Tag Archive: Tallulah Bankhead


More on the Cartens

I have posted on the remarkable Carten siblings before (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/11/12/audrey-and-kenneth-carten/ and elsewhere).

Waveney and Audrey Carten

Here are a few extra snippets concerning them.

Audrey and Kenneth Carten, along with Tallulah Bankhead and Gwen Farrar, formed one element of the wilder and more mischievous wing of the Bright Young People ; Elizabeth Ponsonby  and her close friends another. Both groups overlapped at times and both were acquainted with Elvira and/or her associates.

I felt I hadn’t done justice to Kenneth Carten, seeing him as a minor actor, primarily linked to Noel Coward’s revues. The reason his acting career is fairly low-key was, I now realise, because he abandoned performing and became a Theatrical Agent. He achieved great success in this latter calling and had a long career. His clients included Laurence Olivier, Noel Coward and Googie Withers. He also “discovered” and represented the much loved Peter Sallis. In the 1940s, Carten was a London representative for the very powerful and influential  Myron Selznick corporation, which put him at the heart of British film and theatrical life.

Googie Withers 

(Before becoming one of the most popular film stars of the 40s, Withers had been a dancer at the Kit Kat and Murrays as well as appearing in Midnight Follies at the Mayfair Hotel)

It was from Selznick’s office, in early 1949,  that Kenneth Carten wrote to the ailing Hugh Wade. It is a fascinating letter, upbeat, full of references to stars of the day (Jessie Matthews, Patricia Roc, Stewart Grainger) and some waspish (but accurate) comments concerning the quality of certain  performances (Margaret Lockwood in the lamentable Cardboard Cavalier). He casts doubt on the likely success of Terence Rattigan’s new play Adventure Story, and was to be proved right. Kenneth is solicitous towards Hugh (“if there’s anything you want just ask” etc.) but the general tenor is one of friendly gossip between two showbiz “insiders”.

For many years Kenneth lived ,with his sister Audrey,at Paultons House, on the corner of King’s Road and Paultons Square. Paultons House was where Jean Rhys wrote the beautiful but, at the time, neglected, Good Morning, Midnight. Rhys had left No.22, to begin her long sojourn in  alcoholic obscurity by the time Kenneth moved into No.5 (and sometimes 6) .There was a third resident throughout the 1940s, the aristocratic socialite and actress,Lady Caroline Paget.  A beautiful and captivating free-spirit, who is often seen in photographs with Cecil Beaton, she was perhaps best depicted in a number of exquisite portraits by  a love-struck Rex Whistler (see Rex Whistler).

Unfortunately for Rex, she appears to have preferred Audrey, the two becoming “close friends and travelling companions” for a number of years. Caroline’s cousin, David Herbert, who (inevitably) knew all parties involved, has this to say,

“Caroline had made a number of new friends during her days in the theatre, the most important being Audrey Carton (sic), who many years before had written a play with Sir Gerald Maurier called The Dancers. It was in this play that Tallulah Bankhead made her first London appearance. As we all know, Tallulah went from strength to strength and became one of the foremost actresses of that period. Audrey faded into the background as a figure in the theatre, but owing to her beauty, intelligence and caustic wit remained a great personality in that particular world.

 

She was a bad influence on Caroline: they set up house together in Panelton (sic) Square. Caroline drifted away from her own world and, apart from the family, saw only a small group of friends, chiefly women. I suspect that Audrey was the real love of her life, though she had many affairs with men. Eventually she married my cousin, Michael Duff. This was an arrangement beneficial to them both.”

Audrey Carten c1929

Audrey, although never quite fulfilling her early promise as an actress, did find success throughout the 20s and 30s  as a playwright, working in partnership with her sister Waveney. However her later years were unhappy. After Caroline married, it appears that, the already rather eccentric Audrey became increasingly unstable and house-bound and was very dependent on Kenneth to take care of her.

“Late One Evening”  Audrey and Waveney Carten 1933

Waveney, known as “George” according to some sources, was married in 1922 to Ronald Trew, a singer. He earns his place in the marginalia of twentieth century history for two reasons. Firstly, it is alleged that he got Tallulah pregnant at a party held on the Thames in a boat belonging to “Jo” Carstairs (whose then girlfriend would have been Gwen Farrar). Secondly he is the man that the psychotic murderer Ronald True gave as an alibi/doppelganger/mortal enemy in one of the 1920s’ most notorious trials (see Ronald True ) . Waveney remarried in 1932. Her husband, Vladimir Provatoroff,  was an SOE operative in the Second World War. The couple lived firstly in Portland Place and later in Harley Street. They were still married at the time of his death in 1966.

