The life of legendary music-hall artist Mistinguett (1875-1956), whose closest rival was Josephine Baker (who was 30 years...



The life of legendary music-hall artist Mistinguett (1875-1956), whose closest rival was Josephine Baker (who was 30 years younger) and whose style gave birth to Edith Piaf, Fanny Brice, Libby Holman, and any number of chanteuses who specialized in torchy heartbreak--though she usually sauced up other songs with witty vulgarity and fun. Born Jeanne Bourgeois in the French village of Enghien, Mistinguett worked at becoming a star from her midteens onward and, despite her early success, never forgot her earthy beginnings. She sang to the galleries, not the stalls. Famed for her shapely legs, she had lovers beyond numbering, though Bret does well at keeping tabs. In fact, much of Bret's bio is a recounting of Mistinguett's thousands of appearances, which she herself set down in a detailed two-volume autobiography dictated in her 70s. Her most famous song was ""My Man"" (Mon Homme), which Fanny Brice took over and was Barbra Streisand's closing explosion in Funny Girl, and her most famous lover was Maurice Chevalier, 20 years her junior, whom she groomed for stardom. She always tried to fill her chorus line with homosexuals so that she wouldn't fall in love with one of them, and kept herself surrounded by gays. Short-tempered, she smacked men left and right, whacked them with her handbag, and never had a good word for Piaf or other rivals. When she sang during the Occupation, the Germans attending had no idea how vilely she was insulting Hitler, It was she who first said, ""If you've got it, flaunt it."" Another witticism directed at men: ""Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you pleased to see me?"" Attending a Harlem baseball game in New York, she agreed to autograph the winning team's jock-straps in their locker-room. Imagine a singer bearing 40 pounds of feathers down a tall ramp and you have this book. Somewhat burdensome detail.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 1990


Page Count: -

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1990