almost all those who are interested in or have written about Polaire,
we have always believed that she went to New York for the first
time in 1910, arriving on June 4 aboard the transatlantic
La Savoie and returning to France on August 2 aboard the
Kaiser Wilhelm II.
But in October 2010 we received an email from a Ms Rita
Lamb in which she asked us if we had information on a stay Polaire
might have made in New York in 1895. Attached to this email
was an article from The New York Times dated October 15,
Pleasure Palace. « [...] Mlle. Polaire,
the French singer, has become a great favorite at this house,
and yesterday she sang some new songs, which were thoroughly appreciated
by the large audience present.
In her email, Ms. Lamb pointed out that «[in]
editions of The New York Times there are several brief references
to the appearance of an entertainer called "Mlle Polaire"».
And indeed, after searching on the site of the U.S. daily, we found
six articles mentioning a singer named Polaire.
The first is the one we have quoted above. The second, dated October
20 1895, states only that in addition to "Weber & Fields's
company [which] will appear at Proctor's Pleasure Palace
this week [...]
[there] will be George Lockhart's comic elephant, Mlle. Polaire,
the French singer; the daring Zalva trio...".
On October 27, 1895, Polaire is mentioned again briefly:
Pleasure Palace « George Lockhart's performing
elephants continue their wonderful performances at Proctor's Pleasure
Palace. Other foreign importations on the bill are the Zalvas
and Mlle. Polaire, who has become a great favorite with the audiences.
November 5, 1895, a journalist from The New York Times
writes that "se-veral favorites [of the Proctor's Pleasure
Palace] remain over. The new French singer, Mlle. Polaire,
is one of them."
In its edition of November 17, 1895, The New York Times
tells us that Polaire has moved from the Proctor's Pleasure Palace
venue to that of Koster & Bial's. «This
Week at Koster & Bial's the new features of the programme will include
the first public appearance in America of Lorenz and Kennedy, in
their "mysterious mental telegraphy," and the first appearance here
[at Koster & Bial's] of Mlle Polaire, "chanteuse excentrique".
(1) In French in the
The New York Times dated November 19, 1895, mentions
Polaire again. She is described by the journalist as "one of
those Parisian importations".
& Bial's – «Mlle. Polaire was a new performer.
She is one of those Parisian importations known as "chanteuses
eccentri-ques (sic)." Everybody who has been in the
up-to-date New-York music halls knows what this means.»
Although these articles seemed to indicate quite strongly that Polaire
had visited the U.S. in 1895, we believed it was necessary to find
another source to confirm it. One could not totally exclude, for
example, an error in article indexing even if it seemed to
us highly unlikely from an institution as vene-rable as The New
And after a fairly lengthy search, we found an article published
in The Daily Times (New Brunswick, N.J.) dated October
10, 1895 (i.e. five days prior to the first of the six articles
in The New York Times) in which the following passage confirms,
without doubt, that the artist in question is indeed Polaire:
Pleasure Palace, New York «The
American debut of M'lle (sic) Polaire was immensely successful.
She is a petite and piquant chanteuse, possessing the great charm
and so popular in Paris that for two years she was starred equally
with Yvette Guilbert at the El Dorado (sic).»
Polaire actually made her "American debut" at Proctor's Pleasure
Palace. And since The Daily Times was dated Thursday,
October 10, we may sup-pose she had sung there for the first
time the previous day, that is to say on Wednesday, October 9, 1895.
However we have since found a further article in The New York
Times, dated October 8, 1895, in which the journalist
writes about new artists on stage the previous evening at Proctor's
Pleasure Palace. Among them is Polaire. She therefore sang there
for the first time on October 7, 1895.
Let us add that the description of Polaire's waist "her
waist was hardly more than a good span" (2)
finally lays to rest any doubts we might have had on the
identity of the singer in question.
(2) Width from
the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger when the hand
is fully spread (about nine inches)
Proctor's Pleasure Palace Nearly the entire bill offered
last night at Proctor's Pleasure Palace, in Fifty-Eighth Street,
near Lexington Avenue, was new. [...]
A French singer, new to this city, appeared in Mlle. Polaire.
Her skirt was an object of feminine admiration, her hair a study
in confusion, and her waist was hardly more than a good span.
Her songs were not all fresh, but she gave them a turn quite original
and pleasing. Evidently she will find her stay here agreeable.»
Some time before we received Ms. Lamb's email we had contacted an
Ame-rican collector, a friend of our site, and offered to buy from
her an American cabinet card she owned. This offer she was
kind enough to accept.
sent a scan of this card to Mrs Lamb, and she was able to inform
us that the author of this Polaire photograph was Napoleon Sarony,
an American photographer best known for his numerous portraits of
late-19th century Ame-rican theatre celebrities. He is also the
author of many portraits of Mark Twain and Sarah Bernhardt.