Kenneth’s friendship with Tallulah remained undiminished over nearly forty years. He gives her residence as a forwarding address on his various travels to America in the 1950s. The two would have had some choice tales to share about the “party years”, of that I have no doubt.

 

 

 

Tallulah Bankhead

 

I’m sure that there is much more to be uncovered about this decidedly unconventional trio. There are copies of  “Happy Families” (1929) by Audrey and Waveney and their translation (for Noel Coward) of Deval’s “Mademoiselle” still knocking around, but not much else. The BFI has a copy of Birds of Prey (1930) a crime film directed by Basil Dean which starred Audrey (sometimes spelt Audry). Kenneth’s legacy is even more intangible but fans of “Wallace and Gromit” or “Last of the Summer Wine” may want to raise a glass to his memory.

Audrey Bicker Caarten (1900- 1977) d. Hastings

Waveney Bicker Caarten (1902-1990) d. Sandwich

Kenneth Bicker Caarten (1911-1980) d. Kensington

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Anthony De Bosdari

Anthony De Bosdari and Babe Plunket-Greene feature prominently in the various anecdotes concerning “Bright Young People”. Both are seen as belonging to the disreputable end of the set and while this is not exactly untrue, they have, I think, been the victims of some rather unpleasant snobbery, then and now. Bosdari becomes “the bogus Sicilian Count” and Babe “the gold-digging daughter of a bookie”. As with others we have encountered, the truth is a little more complicated. It is also proving rather hard to unravel.

Tallulah Bankhead and Tony Bosdari

Tony Bosdari  (b 1899) was one of three brothers born to Maurizio De Bosardi. All three were entitled, apparently, to call themselves Count, which is, to say the least, confusing. Although much emphasis is put on their foreignness , Anthony was educated at Winchester and seems to have been the model English public schoolboy, winning prizes for Latin, editing the school magazine and, most importantly, excelling at cricket. He topped the batting averages in his final year in a side that included future England captain, Douglas Jardine (of “Bodyline” notoriety).

In the 1920s he became known as a man-about-town, a polo player of some repute and, take your pick, a “confidence trickster”,” a wheeler-dealer”, a “venture capitalist” or simply a “business man”. What is certain is that he worked for Brunswick’s UK branch and had a great impact on the “Bright Young People”, but not in the ways usually mentioned.

In 1926 he organised a demonstration of Brunswick’s “Panatrope” radio/gramophone ( fittingly,at the Cafe De Paris). This early “music centre” was considered a major leap forward in home sound-technology and was a key part of 1920s dance and cocktail party culture.

This from Gramophone, November 1926

“The Panatrope
The relationship of wireless and gramophone reproduction has decidedly taken a step into the limelight of the gramophile’s stage with the Panatrope. This American invention was described pretty fully a year ago (October, 1925, Vol. II., p. 226) under the heading “The Coming Revolution?” and though it has taken a good while to reach this country, there is no reason to doubt that it opens up all the vista of future development which was then indicated. The combination of wireless, films and gramophone in the home is now appreciably nearer, and though only wealthy modernists can take more than a detached interest in the matter for some time to come, the whole subject is one of vast interest to all speculative minds.

The Café de Paris

Our representatives had the privilege of attending the first demonstration of the Panatrope at a hmcheon given by the British Brunswick Co. at the Café de Paris on October 4th. Count Anthony de Bosdari, who introduced the Panatrope with a very clever speech, deprecated the idea that it was intended in any way to compete with the gramophone. He left it to the Daily Telegraph to call it a “super gramophone” ; in fact, he claimed nothing for it except what was abundantly justified by the subsequent records played upon it.
An American Report

A propos, one of our readers, Mrs. Caesar Misch, of Providence, Rhode Island, writes: “Last week I put a band record on the Panatrope, using the second stage of amplification. The windows of the music-room were open and I soon saw my chauffeur run to the front of the grounds, thinking a band was passing! The sound had to travel 125 feet back to the garage where he was working, and that through windows at the front of the house, and that with only the second stage. This seems to me a significant comment on the ‘real-ness’ of the reproductions.”

The tune is one of the hits from Blackbirds of 1928

At the same time Bosdari was putting jazz on the UK map. Said to be the “best dancer in London”, he was one of the first to pick up on Fred Elizalde’s Quinquaginta Varsity jazz band and persuaded the Savoy to book the young composer as resident band-leader – he then arranged for him to record  for Brunswick. Elizalde’s work is still considered the most sophisticated and jazz-oriented of UK dance bands of the era. (see Fred Elizalde)

Bosdari  also  secured Society favourites Bert Ambrose’s Mayfair Hotel Orchestra for Brunswick. He would also have had a say in Brunswick UK releasing “hot” music by the likes of Red Nichols, King Oliver and Irving Mills’  above-mentioned Hotsy-Totsy Gang. Therefore the Count played a significant part in providing the soundtrack for the jazz-mad party set of the period.

