out later that she would do extra quickie matinees in the privacy of her room to supplement her income.
When we arrived in the night club, he proudly announced he had a surprise for me. He had an artist playing there, ‘A FRENCH STRIPPER!’ He said it with such pride. “YOU SEE IT’S JUST LIKE THE CASINO DE PARIS!” Yeah! Yeah! Ohhhh! Yeah! A stripper! I couldn’t fucking believe it! Rosemary had told me that there were no strippers allowed to work in Singapore. Was I going potty or was she? What was I going to do? Meanwhile, the Parisian stripper had removed everything. She was starkers! ! ! Running around the stage flashing everything to everyone! Then the dirty bitch started working on the chair which she had just used to sit on. Now the legs of the chair came into play and she had one favorite one that went into every orifice that she had on show. The dirty cow! I can’t say that she got a standing ovation at the end of her act, except for some of the males in the audience. The rest were in total shock. As for me, I was slowly sliding down to the floor with embarrassment, and realizing that after what I had just seen on stage that I was completely screwed! What the fuck could I do? She made my girls look like they were the nuns from the Sound of Music. My show was classy and erotic and beautifully staged. The French harlot looked like she’d just come off the street in Place Pigalle. I found out later that she would do extra quickie matinees in the privacy of her room to supplement her income.I couldn’t sleep! I was in panic! What could I possibly do? I lay all night asking myself how I could compete with that French slut and not let Philip down. The next morning at 8a.m. I faced Philip Seow in his office. He already knew something was wrong by my reaction to the stripper the night before. I had decided that I had to come clean with him. I told him exactly what Rosemary had told me – no full nudity, no striptease, the girls must wear pasties, etc. etc. and that none of the girls that I had engaged for my show would strip as they were showgirls, not strippers. I told him what I had done with the show and that I knew he would be pleased with it. I told him that I was not worried about the show. BUT what was I going to do about a stripper? What was I going to do with such nudity as I had seen in his night club?
I took a deep breath and said that I thought it would be better if I went back to England and that we should call it a day and forget about the show. He then took an even deeper breath and told me that on no account would I be allowed to leave Singapore. He said that he had put his job on the line by insisting in bringing our show from England and that if everything went sour both he and I would finish up in Singapore Bay. The hotel had already taken a big risk by making him the youngest Managing Director ever and many people were just waiting for him to screw up. That was just not going to happen if he could help it. As far as he was concerned, I was responsible for this crisis and I had to sort it out, otherwise it was cement boots for both of us.
Shit! That was another fine mess I’d gotten myself into. I wasn’t too happy at the thought of concrete anklets in a dirty watery grave in Singapore bay. I told him that I had an idea, but it was imperative that I brought out an extra artist, a stripper from England. If he would pay for the extra artist, I would sort it out in England and I was sure he would be happy. I just couldn’t let him down. I knew it just couldn’t be any run of the mill stripper. This one had to be special to counteract the filth that was currently on show in the Supper Club. The Casino de Paris did not deal in filth, my girl needed to be really different, clean and special.
God must have been watching over me because by chance in the new show that I had just opened at the Casino de Paris in London there was a young lady called Diane Darling. She appeared as Queen Marie Antoinette and slowly did a very long and elegant strip to the minuet, looking every bit a royal queen. Then to top it all she finished up with tassels on her boobs and also on each cheek of her bum. This was something I knew that had never been seen in Singapore or the Orient. She could rotate them either way, together or one at a time, depending on what the audience asked for. In fact, she could do anything with those tassels. She could rotate them so fast that you would think she would take off! Diane could be my savior if , and this was the main and only problem, she was prepared to come to Singapore at a moment’s notice for six months. “Oh please let it happen!” I prayed.
Diane Shows A Leg
I rang Rosemary from my room immediately. It must have been at about 3a.m. in England, which didn’t please her too much, but to hell with that! It was a matter of life or me finishing up at the bottom of Singapore Bay! I told her the situation that I was in and how much I needed Diane. “Promise her anything, just get her on that plane,” I told her. “I can’t take no for an answer and no other girl will do. Get her!”
The miracle happened, Rosemary talked Diane into coming immediately to Singapore. She had that way with her, she could get whatever she wanted. God was with me! The days before the girls arrival, Philip showed me around Singapore. We went to some wonderful night markets and he also showed me Bugis Street, commonly called Boogie Street, which was still going in those days and was infamous for all sorts of things. A must see on the tourist destination agenda.
