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Category Archives: Sonne Teal

Mark Canter, England’s Erté without a doubt!

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Mark Canter

Mark Canter came into our lives many years ago when Danny Carroll (later Danny La Rue) brought him into “Heaven and Hell” for a coffee. Ray and I found him very quiet because Danny did most of the talking, as usual. But through the years we slowly got to know him and realized the wonderful talent he had for designing and creating costumes, and also his amazing wit, humour, and fun for life. This was all prior to the “Casino de Paris” days.  We were just two actors who ran “Heaven and Hell Coffee Bar” in Old Compton Street.

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To my mind, Mark was England’s Erté, a costume designer ‘par excellence’. His costume designs made Danny La Rue look as though he really had star quality and talent; far, far more than he really actually had. When you were to compare him up against the likes of Sonne Teal and Ricky Renee, truthfully, there was no comparison. 

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From the drawing board to the finished costume

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Mark was such a very clever and witty man. He would always have us in stitches. Oh, how we would laugh! My friend Joe Castle played such a big part in Mark’s life for many years. They were together until Mark passed away.

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Mark and Joe

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A Costume Design for Barbara Windsor.

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I was very lucky to have Mark design each and every costume for me for “ZEE & Co”.

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Mark, Ken Dodd and Joe in my dressing room in Liverpool.

Mark had designed all the costumes for my act. The photo above is when he and Joe came to the Adelphi Theatre to see the show. Basically, Ken Dodd gave me my chance at that time, and I stayed with him for almost a year. Ken had never seen costumes like them before. He was flabbergasted, as he so often mentioned to me. I am so grateful to Mark Canter and his costumes, which were completely black and silver for “Zee & Co.” They all contributed a great deal to my act becoming an international attraction through-out the world.

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Black velvet, beaded with diamanté

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A Mark Canter Creation for our appearance in “Dick Whittington” at the London Palladium.  He stuck to the black and silver theme which was part of our act. I insisted that Mark Designed my costumes, and they agreed!  “Quelle suprise!”

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A few more of Mark’s Designs

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When Danny opened his Club in Hanover Square, Mark designed all his costumes. As Danny’s star rose, so did Mark’s, but the strangest thing was that Danny, and also his partner Jack Hanson, never ever gave Mark the full credit that he so rightfully deserved. If a reporter or the BBC wanted to interview Mark, Jack or Danny would always make up an excuse that made it impossible for the interview to take place.  This was a regular occurrence. Somehow. they never wanted Mark to get his rightful credit. Were they frightened that they might have lost him if he became too famous? The costumes that Mark designed for Danny were stunning!

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Another Mark Canter Costume

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Apart from designing for Danny, Mark also designed for Barbara Windsor and Shirley Bassey and Diana Dors, and a whole Jewish and Arab contingency for which all the dresses were made by Darnell of London, one of the top Houses in its day. And the dresses cost an arm and a leg.  Also, for a short time Mark branched out into the Fresh Meat business by designing costumes for us at the Casino de Paris Striptease Theatre Club. He’d never seen so many tits in all his life! We did a Shakespearean edition on Shakespeare’s 400th Centenary, for which Mark designed the costumes. They were fantastic, true to the period, and, remember, they all had to come off in pieces!  Oh how we laughed at dress rehearsals. I remember one instance in particular When I produced a Dracula number (If I didn’t know about Dracula who should?). I had already had such trouble with the Gold Brothers when I told them that I was going to use a coffin on stage. The pair of them nearly died! (Then I would have needed two coffins!) No way were they going to have a coffin on stage at the “Casino de Paris”. So, I compromised and made up a frame and covered it in black velvet. It looked exactly like a coffin and it kept the Golds happy. With all the hassle I had with the brothers, I forgot to tell Mark a few things. Come dress rehearsal, I said, ”This is where she picks up the crucifix and the stake.’ From the back of the stools, I heard a loud scream. It was Mark. ‘What crucifix? What stake?  Eric, why the fuck didn’t you tell me beforehand?  You tell me now?’ But, Mark being Mark, within half an hour there was crucifix, and a stake. That was Mark, he could cope with anything. Oh, how we would laughed later that evening! I would always say,  ‘What crucifix? What stake?’  Of course, they both finished up starkers in the coffin in the end! No!!! Not Mark and the Golds! (Although it would have been interesting because rumour had it that Elliott Gold was built like a donkey!)  No!  But, Dracula and Audrey Crane, his lady disciple. Oh, how we laughed that day!

