Saturday, 18 February 2012
I just re-read one of my childhood favourites, The Rainbow-children (1957). It’s a wonderful book and I think it’s rather odd that it isn’t a classic. The story is simple, the little hen Kot-Kot is black, when the other hens are white, and she has also lost an eye, which she hides with a piece of cloth. The other hens are very mean to her and don’t allow her inside the henhouse. Kot-Kot decides that she can’t be happy until she finds her missing eye and sets out in the world, asking everyone she meets to help her. Almost everyone is very kind to her, but not until she reach a wonderful castle and meets the rainbow-children, a group of siblings that comes from all over the world, does she realize that she doesn’t need to find her eye- if she accept who she is and that people loves her for that, she can be very happy anyway. She removes her cloth, stays at the castle and raises a brood of rainbow-coloured chickens.
What I didn’t know as a child was that the rainbow-children actually existed and that they were the adopted children of Josephine Baker, who, with her then husband, is the authors of the book. The story of Kot-Kot is clearly her own story. She adopted 12 children who came from France, Morocco, Korea, Japan, Colombia, Finland, Israel, Algeria and Venezuela. Perhaps the tragedy of a stillborn child in 1941, which also rendered her sterile, affected her as she seem to have collected children more than adopting them, but she also had a point to prove. That children from different countries and religions (each child was raised after the religion of their home country) could live in harmony and affection. Yes, in the 40’s and 50’s that was a point that wasn’t self-evident.
The childhood for these children probably wasn’t that perfect. They were touted out and showed off as an example, but though Baker seemed to have loved them, she wasn’t a Mom who was home much. And then to make sure 12 children got all the attention and love they needed, well... There is also the sad story that when one of her son’s came out as a homosexual, Baker, who probably was bisexual herself, rejected him. Still, the book is absolutely charming with lovely illustrations by Piotr Worm.
Re-reading it made me go and check out Josephine Baker a bit more. I guess “everyone” is familiar with her in the banana-skirt, but the truth is that she had a long and successful career that span decades. Though she was born in USA she immigrated to France early and it was there she became a star. In the 20’s she was one of the world’s most photographed women, a woman known not only for her dancing, but for her style and flamboyant life.
As we are used to see her, the scantily clad 20's beauty.
Josephine loved animals and had several pets. At one point even a cheetah!
Evidently not a tiger, though.
I adore this dress! I guess it must have been made out of silk, but it's so shiny- had it been a modern picture I would have guessed PVC ar latex.
From the movie La Sirène des tropiques (Siren of the Tropics) from 1927.
Princesse Tam Tam (Princess Tam Tam), 1935.
I love her make up. It's so varied and it's a pity there aren't any colour pictures!
Moulin Rouge, 1941.
In 1945. For her work, and she did plenty, against the German's in the war she recieved the Croix de guerre, the Rosette de la Résistance, and was made a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur.
Her marriage to Jo Bouillon, her fourth husband, in 1947.
(Picture sources: http://salmagundi.heracliteanfire.net/page/280