The day the girls arrived was a happy occasion for me. I had already arranged dressing rooms and wardrobe space for the them and the costumes. Each girl had her own dresser, everything went along smoothly apart from Diane having a few problems with some of the girls, who behaved as though they were superior to her because she was a stripper. The main instigator was the singer, Juliet, who seemed to stir up a few of the girls, until they’d sussed her out. Things sorted themselves out fairly quickly when I pointed out to them that if it wasn’t for Diane none of them would be in work . When the girls got to know Diane they loved her.
The show opened and Diane, who came on in the star spot, stopped the show. She would get a standing ovation every night, the audience had never seen anything like it, and they loved the humour that she put into her act. They just couldn’t get enough of the Tassel Lady. Meanwhile, the ‘Mean French Lady,’ who appeared only once on the first night that we opened in the Super Room Night Club, was terminated immediately and understandably! So much for ‘Viva la France’! I believe she went back to Place Pigalle to ply her trade!
Philip Seow loved the show and appreciated what I had done to counteract the “Parisienne Harlot” and bring some class to the fabulous Malaysia Hotel. After four days of previews there was a Gala Dinner in the Golden Lotus Room for “The Dolly’s Show,” which was an enormous success. I was complemented on the show by Lee Kuan Yew, who I had no idea was the the Prime Minister of Singapore, where he was known as ‘The Father of Singapore.’ He told me how much he had enjoyed it. It was he who shaped Singapore into the wonderful country that it is today and cleaned up Bugis Street. I also got to know, and was invited frequently to dine with, Khoo Teck Puat, the owner of the Goodwood Group of companies, who owned The Malaysia Hotel and happened to be one of the richest men in Singapore. I was mixing with, as they would say back home, the rich and powerful of Singapore.
Truthfully, the time I spent in Singapore had to be one of the happiest times of my life, even with all the jet lag. It was hard work, but I and the girls, especially Diane Darling, Brenda Saunders and Faye Duncanson had a wonderful time.
Whilst we were at the Malaysia Hotel, Eartha Kitt did a two day guest appearance and ‘Dolly’s-a-go-go’ had the pleasure of working with her.
In the beginning of March, Philip informed me that Khoo Teck Puat had bought a 50% share of Aeroflot, the Russian Airline, as they wanted to start an Oriental route, and that from now on I would be flying with them backwards and forwards between England and Singapore via Moscow! What a happy thought that was, but I couldn’t get out of it.
I was on the first flight out from Singapore to Moscow. There were eight passengers on board. We all sat in the front cabin and froze our balls off. I’m amazed the crew could get the plane off the ground! The cabin crew did not know how to work anything. Foodwise everything was frozen, they didn’t know how to turn on the heaters. So I just vodka’d all the way to Moscow, where I had to wait six hours for a plane to London. It was all very enlightening and the thought of doing return trips just made me want to throw up! I flew with Aeroflot four times and it was like being in “Ninotchka.” The whole place was so backward. The people at the airport were so rough and rude. All the secret police stood around looking obviously like secret police in their leather trench coats. Russia was definitely not for me!
Still, I loved Singapore and it was worth putting up with backward Russia just to be able to get to Singapore. Don’t even ask about Tashkent! It was freezing! I’ve never seen so many Russian mamushkas in my life, and all with their hands out.
At last the time came for us to go to Kuala Lumpur. The Merlin Hotel was the top hotel there at the time. The staff we found were so different from those in Singapore. In Singapore they were all smiles, but here they all looked as miserable as sin. Maybe it was just their nature; the manager, who was Dutch, and his Malaysian wife were charm itself. It was just the rest of the other miserable sods. Could it have been because I and the girls were given the best rooms in the hotel? That was because I had told the manager that all my girls were very respectable, like the nuns from The Sound of Music! Of course, that image was ruined when the girls discovered that the hotel pharmacy sold the birth pill and they bought out his whole stock! ! !
So we rehearsed the new show and went back four weeks later to Singapore with “Viva les Dolly’s.” It was another blinding success, and it was all thanks to Diane bless her and her four tassels, which also saved me from a watery grave!
