In contrast to the fanciful, irresistible memoirs of ""La Bakair"" herself (most recently Josephine, co-authored by her last...

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NAKED AT THE FEAST: A Biography of Josephine Baker

In contrast to the fanciful, irresistible memoirs of ""La Bakair"" herself (most recently Josephine, co-authored by her last husband), this plain, unworshipful biography opts for a complete gathering of facts rather than zest or drama. And, even if it's impossible to put full trust in an author who has Mabel Mercer singing ""Just One of Those Things"" in mid-1920s Paris (the song wasn't written till 1935), Haney's research is a welcome complement to Josephine's more freewheeling memories. Thus, the Josephine here is a far less innocent soul--as she shimmies and mugs her way out of the St. Louis slums, and into third-rate vaudeville, the road company of Shuffle Along, Harlem's Plantation Club, La Revue Negre and the Folies Bergeres. Her liaisons are de-romanticized--Haney sees her Paris love life in the light of the courtesan tradition--and her pursuit of glamour instead of comedy is seen as a grave mistake. Husband Pepito (a phony ""Count"") comes across as a publicity-hungry schemer and style-wise mentor whom Josephine outgrew. In affairs with Simenon and the Pasha of Marrakesh, in two other marriages, Josephine is seen ""constantly in motion, as if to protect herself against being rejected."" And, while Haney gives full credit to Baker for her WW II Resistance work and her 1950s civil-rights crusade, her final project--a ""brotherhood"" estate full of multi-racial adopted children--is presented more as neurotic folly than noble dream. Still, if Haney remains properly skeptical of much of the Baker legend, she doesn't explore her personality problems beyond the occasional observation or hypothesis. And the flat prose of the narrative often drops into pure clichÉ (""The audience gasped in awe at the magnificence of her black body""). Overall, then: a worthy, fact-packed study, short on depth or pizazz, but the fullest Baker source-book yet.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 1980

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dodd, Mead

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1980