For Fashionable Society, Bright Young People, elements of Bohemia (whether Genuine, High or Pseudo-Smart) and various other free-living folk, the South of France, from the mid-twenties onward, became a sort of spiritual second-home. Perhaps “fleshly” rather than “spiritual” is more appropriate in the case of many of this blog’s regulars.
Eden Roc 1936
The list of favoured places running, from West to East,included Marseilles, Toulon, St.Raphael,Cannes, Antibes, Nice and Monte Carlo. Each location had a different ambience and drew a slightly different clientele. Monte Carlo was the most respectable, Marseilles the roughest, Cannes (Elvira’s favourite) was, according to her friend Billy Milton, all gigolos, sex and drugs (not that they were lacking elsewhere). Billy, in 1931 just before he met Michael Scott Stephen, bumped into Napper Dean Paul on the beach, Napper was dodging creditors (as usual).
Toulon was the most Bohemian – Brian Howard, Anthony Powell, Constant Lambert, Burra and friends all spent time there.An added draw was the presence of Cocteau, who shuttled between Antibes and Toulon and was something of a hero for all the more aesthetically-minded English tourists as well as introducing quite a few to the delights of opium-smoking.
Cocteau, Toulon 1930
Arthur Jeffress, though favouring his beloved Venice, spent at least one summer in the South of France. Summer is the key word – and the novelty. Odd as it might seem today, it was only in the 1920s that the area became a summer rather than a winter destination for tourists. In the late nineteenth century wealthy British and Americans had built winter residences and hotels developed to cater for sporting enthusiasts. Casinos added to the appeal.
The Murphys at Antibes 1925
Credit it for the change has many candidates but two names that continually crop up are Gerald and Sara Murphy, a wealthy couple, part of the “Americans In Paris” set. In 1923 they rented the Hotel Du Cap, Antibes for the whole summer and held open house there. They also bought a nearby villa (The Villa America) and soon Cole Porter (a friend of Murphy’s from Yale), Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Picasso and others were to be seen in what had previously been a relative backwater. Scott Fitzgerald later immortalised the hotel as the “Hotel Des Etrangers” in Tender is the Night.
The Hotel Du Cap included the pavilion and bathing area, Eden Roc, which became equally iconic and is where Cyril Connolly heard the era-defining voice of June Carberry (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/voices/ ). Connolly’s novel The Rock Pool, which deals with the dissolute remnants of Bright Bohemia , is set nearby in Cagnes-sur-Mere, between Cannes and Nice.
Each resort had a hotel to which the chic and arty headed – The Hotel Du Port, Toulon, The Majestic and the Carlton in Camnes,The Negresco at Nice.Brian Howard saw Elvira at the Majestic and she was on her way to the Continental in St.Raphael with Audrey Carten when drunkenness diverted them to a less salubrious venue. It was also on the road to Nice that Elvira had her famous crash.
For the artists and the wealthy alike, the South of France simply meant pleasure and comparative freedom. The Bohemians waxed more lyrical about the land and the locals but they were all essentially tourists and behaved as such.Nonetheless they gave the area a glamour and a reputation for sophisticated licentiousness that it has never lost. Eden Roc remains a place for the rich and the artistic – which, since the twenties, has largely meant film stars.
Marlene Dietrich Eden Roc 1939
Gerald Murphy, inspired by the circle he drew around him, had a brief spell as an artist. Unlike most amateurs, he produced some important works. One, which encapsulates the period nicely, is, I am pleased to say, entitled Cocktails.