The Final Chapter
When it’s time to call it a day and for reflection
In the 70s, things were swinging even more so than in the 60s. Ray and I were living at that time in Sussex Heights in Brighton, on the 17th floor facing the sea. The only real view we had was of the sea and the layout of the town. Brighton at that time was a little like Peyton Place without the sex. At a cocktail party one day a local who I was making idle chat with, told me that her husband had told her that “two gangsters had just moved into Sussex Heights.” We had just moved in at that time. Thinking quickly, I told her, “You’re speaking to one of them!” She went a whiter shade of pale and rushed off to the loo. So it just goes to show the types that lived in Brighton at that time – small-minded, petty and boring. Brighton was definitely not the way it is today, cosmopolitan and swinging. We would commute daily on the ‘Brighton Belle’ to London. The journey only took 60 minutes., during which time you could relax, read the papers and even have breakfast served by uniformed waiters. The ‘Brighton Belle’ was something from a time gone by. It was elegant and grand. You would spend a charming hour with the likes of Laurence Olivier, Dame Flora Robson and even Dora Bryan if she would run to paying the supplement. It was like a social club where you could meet fellow passengers on a daily basis. When we were not rehearsing, Ray and I would go up to London on alternate days, and we used to use the same season ticket, which was not really the right thing to do, but after all that’s show business, and we were in show business and we were gypsies! ! !
Unfortunately the ‘Brighton Belle’ was withdrawn from service on the 30th of April 1972 and the carriages were sold and used for the Venice Simplon Orient Express. It was the end of an era. So we were left to the ordinary carriages which left a lot to be desired and a train service that was abysmal. If there was a leaf on the line you could expect a delay of 2-3 hours and that is without a corridor you had to sit on the train busting! So sooner or later it was time for us to move. Where as if it had been the Brighton Belle you could sit there order another drink and get pissed! Which was a wonderful way to pass the time. When we arrived at Brighton Central after a delay, it would be wonderful to watch all the passenger staggering along the platform in a haze of alcohol. So we bought a flat in Barons Keep, West Kensington, London W.14 and used Sussex Heights foe weekends.
We were finding that the shows could sustain a 6 months run instead of the usual three months. Which meant only two shows a year. This made life a hell of a lot easier. Also it helped us with all the work that Ray and I put into the shows. We could spend far more money on the costumes which was still most important, find excellent music and lighting. It also gave us far more time to spend abroad either in France or the U.S. In both country’s we would see every striptease show that was going. In the States it was called Burlesque.
On the 10th of January 1972 we opened a new Show called “The New Body Revue” this was even nudier and naughtier than before and it was very popular with our members and their guests and it was going to run for six months. Yaaa Hooo!
With a lot more time on my hands I got the itch again to try a new venture. In the past when Ray and I mentioned that we owned the Casino de Paris to strangers, and explained that it was a striptease theatre, sometimes a knowing look would come over their faces and some people who had never even seen our shows would misconstrue, understandably, how the place was run and how professional the whole thing was. All they knew of striptease was what they might have read in the gutter press. So, Eric decides that he would like to be a legitimate producer and produce a show in a real theatre. Become a ‘proper’ impresario. What was I thinking? Disaster! ! ! Oh what a disaster!
When I was an actor I did a season for nearly a year in weekly rep. at a theatre in Southport, Lancashire. The director and producer was a brilliant man called Donald Bodley who ran Southport Rep. with his wife Elizabeth. When I finished working there we lost contact with each other. Donald was never too enamored with the Theatre in the West End of London. He thought it was all too grand and luvvie, duckie! He had taken over the running of the Theatre Royal in York and turned it from a run of the mill theatre into one of the leading repertory theatres in England. I read in the Stage Newspaper that he was retiring. After several meetings, we agreed to go into business together 50/50, with me supplying all the money and he his expertise in the Theatre as a director. Maybe it was just that we had a clash of temperaments, but it just didn’t work out. The company folded after the very first production, which was Stringers Last Stand, a kitchen sink drama by Stan Barstow. It starred Wilfred Pickles and Mavis Bunnage and was brilliantly directed by Donald.
Ugh! So much for me trying to be legit! It was another loss with more money thrown out of the window. Well, back to the Casino de Paris and the Striptease business. How Ray ever put up with all these bleeps that I made, I have no idea! Still, there had been Singapore, and that was a success. All this time I was still seeing Robert Harbin and talking about magic. It was he who proposed me for membership of the Magic Circle. More magic all the time, it just intrigued me, and all the time Robert was becoming my mentor. On the 2nd of July 1973 we opened a new production of the “Body Revue.” It was another smash success! As always, I tried to have a little magic number in the Show. This time I made the magic in the form of “Black Art” with things floating about and the girl losing her clothes.
