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.
Gerry and Edwina’s wedding day
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.
“Twelfth Night Or As You Like It”
A Striptease Revue to celebrate the 400th Centenary of William Shakespeare.
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.
Lady Chinclilla with her husband Don Adam
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.
Judith Von Sachs
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 trouper!
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!