Polaire: “The Ugliest Woman in the World”


Today is the birthday of Polaire (b. Emilie Bouchard, 1879-1939). I was flabbergasted to notice I hadn’t already done a post on her; I knew about her and had mentioned her in in No Applause. Born in Algeria, she migrated to Paris, where she became a popular singer in cafés and music halls, and was the first woman to play Colette’s Claudine character on stage. She was especially renowned for her fifteen inch waistline (see above). Though she was regarded in Paris as a great beauty, when the Hammersteins brought her to play the Victoria in 1910, they billed her as “The Ugliest Woman in the World”, possibly because she wore a nose ring — there’s the difference between French and American audiences of the day in a nutshell. Her act was a 20 minute one act play  at the climax of which was a violent Apache dance and knife murder. It was the stuff of Grand Guignol, but for some reason didn’t register with American audiences, possibly because the whole thing was delivered in French. She returned to Paris, where she continued to perform until the 1920, when the Polaire vogue wore off.

To find out more about vaudeville past and present, including stars like Polaire, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous

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