In 1973 a popular restaurant was April and Desmond’s, situated in Cornwall Gardens, just off Knightsbridge. It was run by April Ashley and Desmond Morgan, and it was a fun, fun place. Ray and I had known April for many years. We met on the beach at Cannes when she was George Jameson. He was lying in just a pair of swim trunks, and I said to the owner of the Plage, “I didn’t know you allowed topless bathing?” I had mistakenly taken him for a girl, he was that beautiful. We soon became friends. We gave him a lift from Cannes to Paris and I introduced him to Sonne Teal. That’s how April started work at the Carrousel, which she mentions in the book of her metamorphosis. Sometimes at April’s, she would have cabaret and it was there that I first saw Hinge and Bracket when they were just starting their act. They impressed me so much that I took Danny Le Rue along to see them. He said, “The act will never work. Who wants to hear Gilbert and Sullivan?” They soon proved him wrong. So no one really knows what will go and what won’t.
On the 2nd of July we opened a further edition of the “The Body Revue.” We churned them out non-stop! In October I had a call from L.A. It was Taylor Pero, a friend of ours who was now working as Personal Assistant to none other than Lana Turner. They were coming to England to make a film called “Persecution.” He wanted me to meet them on the 24th of October at the Café Royal in Regent Street, where there would be a press call for the forthcoming film, and where she would be holding court. They were arriving in London on the 22nd and staying at the Dorchester Hotel, but she would be jet lagged and tired and incommunicado for two days, during which he had to stay with her. Ray and I duly went along to the Café Royal at the allotted time of 6 o’clock. The room was crowded with pressmen and there was such a buzz of excitement because we were all going to meet Miss Lana Turner. We knew Don Chaffey, the director of the film, from our Heaven and Hell days, and he was just as excited as we all were. Well, 6:30 came and then 7pm with no sign of Lana. By this time some of the Press were beginning to leave as they had deadlines to catch. At 7:30 there was still no Lana, and more press left. Ray was so disappointed as he couldn’t stay any longer due to an important dinner engagement. I stayed on. By this time the Press had dwindled to the few really avid fans of hers. You just do not treat the press that way, not in England; after all, they are very important to you.
Miss Turner finally appeared at 8 o’clock, two hours late. For me she was well worth waiting for. She was a vision in white, swathed in white fox from head to toe. She was stunning! Everything you have ever dreamed about her, and that wonderful cut in her voice when she spoke. You knew straight away it was Lana Turner.
I pulled Taylor aside and said to him, “Where the fuck have you been? Do you realize how this will affect the press call?” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I just couldn’t get her together, she’s always late.” I looked at him and said, “I suppose she gets away with it in the States, but this is England and you don’t treat the Press that way.” Finally after everyone had left and we were alone, we went down to the foyer and he introduced me to Lana. She looked at me and said, “What a pleasure Eric, Taylor has told me so much about you.” Not too much I hoped! “You must come and have dinner with us some time,” she said. “That would be lovely,” I replied. They were staying at an exclusive hotel very close to the film studios. When I mentioned the name of the hotel, she threw her arms in the air and said, “Sshhsssssss!” and looked around her nervously as though people were listening. “We don’t want anyone to know,” she said. The foyer was empty, there wasn’t a fucker there! Oh! The lady was definitely out to lunch!