Just prior to this, he had been working in Selfridge’s marketing department ( he was a friend of fellow Wykehamist, Gordon Selfridge Junior). It was Bosdari who had introduced John Logie Baird to the store  in 1925, thus giving the public the first real viewings of “television”. The equipment was so provisional and ramshackle that it was not a great success but it does show a remarkable sense of foresight on Bosdari’s part. Bosdari obviously had a feeling for all things modern, he appears to have had dealings with the German film company UPA  and Klangfilm, pioneers of film sound equipment.

He must have continued his association with Selfridge’s too and appears to have tried to get Brian Howard a job there as a display designer (unsurprisingly, for Howard, nothing came of it).  Howard also mentions a company called First International Pictures, another Bosdari project, for whom he was to work on set design. I think this is First International Sound Pictures – but can find little information – again, nothing materialised.

v

However these aspects of the Count’s career have been largely buried. It is as a playboy and in particular as the lover and fiance of Tallulah Bankhead that he lives in the history books.Bosdari’s engagements, affairs and (possible) marriages are not easy to follow. He was briefly engaged to the actress Enid Stamp Taylor in 1926, was even more briefly married to Josephine Fish, an American heiress, in 1928, and then  for six months until May 1929 was engaged to Tallulah. In 1931 a forthcoming marriage to the Duchess of Croy (formerly Helen Lewis, another American) was announced but whether it took place or not I can’t ascertain. Then, according to Bright Young People annals, he married Babe Plunket Greene.  Countess Marguerite Bosdari is, I presume ,Babe and is on the electoral role in 1932 but I can’t find much more as yet . With so many Counts and Countesses Bosdari (even Tallulah termed herself such for a while) it gets rather confusing

Countess Bosdari 1934 (is this Babe?)

Anthony De Bosardi seems to fade into obscurity (perhaps under something of a cloud) from the mid-1930s onwards. There is some useful material at this fascinating website Levantine Heritage but there are still plenty of questions remaining (as ever). Alec Waugh, who knew him well in the 1920s, says Bosdari was interned by the Germans in World War 2. The Levantine site suggests that he then lived in either North Africa or South America. He is an intriguing figure and I’m sure there is much more to unearth.

I’ll post next on Babe Plunkett-Greene, in many ways an equally puzzling character.

The Bat Club, 13 Albemarle Street

When I posted on Albemarle Street (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/01/17/elviras-delage-and-albermarle-street/ ), I failed to mention two important nightclubs. Both were expensive and catered for the “after hours” crowd. One was the 500, which cultivated a laid-back, relaxing atmosphere, the other was The Bat, an altogether livelier affair.

The Bat features in several reminiscences of the period, including those by Barbara Cartland and Margaret, Duchess of Argylle. It was very “Mayfair” rather than “Chelsea” but it had a rather “racy” reputation which met with some disapproval. Its initial fame came about through its patronage by the actress and cabaret star, Teddie Gerard. She liked to sit in with the band on drums (something The Prince of Wales was also wont to do)

Teddie Gerard (1890-1942)

Gerard  (born  Teresa Cabre, in Buenos Aires) was, in some ways the original version of the wilder women of the 1920s. Virginia Nicholson describes her as “a hard drinking, promiscuous adventuress with a drug habit”. She had shocked and thrilled Broadway audiences in 1915 by wearing on stage a very revealing, backless dress. She was a regular on the London theatrical circuit throughout the 1920s and became a friend and  a kind of role-model to Tallulah Bankhead. Others in her set included Dolly Wilde and Gwen Farrar.

The Bat encouraged this intimate relationship between audience and performers by booking what were, by the standards of the day, risque cabaret acts. The best known of these was Dwight Fiske, a Harvard drop-out who played very accomplished piano over which he performed a series of monologues consisting entirely of sexual innuendo. These were much nearer to the knuckle than the work of Douglas Byng who also was a favourite of the BYP. However, like Byng’s insufferably twee campness, they have dated badly and come across today as simply juvenile. Nonetheless, at the time they were considered deliciously naughty and helped launch the forgotten phenomenon of the “Party Record” – a private subscription disc service which served to enliven many a cocktail party and late night gathering.

Dwight Fiske by Carl Van Vechten 1937

The well-connected Fiske’s success at the Bat Club was ensured by the support of Tallulah Bankhead who was a regular in the audience during his residency – and where Tallulah went many followed. But the real coup for the club was the securing of Harry Roy as the regular bandleader.

