Saturday, 18 February 2012

Josephine Baker

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.

Zouzou, 1934.

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!

Around 1940

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:,%20Josephine/Annex/Annex%20-%20Baker,%20Josephine_07.jpg,%20Josephine/Annex/NRFPT/Annex%20-%20Baker,%20Josephine_NRFPT_01.jpg,%20Josephine/Annex/NRFPT/Annex%20-%20Baker,%20Josephine%20(ZouZou)_NRFPT_01.jpg,%20Josephine/Baker,%20Josephine%20(Princesse%20Tam%20Tam)_01.jpg,%20Josephine/Annex/Annex%20-%20Baker,%20Josephine_01.jpg,%20Josephine/Annex/NRFPT/Annex%20-%20Baker,%20Josephine_NRFPT_02.jpg)


loverink said...

you chose awesome pictures of miss baker! very interesting post.
love your blog!

garofit said...

Thank you for a great post; she is my latest girl crush.

Laurence said...

I really love Josephine. There is a place that you must visit if you come in France it's her former house, in fact a castle in south west of France called "le château des milandes", it's a XIXth century castle in a gothic style but it's 30's-40's decorated inside, with a lot of her pictures, dresses... you can see ther her famous bananas belt!!! I learn a lot about her generosity there for children but also for the village where she lived. She was nice to everybody but when she needed some help at the end of her amazing life evarybody turned back, what a pity!

Isis said...

loverink: Thank you!

garofit: A bit for me too! :) I only recently realized what a sweet voice she had- before I only though of her as a dancer!

Laurence: Yes, that is the castle in the book. :)I'd love to see it one day. She seems to have been a woman with the heart in the right place, even if thing didn't always work out so good. It's a pity that she seems to have been so forgotten, if you compare to Billie Holiday for example. I guess it has to do with language- am I right in thinking she is very well known still in France?

Laurence said...

Yes, she is well known in France! Her "revue nègre" is a part of Paris History and her song "J'ai 2 amours" is really a classic here in FRANCE.

Isis said...

Laurence: I rather thought so. In Sweden almost any media that isn't Swedish, is imported from Great Britain or USA. It's a great pity, I think as there are so many great artists in other countries that most people here never ever heard of. It awlays sets my teeth when an excellent movie is re-made in Hollywood and become mediocre and THAT becomes a hit.

Serendipity Handmade said...

Great post! Josephine is so beautiful. I have yet to read her biography but plan to someday.

Just found your blog and am now a follower...and I added you to my sidebar!

Isis said...

Serendipity: I'd like to read a bit more about her too! And I'm glad you like my blog!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...