Some Normandie Questions


Jul 9, 2004
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I have some questions that I've always been curious about since I got interested in Normandie.

Now... I already know that Paris and Ile de France had illuminated dance floors... but I've always been curious if Normandie had one in the Cafe Grill. It seems so by the photographs I've seen, but I'm not totally sure.

And what in the world is on the ceiling of the smoking room... it keeps looking like some kind of well or something... or is it artistically arranged lights? I've never been sure.

I've only seen the gymnasium in small photographs and its one of the rooms I don't have a good photograph of.

And what kind of daily activities did they have? Anyone have a program of the day's events on board?

I ask these things because I'm writing a story where the majority occurs on the Normandie (Is doing this against the Terms of Use? Research like this? Please let me know... I don't want to break any rules.)

There are many things I want to know... and see of the Normandie... I'll come post more questions when I think of them.
 

Jim Kalafus

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Hello, Brandon: A few answers, off the top of my head:

The oval dance floor in the cafe grill was parquet (wood) arranged in rectangles. It was bisected by two sets of double lines. One quadrant had a stylised "N" and anchor pattern worked into it. Will post you a photo of it from my collection tomorrow.

The mystery objects on the ceiling of the smoking room were a series of lighting fixures.

Daily activities were quite mundane, and mostly revolved around deck games. Target shooting. Deck tennis. I have some 1937 and '38 programmes. Most of the "good stuff" happened at night. Concerts, "Gala Parties" etc. The stuff of elegant legend. However, there was a dark side
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Have you read Normandie, Queen Of The Seas yet? It has excerpts from the Normandie's night watchman's log printed towards the back and they are hilarious - drunken women screaming in the hallways, passengers falling down flights of stairs while inebriated, people injuring themselves attempting to break the connecting door between First and Second class, cabin mates fighting with one another, loud parties, etc. Despite the aura of glamor, the standard of behavior seems quite 21st century. There are several detailed published accounts of the day-to-day life aboard Normandie which can help you with your story. If you can find the "Normandie to Rio" film it has endless (and I mean ENDLESS) footage of bizarre ritualistic deck games, one of which invovled women sitting atop what appear to be black frisbees and spinning. MENSA at Sea it was not.
 

Jim Kalafus

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Oh, and Welcome to The Board. Here is the photo of the parquet floor in the Cafe:

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I played with the contrast a bit to (hopefully) highlight how the wood was arranged.

I've posted several dozen Normandie photos on the board. Thre is a thread by the title of "Normandie Final Voyage Photos" and a second "Maiden Voyage Photos" which can be found in the Normandie folder in Other Ships and Shipwrecks. There are also one or two in the Grace Line Photo Album thread, which is a collection of photos I bought taken by a sailor during the 1930s and 1940s who photographed nearly every major liner at least once.
 
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I've seen all the photos... and I am amazed by them. In fact... I feel honored to have THE Jim Kalafus respond to my post. Pardon me while I turn green (With envy). lol :p

The only book I have on Normandie is the Braynard book. I have not found any other books on the ship... as it seems to me while Normandie is praised by many for her beauty... she is quite neglected when it comes to people supplying the everyday kind of information... the stuff that I think would take AGES to find... like what was the general arrangement of a regular cabin and how much did they vary. That sort of thing.

That photograph looks a little different from the dance floor I've seen... I'll have to find that card picture I found on Ebay of the room... or maybe they aren't a good enough resolution to see the thing you have pictured above. All I can say is I'd find it a little disappointing that all this working up to Normandie through Ile de France and Paris did not culminate in a spectacular feature like an illuminated dance floor for Normandie... it seems like it would be short-changing it, doesn't it? lol... sorry, I'm not saying I don't believe you, I'm just rambling separately, and just... if I'm annoying... ignore me. lol.
 
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Sorry... I said something stupid. I have a picture of a regular cabin... and I've heard they didn't vary much, though their decor schemes were all different through slight variation (I think.)

Looking at this far away shot of the grill's floor I think I see what you're talking about. It's in the upper left quadrant... right?
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Jim Kalafus

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Tbe wood floor made sense- glass floors are hellish to dance on, while a properly sprung wood floor is not. Also, the glass floor would have been the stylistic equivalent of a disco ball back in '35- EVERY nightclub had one in 1925, but ten years later the look was dated, and reminiscent of a decade that most people were trying to forget. The "N" design on the dance floor was in the quadrant facing the bandstand, which was built in front of the windows plated over when the terrace was replaced by the new Tourist Class Lounge in 1936.

