Belle Poitrine and the House of Lucile


Jun 8, 2002
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OK, you theater buffs. Have any of you heard of "that great star of stage, screen and television", Belle Poitrine? Her autobiography, Little Me, "as told to Patrick Dennis" (the author of Auntie Mame) contains the following reference:

"...landing at Southampton, I had ample time to run up to London, purchase a smart outfit--beige with fox trimming dyed to match--at Mme. Lucille's [sic], arrange for credit as the future Countess of Baughdie and notify the press of my forthcoming nuptials."

Another great autobiography of a major stage and film star who patronized our own Lady Duff Gordon.

Regards to all,
Doug
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Ahh...Belle

Thanks for reminding me of time well spent with a well-written book. Patrick Dennis had a way with words, and an knack for putting just enough reality into his work. Dennis earned a kind of sainthood among writers for his tenacity. As I recall, more than 50 publishers turned down "Auntie Mame" before somebody decided to give it a try.

Thanks for the chuckle!

-- David G. Brown
 

Pat Cook

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Apr 27, 2000
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Well, I can tell you this - "Little Me" was turned into a musical, starring Sid Caesar (who played 7 roles) many years ago. I believe the playwright was Neil Simon, who scripted the book for his old boss from "Your Show Of Shows"

In the early 70's I saw a roadshow production of this musical here in Houston, starring Arte Johnson in the 7 roles originated by Caesar. Johnson was wonderful but what I would've given to have seen Caesar!

See you tomorrow!

Cook
 

Steve Arnold

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Dec 31, 2000
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The musical "Little Me" is definitely not Neil Simon at his best. And the name Belle Poitrine should not be translated out of French for young children.
 
Jun 8, 2002
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Hi, Kyrila!

Yes, I'll e-mail you the translation, although it is not pornographic.

Hi, Steve!

If a young child reads your post, your hint might send him straight to an English-French dictionary.

Regards,
Doug
 
May 12, 2005
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Doug,

Thanks a lot for the reference. I appreciate it. I hadn't known of the book and play and will surely get a copy of it.

Randy
 
Apr 11, 2001
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Ooh la-la mes chers, bee-yoo-tiful bosom is not so very racy for these petits enfants these days! Everything sounds lovely in French-even cabbage and galoshes!
 

Jim Kalafus

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Dec 3, 2000
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One of the best showbiz parodies of them all. If one reads Pola Negri's autobiography, written well after Little Me, one would swear that Patrick Dennis had ghost written it. One unintentional irony of the text is that Belle Poitrine, supposedly the ultimate in stupidity and poor taste, actually had remarkably good judgement in choosing designers- the segment in which she has Jospeh Urban and Ruhlmann "slightly update" her Titled husband's ancestral townhouse in London well illustrates that. All of the names she drops during the 1920s and 1930s chapters of the book were designers who were out of favor with the post war Modernists, and I suspect that Patrick Dennis was not exactly paying compliments by including them. Fortunately, most of them have been rediscovered and "rehabilitated" since the stylistically barren 1945-65 period.
 
Jun 8, 2002
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Hey, Jim.

I noticed Belle's selection of Ruhlmann, too, and thought of his spendid design contributions to the "Normandie". Dennis certainly knew the world of popular culture, design, theater and fashion, didn't he?

Thanks to all for your responses.

Best regards,
Doug
 
May 12, 2005
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Thanks to Doug, who loaned me his copy of "Little Me," I have now enjoyed the exploits - sartorial and otherwise - of La Belle Poitrine.

I was naturally thrilled that in her description of her honeymoon night, she includes the savory detail that her sheer black nightie was made by none other than Lucile.

It reminded me of what Dorothy Parker said of Lucile lingerie. They were, she said, "the kind of thing a woman could make history in."

Jim's right about the innumerable mentions to designers and artists. It is replete with them which is one of the reasons why the book is so convincingly a "memoir."

I realize it's an amalgam of "star" autobiographies of the "as told to" variety but I'm wondering which actresses' life stories might have inspired Patrick Dennis most for this extremely amusing, scathing parody. Anybody have any ideas?

To me, the autobiographies of Billie Burke ("With a Feather on My Nose" and it's sequel "With Powder on My Nose") seem likely candidates of influence. Also the supposed "memoir" of Ziegfeld girl and silent star Mae Murray, entitled "The Self Enchanted," has overtones of Belle's effusions.

Randy
 
Jun 8, 2002
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Hey, Randy!

I was introduced to the great Belle Poitrine in the late '70s when one of my best friends gave me "her" memoirs as a Christmas gift. I read it over and over again, afraid to miss a thinly-disguised historical/cultural reference or clever allusion. Stupidly, I made the mistake, in the early '80s, of loaning my copy to someone who I should have known couldn't possibly appreciate it. Worse still, she thoughtlessly allowed her house to burn down with my precious book in it!

Long out of print, it was finally re-published in 2002, and I received it as a gift from the person who gave me the original--Margaret!(who attended the recent Newport TIS meeting with me). After more than 20 years, the book has become even more meaningful and fun, in part because in the ensuing years I have learned so much more about the genre and world that Patrick Dennis is spoofing.

In response to your comment about whose biographies he parodies, I can think of atleast two: The Times We Had, by Marion Davies, and the autobiography of Gene Tierney. Really awful, both of them!

Until meeting you, Jim, Shelley, Cook, David, Kyrila and Steve on this message board, I have often wondered if I am a one-man fan club of Belle Poitrine and her creator. Thanks for your comments and your appreciation of "Little Me".

Warm regards,
Doug
 

Jim Kalafus

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Dec 3, 2000
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Hi, Doug: Have your read the follow-up, First Lady? I thought it was fairly....well....lame in comparison to Little Me, but it has its moments.
One of the funnier sequences in Little Me, the part in which she is convinced by her two flamboyant male leads to audition for Alice In Wonderland in a gown done by Travis Banton meant to "bring out her most girlish qualities" is based on an embarrassing incident from the waning years of Mary Pickford's career in which she, at 40 something, shot an Alice In Wonderland screentest for the folks at Disney (I believe)who-wisely- did not greenlight the project.

The Times We Had.....well, I DID get a kick out of how very close that book came to Little Me. Pola Negri's book was equally bad, and proving that she is an equal to any who came before her, the Diana Ross autobio from a decade ago sweeps the field as all time worst. Although I can't go into detail on it here, for obvious reasons, one of my favorite literary aberrations is the "thanks for sharing" stories which pop up in the autobiographies of people whose lives were not really interesting enough to warrant full books- one hit wonder artists come to mind- and so choose to pad out the length and keep the interest by telling really foul tales on themselves which permanently put unwanted pictures in one's head.....
 

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