Well, they went back to the Dorchester, and I went home to Barons Keep, but I was still a fan of Miss Turner, she was one of the last goddesses of the Silver Screen. Lana had said she was tired. Tired? She’d only been out one fucking hour! Maybe, I thought, this is the way Hollywood stars behave, but Mae West, whom I met at her home, certainly wasn’t like that. The dinner that she had invited me to never happened because she was having so much trouble with the film. She kept Taylor there at her beck and call the whole time. About three weeks into filming, he rang and told me that he was free for lunch that coming Sunday. Sunday duly arrived and the phone rang and I thought it was Taylor cancelling because Lana needed him again. But noooo! It was Lana! “Hello Eric.” That voice! It was Lana Turner on my phone, phoning me! Well, my knees turned to jelly and I was so excited. That voice, that wonderful voice. But there was no one I could tell. Ray had taken his bloody mother to see her family in the Rolls, which she tried to get him to do every Sunday so that she could show off. The woman needed to be put down! So I just ran up and down the passage with my hand over the speaker saying, “It’s Lana Turner! She’s on the phone. She’s phoning me!” (Pause, breath) “Hello Lana, what is it?” I asked as though we talked regularly. “Is Taylor there?” she asked. “No, sorry Lana, he hasn’t arrived yet.” (Pause) “Shall I get him to call you when he arrives?” (Breath from Lana) “I’m so sorry to bother you Eric” (it was no bother to me!) “But I can’t find the pages of the scenes we are doing tomorrow, and I don’t know where he put them. Could you get him to call me back?” (Please, Lana, keep talking!) “Of course Lana, no problem,” I said. She hung up. I would have liked her to stay on the phone till Ray got back. Taylor arrived 15 minutes later and I told him about the call. “Nosy bitch,” he said. “ She’s just checking up on me, to see that I am coming to you. She knows where they are.” (Pause) “I’ll ring her now.” (Voice change) “Hello Lana, darling. Yes! Just arrived.” (Pause) “Darling, the pages are on the stand by your bed.” (Pause) “Oh, you’ve found them! Good. I won’t be back too late.” He put the phone down and turned to me and said, “ I’m exhausted. The bitch has had me running around like a dervish since we’ve been here!” (Pause) “I could do with a very stiff drink”.Well, Persecution opened in 1974 and the critics panned it. The story, what was it? They made my lovely Lana look like a dog. Oh, no! That wasn’t the way she was. I remember how she looked at the press call, one of the last of the great screen goddesses and a legendary blond. Roll on Christmas when we were closed for a week.
On the 7th of January we opened a new show, “ The Body Revue 1974.” The show was beautiful. Ray and I had really got it all down to a fine art. It had a quality for all the senses. Comedy, eroticism, beauty striptease, with the emphasis on the tease, the lot!
In April I had a bad case of flu and my doctor sent me to my specialist, Professor Dollery at Hammersmith Hospital. He had been treating me for hypotension for ten years. When Dollery saw me, he admitted me immediately as he said I had pneumonia. Well, I stayed in Hospital for two weeks, during which time they did two biopsies on my lung, as they told me that as I had no temperature with the pneumonia it was a sign of cancer. Charming! Believe me, the biopsies were painful. They could find nothing! Also they told me that they would like to do an exploratory operation to see whether it was cancer. I asked Dollery where they would cut and would it be a big scar? He said, “Yes!” I said, “Forget it!” Anyway, I couldn’t have the operation as I was booked to go to Las Vegas on the 4th of May. Ray and I were taking both our mothers, and my mother, Rose, being the martyr that she was, wouldn’t go unless I was with her. As we hadn’t taken insurance out on the tickets and I didn’t want to lose the money, I signed myself out. Professor Dollery told me it was a bad decision and he would give me a letter to one of the top Specialists in L.A. as he didn’t think I would be coming back. Within four days in Las Vegas the pain was gone and I felt wonderful. Explain that! When I returned to London at the end of May, I went to see Professor Dollery. He was surprised to see me, and could not explain how I was cured, and that apart from the two scars on my lung where they had taken the biopsies there was nothing. He said it was a mystery and I agreed! That was from one of the top specialists in England. Could it have been the dry air in Vegas? Who knows? Maybe I wasn’t ready to pop my clogs yet!! I think I must be like a cat and have nine lives.
In June, I auditioned Vadel and Sue, a young man and his partner who came from Blackpool and did a magic act. He was a handsome, charming guy and his partner was very pretty. They were both prepared to work nude. Surprise! When I auditioned them I saw that Sue had a lovely figure, and Vadel certainly had a lot in his locker! Vadel and Sue were to work with us practically consistently until it suddenly ended just before we closed in 1977. Their Act was very mediocre, but I could see that with the right production and polish they could be very good, so we signed them up for the coming show of the Body Revue, which was to open on July 8th. They were a sensation, especially Malcolm Vadel who was the first and only nude magician ever. They had never seen a magician do his tricks starkers. You could say his act went swingingly! ! ! We were inundated with magicians who couldn’t wait to see their act, but none of them offered to replace Malcolm. Maybe they were too shy to show their tackle!