Normandie; Her Life and Times by Harvey Ardman has the information you need on the first class cabins. I believe that there were 9 different designs for the standards and insides, varied enough to make each cabin slightly different from the others while each of the deluxe cabins and suites were totally unique. The book can be found used, and the prices vary wildly- I got mine for next to nothing, but I've seen it go on eBay for $90. Has more text that photos and tells the most complete version of the Normandie story of any book.

Normandie: Queens Of The Seas is a beautiful coffee table book with text and hundreds of color and B&W photos. Back when it was in print I was a teenager and could not afford its $55 price tag (this was ca 1984) and as soon as I COULD afford it, Rizzoli Press dropped it from print and never reissued it. Used copies sell for $150-$250 on eBay, but occasionally it can be found at tag sales and the like for a LOT less. Has photos of several dozen of the deluxe cabins in it.

There is currently a nice Normandie book in print, but I forget the title and author. Will post it later. Lots of good color illustrations.

Arts Decoratifs a bord des Paquebots Francais (Louis-Rene Vian) is the "Holy Grail" of Normandie and French Line books. I crossed to France on a voyage with the late Mssr Vian and paid $300 for a copy of his book. It now sells for $900.00-$1200.00 at auction and I wish that I had bought 5 or 6. Literally thousands of photos of the interiors of every twentieth century French Line ship, plus color shots of preserved furniture, woodwork, etc. from his collection. This is one where if you can get it for a reasonable price you HAVE to have it for your Normandie collection.

'The Green Book' which was a book of interior images and descriptions available to first class passengers. it is a beautiful book, although most of the illustrations have been reprinted many times. Usually sells for $500 and up at auction. You are better off buying either of the two Normandie commemorative issues of l'Illustration from 1935, which have better, less common, and MORE photos than the Green Book does. Watch for them on eBay. Sometimes they sell for insanely high prices, but frequently several of them come up in the same week (l'Illustration being the French equivalent of Life and hardly rare) temporarily 'flooding' the market- under those circumstances you can sometimes get one for $30 or $40.
 
Jul 9, 2004
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Okay... Thanks for the Book info! And also thanks about the (non) illuminated floor... I had a key scene happen in the Cafe Grill and had the dance floor illuminated. So now I know better.
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Seeing Normandie's "normal" roll... could you imagine people trying to stand - or even dance on a glass floor? Slip and fall lawsuits everywhere.

You also answered another one of my questions indirectly. I've looked at pictures of the ship from '35 and took notice of the Cafe Grill door that was in the center of the room leading out to the terrace. I was never sure that there WAS a door there... it looked like it in the photos... but I wanted to be sure.

My brother, who is much more into liners in general than I am (He's more into Harland and Wolff and IMM related liners.) found a picture of the green book on Ebay (Not necessarily A picture, but one with a bunch of pages shown). It has a few shots of the cabins, including Trouville's dining room, which I hadn't seen before.

Thanks for all the info. What else is there to know about Normandie? I've seen all the well known public rooms... but what about those rinky-dink things that no author would seem to write about? Like those "candid" shots that you posted in the maiden voyage topic, it seems the books I've seen the snobbiest text ever written on ocean liners - "Grand Luxe" but it wants only to present things like the Josephine Baker incident in the dining room. It seems there's this "Celebrities Only" complex with the Normandie.

I've heard that First class "intimidated" some people and that was a big reason for people not sailing on her... I think differently. I don't think many people wanted to go to Europe while the whole thing rumbled with instability and approaching war. Perhaps it was the price too.

Anyway... I'll stop rambling.
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Jim Kalafus

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The latest Normandie book, and easiest to find at the moment is Normandie, Liner of Legend by Clive Harvey. It is still in print, has a nice selection of illustrations and a pretty good text, too.

Here is a 1935 negative I bought today. Printed on my scanner it is not as high definition as it should be, or will be as soon as I have it done up in a lab.

It is hard to understand exactly why Normandie was the non-success she was. Introducuing a ship with nearly 900 first class passengers and only 400 or so in third class two years after the absolute rock-bottom of the Depression was probably the biggest factor in limiting her appeal. None of the great liners were exactly runaway successes at the outset- the 1937 passenger loads were

QUEEN MARY: 67%
NORMANDIE: 53%
REX: 49%
CONTE DI SAVOIA 43%

but I am making an educated guess that what allowed QM to pull ahead was that she carried far more Cabin and Third Class passengers than the Normandie did. The two ships which carried the most, percentage wise, were the Manhattan and Washington, Cabin Class liners which stressed luxury and economy. Both had load percentages for the year well over 80%. Conte di Savoia carried about as many passengers per voyage as the Normandie did in 1937, but had more empty berths and therefore was the second least successful of the superliners.