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Mark and Ray, forever the Actor!

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I remember one story Mark used to relate. He took his gold watch that he had bought at Kuchinsky’s (a very fashionable jewellers in the 60s) in Knightsbridge back to be repaired because there was a slight problem with the movement, which needed adjusting. After being allowed in by the uniformed guard, because the front door was always locked. Too many robberies! The young man behind the counter removed his eyeglass after examining the gold watch thoroughly. He hummed and hawed a little, and said to Mark, ‘You know the watch is quite a few years old and really it’s not in its first bloom of youth.’  Quick as a button Mark replied,  ‘Neither am I, but I’m not ready for the scrap heap yet!’ With that, he swept out the shop, with gold watch in hand, leaving the poor salesman with egg on his face for thinking he might have talked Mark into swapping the watch for a new model. The guard quickly opening the door in case Mark let his vent out on him!  That was the wit of Mark Canter, he always had an answer!

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Mark and Ray. “Halcyon Days”

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A Mark Canter Chinese creation

When I had my show, “Zee’s Summer Magic”, for John Redgrave Productions in the Isle of White, Mark Canter designed a complete set of Chinese costumes for my Chinese sequence for the whole company. This is just one of the costumes. There were too many to mention.

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Another Mark Canter Design from the drawing board to creation

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Another Mark Canter Creation

Danny La Rue was known for his costumes, which were all the creations of Mark Canter, but really Danny was just the clothes horse! They were all the genius that was Mark Canter,and long may they flourish!

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Mark was such a very clever man, with such a razor sharp wit. He would always have us in stitches. Oh, how we would laugh!

“God Bless You Mark.” Never Forgotten!

What Crucifix? What stake? Have the laugh on me, Mark!

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 This design is not Mark Canter’s. It’s from the Ivy Restaurant menu, which I purloined, (being very theatrical), but I thought it would round off the blog very nicely.

N.B.   I have removed the Marlene Dietrich photos for the time being , until I find the Mark Canter ones.

 

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I Lost The Plot!

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

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When I was in New York with Angie, she tried to get tickets for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”, but they were like gold dust and those that were for sale from the “ticket scalpers” cost an arm and a leg.  ‘So, I told her to forget it!’ We went to see “The Boys in the Band” and “Anastasia” instead.

Well, imagine my surprise when I was in London one day and by chance happened to pass the Box Office of the Palace Theatre and thought, ‘I’ll chance it!’

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I went in and asked the young man in the Box Office if by chance there was a ticket for either a Wednesday or Saturday when Parts 1 and 2 were performed on the same day.

‘Sorry,’ he said, ‘you’re out of luck.’ (Long pause, while he studies the computer screen.  Then! Another, long pause)  All this time I’m holding my breath! ‘But I do have by chance, a return for same seat 3rd row, Grand Circle. (Posh name for the Upper Circle!)  ‘It’s a good seat! For 2 consecutive nights. Part 1 on Thursday and Part 2 on Friday.’  Before he’d finished talking!  ‘I’ll take them!’ I said.

So I left the theatre as happy as Larry, even though I was going to sit in the Upper Circle! I was going to see “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”! The critics both in London and New York raved about the play.

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Security Notice for everyone.

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The jam packed crowds waiting and queuing to get into the theatre.

On the Thursday night, I did all that was necessary, queuing at the side of the theatre, going through the barrier, and bag searched before entering the theatre. Then I took my place 3rd row Grand Circle and it was as he said, ‘A good seat!’ I could see everything. Part 1 was about to start.

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The programme for both nights.

No! I’m not going to tell you the story! That is a No! No!  You have to see the play.  All I can say is that the play, the staging, in fact the whole production is quite brilliant. Amazing, and I couldn’t wait to see Part 2 the next day.

On the Friday I had already arranged to have lunch with Joe Castle at Joe Allen’s in Covent Garden, and over a bottle of Pino Grigio.  We talked about the “good old days” and about his partner, Mark Canter, who had sadly passed away.