In the spring we had finally found a builder to do the double glazing on the balcony at Sussex Heights. The wind that would come off the sea at Brighton made it impossible to sit there at any time. But it was the time of the double glazing scam and we unfortunately were part of it. We agreed on a price and the builder asked for a 50% deposit as it was a lot of work. We paid him the 50%, and agreed on a date for him to start work. They came and put in all the framework on the balcony for windows that we could either open or close. They said they would come back, but that was the last we saw of them. Whenever I phoned, they told me he was away on the Costa Del Sol with his family. Yes, I thought, on my money! This went on for nearly four months and it would needle me so much to think that he could rip us off, like he did. I just had to get even with him. Around September, I spoke to Sadie (Marissa), and told her about the rip-off. She said, “Don’t worry, luv, Frank will sort it out.” I told her, “I don’t want him to rough him up, just get me my money back or let him finish the job. Tell Frank I would like to see him.” Later that week, Frank came along to the Casino and I told him the whole story. I also told him that I would pay him for his trouble, but please don’t kill him or anything like that! “Don’t worry, Eric,” he said, “it’s a piece of cake, no trouble.” A few weeks later, the builder rang me and said that he was being plagued with phone calls all night long and it was frightening him and his family because the calls just wouldn’t stop. I told him that I didn’t know anything about it, and I was just waiting for him to finish the balcony and the double glazing, and that I was sure that when the balcony was finished, maybe the calls would, too. That November, the balcony was finished, not brilliantly, but it was finished. I paid him the rest of his money, but deducted the money that I had paid Frank, which did not please him at all. A week later Frank rang me and laughing on the phone told me that the builder had been in touch with him to see whether he could get the rest of his money from me. Frank told him to get lost. When justice is handed out, it teaches you not to cheat people. In August, I think it was on the 19th, Josephine Baker opened at the London Palladium for one week. She was appearing at short notice because the American singer who was due to appear was a no-show. Basically she was just to fill-in the gap. The producers thought at least she would keep the theatre open. Little did they know! Ray and I had seen Josephine many times in Paris when she was starring in “Paris Mes Amours” at the Olympia Theatre. The lady when we saw her was fabulous with a voice that seemed to improve as she aged. She was so charismatic. Well, she opens in London and the notices were sensational, in fact they couldn’t have been better if she had written them herself. She was so good that Ray and I booked for her last night on the Saturday. It turned out that she took more money at the box office than any of the Americans that were appearing there that season. So it goes to show that even greatest producers never can tell how business will be and which artist will do it.
In October, I auditioned Gladys Shock and engaged her for the new show that was to open on the 6th of January 1975. Gladys, apart from stripping, sang live during the process. That was different! All this time, whenever there was a magic convention, wherever it was in England, I would be there. Most of time Ray would be with me, and we were slowly developing our ideas of how an Illusion act should be. When I told Robert Harbin that I was thinking of using a wild animal in my act, he nearly died. Then when he finally saw Scorpio, he said, “That animal will rip your throat open.” He did, but that is another story at a much later date.
The new show in 1975 opened on the 6th of January. You could say Gladys Shock shocked them in more ways than one. She was definitely different.
Our lease of the Casino de Paris was coming to an end in 1977 and we had approached the landlord’s agents to renew, but were told that the whole area was going to be redeveloped by the Westminster City Council. So they could only give us a yearly lease, renewable if development wasn’t taking place, but the rise in the rent was three times the amount that we were paying. So we had a meeting with Elliott and unanimously decided that we would call it a day in 1977. After all, we had had a very good run of nineteen years. But this was still 1975 and we had two years to go. The Gladys Shock Show was going great guns and Vadel and Sue were laying them in the aisles.
On the 30th of June, we opened a new show, still keeping Vadel and Sue and some exotic Italian stars and our regular company.
In mid July, Ray and I went to Baden-Baden for an international magic convention which had stars from all over the world performing. The convention lasted five days, and we were lucky enough to meet Bill and Irene Larsen, the owners of the Magic Castle in Los Angeles, who invited us to visit with them next time we were in L.A. When we left there we had magic coming out of our ears! On returning to London I reported in to Robert Harbin and give him all the news. On the 5th of January 1976, a new show opened with Sidsel and Ruger, a knife throwing act with Sidsel standing in front of the wheel and then getting onto the wheel and spinning nude whilst Ruger threw these enormous Bowie knifes at her. It was definitely not for the squeamish, but still very exciting. Now we had two speciality acts working at the CDP. Vadel and Sue were doing another year with us. Monique Starr was a petite red head from San Francisco who did a very raunchy act, and was very popular with the customers. Understandably!