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"Celebrities only" Complex. Well, yes I agree. I think what one often sees in Normandie articles is a manifestation of nostalgia for a 1930s which never really existed. That the beautifully dressed passengers in the 1938 photos may have been refugeeing from Germany, or the elegant woman in the ballgown photographed in the lounge may have ended up drunk, screaming in the hallway at 2AM and being escorted to her cabin and sedated, is a 'real world' at odds with the myth and tends- mostly- to be glossed over in favor of yet another retelling of the Josephine Baker/Billie Burke contretemps or another account of the party hosted by Marlene Dietrich for Cary Grant. BTW- I was at an shipboard recreation of that party a while back, with food prepeared by the Crillon staff, and it was an amazing meal. made ME nostalgic for the largely mythical world of 1930s elegance.
 

Jim Kalafus

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Here is the menu for the Grille Room party hosted by Marlene Dietrich on behalf of Cary Grant. This will give you idea of what the food served in that nightclub-like setting was like, and an indication of what as available to those willing to pay BEYOND the first class fare.



DINER MARLENE DIETRICH-CARY GRANT
Vendredi 29 juillet 1938
a bord du paquebot "Normandie"
lors de la traversee Le Havre-New York

Champagne Besserat de Bellefon, magnum
Cuvee des moines

Canneloni de saumon frais et fume
releve au raifort "Amiral"

Potage veloute de pluches de celeri
au lait d'amandes

Quenelle de brochet, fine duxelle de
champignons a la Nantua

Filet mignon de bouef roti sauce madere

Bavarois a la creme parfumee au calvados


which was served with other courses- pallet cleansers, etc.

Reading through this makes the swill on the QM2 seem even more depressing.

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The menu cover art was done decades after the Normandie was lost and, although nice, was more of a 1970s graphic than 1930s. I had a great time at the party and was vulgar enough to 'lift' the menu.
 
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I'm praying that Marlene spared Cary Grant the disservice of singing to him... I once heard a recording she did in the 60's or 70's... and I think she should have kept herself to acting.

Sugar-coating history is a pet-peeve of mine. That's why I can't stand watching any kind of old house shows or anything... they make it sound like everything was a picnic.

So - before the door to the terrace was plated over in '36... where did the band play before that? Did they clear themselves a spot? Or did they play in the Salon, because they had a bandstand in there for a while... but I can't imagine people "dancing accapella." So common sense tells me that they wouldn't have a dance floor in there if there was to be no band.

*Slightly off topic* I read your telling of "The epic of the millenium: The QM2's Maiden Voyage." After hearing about the broken hips and everything on the ship's way out of Southampton... I was sure something was going to happen to that ship sooner or later... but time will tell. I guess its the Carnival innovation.

Nice picture! Normandie always looks good from any angle and she never seems dated - why don't they ever build a ship like THAT these days... instead of having to emulate "The Bette Davis of the Seas," Queen Mary?
 

Jim Kalafus

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Hi, Brandon: I spent some time searching today for a photo or deckplan of the 1935 version of the Grill Room showing the original position of the bandstand- to make a long story short, I am stumped. The bandstand would not have fit anywhere else in the room, comfortably, other than where it ultimately ended up. Perhaps the initial bandstand was portable as on other liners?

Bette Davis of the seas? Hey, I like that. Quite apt actually- the Queen Mary might have been frumpy on the outside and downright depressing within, a la Bette Davis, but, again like Miss Davis, she consistently brought in the money and did a dependable job, whereas, the Normandie may have been lightyears more attractive and stylish but was laid up more often than she sailed. I guess it came down to a choice of style or substance in the contest between the two and substance won out in the short term.
 
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Hmmm... Normandie: the Jean Harlow, or Marylin Monroe of the Seas. Lol.

The picture of the Salon in the Braynard book (Pg.46, bottom photo, extreme left edge) seems to present an interesting possibility. You can see the tops of the music stands in the area I specified. But there's also a piano set up in the center of the room (Afternoon/evening concert?), which brings me to my possibility. The piano can't be on the floor unless you have the world's tallest person there to play the piano and the platform must be temporary. Perhaps that piano platform was moved to the Cafe Grill when needed?

