JOSEPHINE by Jean-Claude Baker


The Hungry Heart
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 Latest and perhaps best of several recent bios of Josephine Baker (e.g., Phyllis Rose's Jazz Cleopatra, 1989)--this one by the performer's semiadopted/fully discarded son (owner of a Manhattan restaurant named Chez Josephine) and Chase (The Great American Waistline, 1981, etc.). Author Baker--who became the 13th member of Josephine's famous Rainbow Tribe of adopted children from all nations and colors--did all the research here (some 2,000 interviews and 3,000 letters), while Chase put his French into better-than-passable English. That this version of Josephine's life comes closest to the facts, and in no way hides behind a mask of academic research, is undeniable. The story is told by Jean-Claude, who sets the record straight on matters that his mother fibbed about in her several published autobiographies, as well as in the one left unfinished at her death. Josephine had lovers beyond number, which even she admitted, though her split with Jean-Claude came about when a Paris scandal- sheet falsely attributed to him the statement that she'd remarried yet again without benefit of divorce. The authors open with Josephine's colossal smash hit show in Paris at 19, which climaxed with her shamelessly bare-breasted, barbaric dance of seduction to a half-naked savage as she runs her hands all over him. Josephine, we learn, loved her body and spent a lot of time naked among hotel- room mirrors. We follow her through her St. Louis childhood--and her first marriage at 13 and second at 15--to her first big shows on Black Broadway and then to stardom in Paris. Bakermania erupts, her hair jell is a hit, she makes movies. Did she bed Picasso and Charles de Gaulle? Well...she died in bed at age 69, while reading fabulous reviews of her latest farewell appearance. No whitewash but sympathetic and gripping indeed. (Photos--32 pp.--not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-679-40915-7
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1993