Sarony's studio was located 37 Union Square in New York, so very
likely it was in this very studio that Polaire posed for him.
But one detail in the biography of Napoleon Sarony particularly
caught our attention. This was the date of his death, which occurred
on November 9, 1896 that is to say, one year after
the publication of the New York Times articles we have quoted.
It means, firstly, that the cabinet card is conclusive evidence
that Polaire was indeed in New York in 1895. But it is also an exceptional
testimony of her first stay in this city. Polaire was then aged
doubts we had on the reality of Polaire's first stay in New York
being now cleared up, one question remains which we are unable to
answer: how is it that none of the many documents of the time we
know of devoted to Polaire mention this first visit?
Photographed in New York by Napoléon
We consider, for example, the many articles published in France
in 1910, in numerous newspapers and periodicals, on what appeared
to be her very first trip to New York. No journalist mentions any
prior visit she had made there, and Polaire herself, who speaks
of this (second) stay in many interviews, never mentions it either.
We must also bear in mind, of course, Polaire's autobiography, published
in 1933. The New York visit that she evokes is that of 1910: "[...]
the American impresario Maurice Gezt came to offer me a very interesting
contract for the Hamestein (sic) Theatres, in New York ...
"(3). And a little further on: "Ah! the arrival in New York!
The famous Statue of Liberty struck me as looking like a welcoming
hostess... "(4). Nothing in these lines indicates she had
already traveled to New York fifteen years earlier. On the contrary,
everything bears out the impression that, with some amazement, she
was discovering this city for the first time.
(3) Polaire par elle-même, page
(4) Ibid, page 188
Of course, this second visit was surrounded by much greater
publicity than the first, both in New York (where the posters designed
by William Hammerstein presented her as "the ugliest woman in the
world") and in France. But one would have thought that her first
taste of this city in 1895, when she was 21 years old - and she
had arrived in France only five years earlier - would have deserved
at least a mention in her autobiography.
The New York Times articles published in 1910 also do not
refer to any previous stay by Polaire in New York. But it is of
course possible that their authors were not aware of it. And the
fact that Polaire herself does not mention it to the American journalists
who interviewed her is probably less surprising than the fact that
she also does not mention it in Polaire par elle-même. It
is quite conceivable that William Hammerstein asked her not to do
so, so as not to interfere with the sensational nature of the advertising
campaign he had orchestrated before her arrival. Talking about her
earlier trip to New York would have punctured the unique eclat of
what was in reality merely her second visit to the city.
So it was at Proctor's Pleasure
Palace in New York, on Monday October
7, 1895 that Polaire sang
for the very first time on an American stage. The hall, located
East 58th Street between Third and Lexington Avenues, had opened
a month earlier, on September 2, 1895 (Labor Day).
Proctor's, of "colossal" dimensions,
had required an investment of one million dollars from its director,
Frederick Freeman Proctor, and (according to The Daily Times
of October 10, 1895) could "[rival] in every way the great music
halls of London".
The New-York Daily Tribune had announced, in its edition
of October 6, 1895, that "[the] American debut of Mlle. Polaire
occurs tomorrow" and that she had previously been engaged only once
to perform abroad, "and that was in St. Petersburg".
Daily Tribune October 6, 1895
debut of Mlle. Polaire occurs to-morrow. She is said to possess
great charm. Heretofore she has played but one engagement outside
Paris, and that was in St. Petersburg.
month later The New York Times, in its edition dated Sunday,
November 3, 1895, gives the names of the artists who will still
be performing on stage at Proctor's the following week (that
is to say, probably, until Saturday November 9): "Mlle. Polare
(sic), who is soon to return to the Folies Bergere in Paris"
is one of them. Polaire had therefore been performing for four weeks
at Proctor's Pleasure Palace.
But she did not in fact return to Paris then, and on November 10,
1895, The New York Times informs us that she is now singing
at Proctor's Theatre:
Theatre « In Mlle. Polaire, the piquant
Parisian ; Billie Barlowe, the Briton, and Maud Raymond, the
New-Yorker, the audiences at Proctor's Theatre in West Twenty-third
Street will find this week three contrasting types of music
hall singers, each quite representative in her way.
Twenty-third Street, New York
sang there only a week and The New York Times dated November
17 tells us that the following week (from 18th) she would be
singing at Koster & Bial's. We have also found two small
advertisements for this theatre published in two issues of The
Sun dated 17 and 24 November, 1895, on which the name Polaire
appears (Mlle. Polaire on the first one, Polaire
alone on the second).
The Sun Novembre 17, 1895
The Sun Novembre,
The last mention of Polaire we have found in an American daily newspaper
of 1895 is another advertisement in The New York Daily Tribune
dated November 26, 1895. Polaire seems to have sung two weeks only
at Koster & Bial's, pro-bably until November 30, 1895, probably
returning to France in early December.
Her stay in New York had lasted almost two months.