Is it Cafe Grill or Grill Room? I see it referred to both ways.

I had some other ideas... but I forgot them. I'll post them when I remember them, if it isn't any trouble to you.
 
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I remember someone talking about color film and Normandie a while back. The general consensus was that there was the stuff from the post fire/scrapping period.

While this is not film it was something on eBay a couple weeks ago, the resolution isn't terribly wonderful, but it is in color.

I had to crop it because of size constraints. I don't know who - if anyone owns a copyright on it. The original isn't marked, I know that, other than the photo host this seller had (That little camera thing.)

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Jim Kalafus

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Brandon: I found a maiden voyage photo of dancers in the grill room. It was taken from the stern side of the room, looking forward, from the exact spot where the bandstand was erected in 1936. The photographer was standing on a higher level than the dancers and was looking slightly down at them, which leads me to believe that the band platform was there in 1935 as well. It is not an interesting enough photo to post, however it does go a way towards answering the question.
 

Jim Kalafus

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A fair-to-poor snapshot of Normandie during the final stages of her fitting out. St Nazaire, 1934 or early 1935.
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I just saw the first few minutes of Citizen Kane... and saw that Normandie clip in the newsreel. Why couldn't they have ran that for... oh.. ten minutes? lol.

That shot is nice too.. It's a little blurry, but it's still atmospheric.

Where would one go to find the Normandie to Rio footage? Or where would one go at all to find Normandie footage... I saw some on eBay the other day on a DVD... it was the Maiden Voyage, but most of it was the salvage operation. Other than that... how would someone find Normandie footage?

It's interesting to hear about the band stand... maybe it was temporary. I remember seeing side entrances in deck plans of the Cafe Grill, perhaps they were used as entrances/exits during the evening? It's something to consider.

Why I asked about the dance floor and bandstand and everything was because the Normandie section of the story takes place in 1935... in July, I believe... I haven't done major work on it in a week or two. I haven't even gotten to the Normandie part yet. I don't even know if it's any good! lol. But if it's bad I'll at least have more information to add to my database in my head.
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Jim Kalafus

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Brandon: There were several films made aboard the Normandie. My French is horrible and I do not want to embarrass myself attempting to spell the titles phoenetically. I spoke of them on another Normandie thread a few years ago- you may be able to find the titles, at least, by looking. The best interiors were in a film with Raimu and Jacqueline Delubac (find the title on Internet Movie Database - it is something like "Pearls of Coronne") which has some great high resolution images. Hard to see in the US, however. There is also Paris/New York which was filmed aboard her second to last voyage in 1939.

I do not know where one can find Normandie to Rio. I saw it, in a theatre, back in the 1990s. The only interior footage is of the dining room and the winter garden.
 

Jim Kalafus

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Paris-New York was said to have been directed by Erich Von Stroheim, who was also said to have appeared in it. There is a still showing him in the Normandie's pool, taken during during the filming. However, Paris-New York does not appear in any of his resumes, and director's credit is given to Yves Mirande. I do not know the story of why Von Stroheim vanished from it, nor do I know how much Normandie is visible onscreen. The female lead, Gaby Morlay, has the distinction of appearing in both the 'first' Normandie film (she appears in the film of the gala dedication party aboard just before the Maiden Voyage) and the last.
 
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I'm back with some more questions after picking my story back up...I never did have any luck finding any pictures from "Les Perles du Couronne" or Paris-New York... maybe I need to do some more google searching.

I was thinking about a scene that was to come in the story and a question came to me. One of the main characters is in the Trouville suite (Of course... when you have a story on the Normandie someone HAS to be in Deauville/Trouville.) and I was looking at the layouts of Deauville and Trouville and I came upon this tiny one-bed room that's accessed through the passageway. My brother thinks this is a steward's cabin - perhaps for someone assigned to the suites.

It's important to me because (Don't laugh...
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) That character in Trouville gets... umm... killed. It's a murder mystery... which in my opinion is refreshing after the 1,001 romances that are based on the Normandie. (I've seen the titles as I look for Normandie pictures on ebay.)If it's a steward cabin then I have another suspect - you can never have enough suspects in a mystery. lol. I hope it doesn't sound ridiculous.

The room I'm talking about is in the white/turquoise square. If there is a problem with copyright matters and the isodeckplan I can take it down... or y'all can... I don't know how it works.
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