Harry Roy 1900-1971

Harry Roy was born Harry Lipman in Stamford Hill. Like so many of the West End Dance Band leaders and musicians, his family were Jewish. He played at all the right places – The Cafe De Paris, The Embassy and the Mayfair Hotel (all favourites of Elvira)  and by the early 30s was a big star. At the Bat Club (as Harry Roy and his Bat Boys) he could play more “hot” music than elsewhere and his versions of “Tiger Rag” and “You Rascal You” became better known than the originals. He still had an eye on what the crowd wanted and what the crowd at the Bat wanted was, to put it bluntly, smut.

Roy’s Bat Club outfit released a number of jazz pieces on the label Oriole. This was set up by Levy’s of Whitechapel to cater for the small but growing audience for genuine “hot” music. Oriole also issued, privately in 1931, the Bat Club’s unofficial anthem. the puerile and very rude “My Girl’s Pussy”. This was apparently sung with much gusto by the whole audience on certain, more “carefree” nights. It is rubbish but in its own way remarkable and shows the licence that was granted to certain sub-sections of “Society”, once out of sight of the general public. Do not click if you are offended by double entendre,casual sexism (or banality, for that matter) but here it is –

Harry Roy was a particular favourite among High Society women. In 1932, at a Mayfair cocktail party, he met Elizabeth Brooke, the most wayward of three wayward daughters of the “White Rajah of Sarawak”, Sir Charles Vyner Brooke and the Ranee, Lady Sylvia. Having been presented at court, Elizabeth (known to the press as “Princess Pearl”) had become part of the “fast” crowd – attending clubs, partying and drinking all night. She also enrolled at RADA, which might make her a contemporary of Sylvia Coke et al. After flings with such high-profile figures as Jack Buchanan, Elizabeth settled on Harry Roy and the couple married, to much public fanfare, in 1935.

Wedding 1935

This “pop star weds society beauty”  was an unusual event and there was some unfavourable comments – many as motivated by racial as class issues. It is a sort of precursor of a number of factors we normally associate with the 1960s and beyond. For a few it proved that jazz, cocktail-parties and night-clubs were indeed a threat to social hierarchies – for most it was simply thought of as highly romantic.

 

For more on the White Rajahs and Ranees of Arawak see “Sylvia, Queen of The Headhunters” by Philip Eade

Sylvia Brooke 1930 – her elder sister was “Brett” of D.H.Lawrence and Bloomsbury fame

Roy’s Bat Club days were well behind him and the club closed in the mid-thirties. . He still made the odd “blue” record – (She Had to Go and Lose It at the Astor) but they were much milder than the material performed earlier.

Some of Elvira’s friends would have thought of the Bat as a bit “hearty” and Hooray Henry-ish , but it would certainly have been one of her many ports of call. Given her evident fondness for all things late night and a little off-colour, I can easily picture her, in 1931, singing along with gusto.

Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson

I’ll leave Charlotte Breese’s “Hutch” alone after this post but I do recommend it to anyone interested in the racial and sexual politics of the inter-war years – or anyone who wants to acquaint themselves with one of the true stars of British popular music in the sadly ignored decades preceding the rise of the Beatles. However there is a section on Elvira that is too tantalising to ignore.

“Typical of Hutch’s clients and/or lovers was Elvira Mullens, daughter of Lord and Lady Mullens. Three pianists – Hutch, Billy Milton and Carroll Gibbons – all played at one of her parties, which always featured modish theatricals. Appearing the same night was a close-harmony turn, The Three New Yorkers. Elvira was briefly married to one of them, a Mr.Barney. The marriage ended, and scandal erupted, when Elvira took a lover and shot him dead. Elvira was arrested and confined to the infirmary of Holloway prison, where, to keep up her spirits, she displayed a photograph of Tallulah Bankhead. At the same time, Mr. Barney tried to blackmail her father by threatening to expose details of her private life, including her cocaine habit. In the event, Elvira was acquitted. To celebrate she threw a huge party at the Berkeley. People were horrified and soon afterwards she committed suicide in Paris.”

There are some errors in this account, which is taken largely from Billy Milton’s “Paradise Mislaid” – is is doubtful that it was suicide, for example. However it is the “clients and/or lovers” that makes me wonder. Is this just a general statement about Elvira’s “typicality”  or is something more being implied? Why choose Elvira as an example, anyway?