The beginning of February I went with Robert Harbin and his wife Dolly to Los Angeles where Robert was to receive the prestigious Masters Fellowship Award from the Magic Castle. This is the highest award a magician can receive in the world. It was here whilst we were in L.A. that the whole of my act was conceived. I would talk with Robert every day and I would explain that I wasn’t interest in small magic, with cards or coins, billiard balls or dice. What was the use? Who could see them when you were sitting the pit or the gallery of a theatre. And the ever Diminishing Cards, forget it! It was only Illusions, Illusions, Illusions. I had already worked out the opening of the act, in which I would do a little silk magic. Ugh! Then into big stuff. Robert gave me a present of a box that he had invented and I elaborated on it and made it larger and turned in my Dice Box, which gave me the spectacular opening that I wanted. From then on it was Illusion, Illusion, Illusion that could be seen by the whole audience, even back to the last row in the gallery. I arranged whilst I was in L.A to go to the Wild Life Park where they taught animal affection training, so I would be returning to L.A. there in the August.
I must say that I did a great deal of planning with Ray on how we would run the act. In fact Ray was the king pin to my act. I couldn’t have done it without him. But then always in business it was Ray who loaded the gun and I fired the bullets. Someone had to be the baddy! On the 5th of July we opened a new show with Jan Berkeley as the star. We still had Vadel and Sue, Sidsel and Ruger, Monique Starr and all our CDP resident cast. In fact our cast seemed to be getting larger and larger, but the shows were still getting better and better and better, so it was good to be able to keep so many artistes in work.
On the 30th of August , I left with Ray for L.A., where we took the course for animal affection training. This lasted for three weeks, and we also renewed contact with the Larsons at the Magic Castle. As usual we stayed at Sunset Tower West, on Sunset Boulevard. It was becoming like a second home. Some of the props that I was going to use in the act we had made and shipped back to England. Fortunately we could afford to have the best of everything and so we returned to London. My costumes for the Act were being designed by Mark Canter, so I knew that the act would look a million dollars. Whilst all this preparation was going on, we did not lose sight of the Casino de Paris, which was still our number one interest. When I think about the different things we were accomplishing at the same time, I am just amazed where we found the energy. For Christmas we went to Danny La Rue’s, Walton Hall I think it was, for about 5 or 6 days. It was great fun and we had a wonderful time with Danny, Jack Hanson, Mark Canter, David Ellen, Joe Castle and Judson Bardeaux, to name just a few.
In 1977 we produced our last show, Edition 5, on the 3rd of January. The standard was as good as ever. However, on the 6th of February a great sadness came into our lives with the tragic news that Malcolm Vadel had died from a drug overdose. Such a waste of one so young. It affected everyone at the Casino de Paris and many a tear was shed. But the show had to go on, and everyone put on a brave face. The time seemed to fly by and very soon on the 6th of August the Casino de Paris closed. On the 8th, the grand sale started. Some items were sold as memorabilia while others were bought by various amateur dramatic societies. On the 3rd of September 1977, the doors to the Casino de Paris were finally bolted. It was the end of an era.
At that very end, Ray and I sat there in this empty shell of a theatre that stored so man happy and also sad memories. All the Venetian Columns have been ripped from the walls and sold. The dress rails with all the exotic costumes had been sold to a fancy dress costume company. The curtain tracks and curtains, the Strand Lighting Board that Gerry had cherished so much, and all the spotlights had gone. All that was left were the bare walls and the ghosts of all the wonderful shows and the beautiful artistes both male and female who had performed there. Could we hear the strains of music? Or maybe it was coming from the street. As the lights faded we could still see the faded imprint of where Johnny Gold had his beloved fireplace. In the wings, Zee & Co. was waiting. It was time for us both to move on to a new and magical adventure.
Since starting this blog and writing the Casino de Paris Striptease Theatre Club Story, I have been amazed at the response I have had from people who remember the CDP, or have worked there, and they all talk about Ray with such affection.
My special thanks goes to Andi Brooks. Without his help this blog wouldn’t have happened.
You can read more from Eric Lindsay’s wonderful life here.
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