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Happier times.

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Joe Castle and Mark Canter

To my mind, Mark was England’s Erté, a costume designer par excellence. His costume designs made Danny La Rue look as though he really had star quality and talent; far more than he actually had. When you were to compare him up against the likes of Sonne Teal and Ricky Renee, there was no comparison.  Mark was such a very clever and witty man. He would always have us in stitches. Oh, how we would laugh! As a matter of fact, I have to do a blog on Mark alone, with photos, costumes and his designs.

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Mark Canter

We talked about Ray Jackson, my partner, who I lost at such an early age. It’s practically 30 years since he died, and I’m still here. Unfortunately! Also all the wonderful times we all had together. We laughed a lot and had a wonderful lunch, and to finish it off we had coffee and another large glass each of Pino Grigio. I told him I was seeing Part 2 of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” in the evening, which I couldn’t wait to see because the plot and also the staging was so brilliant. Oh! We had a great time!

After lunch, which was a joy, Joe said he would take me to Balthazar, a restaurant in Covent Garden, to see his friend Brian Silva, who happens to be one of the top barmen in the business and runs the bar in the restaurant.  There we each had a large glass of champagne and Brian gave me his wonderful book of cocktails called “BRIAN SILVA Mixing in the Right Circles at the BALTHAZAR”. Brian told us to wait whilst he sorted his staff out because he was coming off duty and he wanted to take us for a drink. Another!!! I explained that I had to be at the Palace Theatre to go through security by about 6pm, so it could only be a short one. Ha! Ha! ‘No problem!’, he said. ‘You’ll have plenty of time.’ So off we trotted to a great open-air bar near the Palace Theatre, and the three of us had each a very large glass of white wine. By this time I was quite merry and we said our goodbyes, and I went on my way.

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Well!!! (pause)  I duly queued and they searched my bag again and they let me into the theatre. There I was back in my old seat 3rd row Grand Circle (Upper Circle in the good old days!). Basically, it seemed, there was the same crowd that had been there the night before. The same guy sitting next to me on my left.

Part 2 of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” duly started and I was intrigued with the story. Then everything seemed to fly by me in flashes. I’m not sure whether I fell asleep or just nodded off. I couldn’t have snored otherwise the guy next to me would have nudged me to wake up. But anyway, I think I woke up at the interval, and I really couldn’t tell what had happened in the first part. I’d really and truly lost the fucking plot. So I spent the rest of the time when the second part started trying to figure out what had happened in the first part. I finished up none the wiser. I was well and truly fucked and pissed. I really haven’t a clue about “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” Part 2, which means that I have to go back to the theatre and try to book just for Part 2 again!

Next time I will definitely not have lunch beforehand!

 

 

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“A Time For Tears”: A further instalment in the Casino de Paris Striptease Theatre Club Story

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“A TIME FOR TEARS”

A further instalment in the Casino De Paris Striptease Theatre Club story

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.

CASINO DE PARIS NIGHT CLUB SHOW AT WINSTONS

 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.

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Audrey Crane

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.

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David Merrick

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.

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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.

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Listen to Sonne Teal’s wonderful voice in this video tribute:

http://www.youtube.com/embed/-ehjk7kg1vs

 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.

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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.

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Photo from the Avery Willard Book

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Photo from the Avery Willard book

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Sonne Teal with his partner Bruce Cartwright

This homage to Sonne which is in French contains some beautiful pictures.

http://www.dianeetlesexedesanges.ch/3colset008/page_sonne_teal/_page_sonne_teal.htm

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 favourablyas they had worked together at the 82 Club in New York. Maybe he would be interested?

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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?  

RICKY RENEE'S DRIVING THE ROLLS OUTSIDE 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.

RICKRICKY RENEE OUTSIDE BILLING AT RICKY RENEE'S

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.

RICKY RENEE Foyer entrance of Ricky Renee's

 

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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.

 

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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.

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/quick-change-artist

You can see outtakes from the film showing more of the club at the following link:

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/out-takes-cuts-from-cp-644-quick-change-artist

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You can read the full story of the Casino de Paris by clicking on the following link

The Casino de Paris Striptease Theatre Club Story

 

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