It is not far-fetched at all to speculate  that Elvira could have had a fling with Hutch. So it seems did half of West End society, male and female. Elvira’s idol Tallulah certainly did and Zena Naylor (a friend of Brenda Dean Paul and Olivia Wyndham, if not Elvira herself) had quite a long-lasting affair with the singer. At one party, Brenda Dean Paul actually won Hutch in an auction. Another ex-Deb, Elizabeth Corbett (nee Sperling) was about the same age as Elvira and said to be the leader of “a smart set”. She gave birth to a child by Hutch in 1930. Hutch’s most famous relationship was with Lady Edwina Mountbatten, a somewhat less than clandestine romance and one which Elvira would have known all about. Edwina was drawing press attention at the same time Elvira was on trial. The People had hinted at an affair between Lady Mountbatten and a “coloured” entertainer. Fortunately for the Mountbattens, they picked on Paul Robeson as the likely candidate and Lord Mountbatten sued and won substantial damages. The unsuccessful defence case was conducted by none other than Sir Patrick Hastings, fresh from his  triumphant handling of Elvira’s murder charge.

Edwina Mountbatten

Although Hutch continued to be a cabaret favourite there was an undoubted behind the scenes campaign against him.After the abdication of friend and enthusiast Edward the Eighth he was rarely heard on the BBC and the Society invitations tailed off. He remained incredibly popular with female audiences throughout the country  and staged a triumphant “Society” comeback as part of the nostalgia for the 20s that hit the upper-classes in the mid-fifties. His last years though were ones of absolute decline and make for very sad and somewhat disquieting reading.

Breese’s commentary on the motivations of those women who threw themselves at Hutch in the golden years, from 1927 to the mid-thirties, rather misses some obvious points, explored at length elsewhere in the book,  but as an analysis of Elvira is worthy of consideration,

“Many of Hutch’s female lovers were rich and had nothing to do, and had little or no self-esteem.Desperate for affection, and attention, they lived in gilded misery, drifting from party to party and, inevitably, attracting men who despised, exploited and discarded them.”

Tallulah in Silvertown

In Tallulah Bankhead’s autobiography there is an odd little anecdote concerning her adventures in London’s fast lane.

“In London I visited a charming little house in Chelsea, with a top-floor room lined with tinfoil.The habitues called it Silvertown. A quite respectable friend asked me if I’d like to smoke some opium.

Acceptance was obligatory for a femme fatale . I was fascinated by the preliminaries, melting the pellets, tamping them into the bowl of the pipe. My imagination running riot, I felt like the daughter of Fu Manchu, Sax Rohmer’s malign Chinese. The effects were pleasant and dreamy. The world seemed uncommonly rosy but not for long…. On the way home, my escort and I became actively ill. We were so sick that we flung ourselves on my bed and collapsed. There my maid found us in the morning, ashen and wretched.”

As with most stories told by, or about, Tallulah, this needs taking with a pinch of salt (or perhaps coke).However, biographer Joel Lobenthal interviewed Glenn Anders, who confirmed the expedition to the “opium den”, although he denied that Bankhead indulged – then or at any other time. The latter part of his statement is patently untrue but it does allow us to place the visit in 1927, during the run of She Knew What She Wanted (see  https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/sir-patrick-hastingstallulah-bankhead-and-beatrix-lehmann/ ).

Tallulah would have been no stranger to the rituals of opium use. Her great love in her early London years had been the publicly-respectable but privately very louche Napier “Naps ” Alington , whose friendships with the likes of Princess Murat and Jean Cocteau were built around a mutual fondness for the drug.

Napier Alington

So, if it existed, whose was this house? Who was the respectable friend? Is Tallulah, as I suspect, collapsing a number of visits into one self-serving anecdote? She was seeing a lot of Gwen Farrar at the time but her residence, though certainly charming , hardly fits most people’s definition of small. However, Farrar’s circle included Dolly Wilde, Ruth Baldwin and Olivia Wyndham who were all opium-users and all lived in Chelsea for at least part of 1927. Then there are the Dean Pauls and the ubiquitous Tony De Gandarillas – but again one would hesitate to call them respectable. Bankhead did know most of these people, particularly the ones who frequented the Gargoyle Club on Dean Street – where Elvira’s guest Brian Howard was to later become almost a permanent feature. Howard had his own battles with opium but these had not really started yet.

Unfortunately, I can find no other reference to Silvertown in reminiscences of the era. I am fairly positive that there was such a room but it was probably in the house of an older,more seasoned and less well-known user. If anyone knows otherwise please get in touch. If nothing else, the anecdote indicates that drug use was an established aspect of Chelsea life, albeit a fairly discreet and “underground” one.

Silvertown is possibly a morbid reference to one of the great tragedies to hit London in the First World War when a munitions factory blew up, killing 73 people. See Silvertown Explosion .