11 March 2013

Miss Campton

Miss Campton (1882 - 1930) was a British-born French stage and screen actress between 1900 and 1930. She was a fashion icon in ladies’ magazines of the Belle Epoque.

Miss Campton
French postcard by M.G., no. 514. Caption: Palais-Royal.

Folies Bergère
In her obituary, the Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser wrote: “Miss Campton, a cockney originally, came to Paris as a member of one of the first Tiller troupes to visit Paris. She had personality and an accent which sent audiences at the Folies Bergere into fits of laughter. […] It was the succes of Miss Campton which made Mlle Tanguy change her name to Miss Tanguy, afterwards corrupted into Mistinguett. Miss Campton married a French comedian who has played in London [Prince], but they divorced. A few years later she married M. Paul Derval, the manager of the Folies Bergere, where she had made her first appearance.” Miss Campton, aka Aimée Campton and Emilie Campton, was born as Emily Straham Cager in Brighton, UK in 1882. Her mother was Emily Cager of Brighton, her father was unknown, according to the birth act in Brighton. She was a little British blonde with a tiny snub nose who enchanted French audiences with her gaiety and her foreign accent. In the first decade of the early 20th century, Miss Campton was a big vaudeville star at the Folies-Bergère, run at the time by the brothers Emile and Vincent Isola. On 20 December 1900 Campton married the then popular vaudeville artist Charles Prince, originally Charles Ernest René Petitdemange, who also was a star of the Folies Bergère in the early 1900's. They had one daughter Renée (1901 - 1993), but must have divorced not too long after (probably one year after), while Prince remarried in 1914. Miss Campton was a fashion icon in ladies’ magazines of the Belle Epoque and was photographed as vaudeville star by Valery, Sazerac, Cautin & Berger, Reutlinger, and Stebbing (with her name sometimes misspelled as Miss Compton). She was also known to play cross-dressing parts as in the revue Entente Cordiale (1905) by Flers, in which she played a British Lord opposite Mlle Marville as Madame de France, performed at the Theatre des Capucines. In 1904-1907 she performed at the Moulin Rouge, in 1904 in the revue La Revue du Moulin by Oudot & Branger, with music by Goublier, in 1907 in the operetta Le Toreador. In 1906 she contributed to Une Revue au Palais-Royal, a revue exceptionally staged at the fancy prose theatre. In 1907 Campton also acted in the comedy Souper d’Adieu at the Theatre des Capucines. In 1907-1910 (and perhaps earlier on already) she performed in the yearly Folies Bergère revue by Flers, together with a.o. Marville and Louis Maurel. With Maurel she sang Entrevue de Marienbad at the Folies Bergère, which was recorded as well and betrays her typical British accent while singing in French. Around 1908, she appeared in the revue Pomme d’amour (music by P. Doubis), singing songs like Déjà!, Elle a tout pour elle, L’arithmétique, Aventure américaine, and Oh, my baby! Campton performed around 1911 at the Theatre des Ambassadeurs, and in 1911-1913 at the Cigale in La revue sans culotte (1911), the comedy Miss Alice des P.T.T. by Tristan Bernard (1912-1913) and in En scene… mon president by H. Delorme (1913), both with Claudius as her male partner. In 1913 she performed in revues at the Theatre Marigny, including one by André Barre and Michel Carré. Miss Campton probably liked a gag, because the magazine Gil Blas announced in February 1913 on the cover page, she might do a box match against boxing champion Georges Charpentier.

Miss Campton
French postcard in the series Nos artistes dans leur loge, no. 169. Photo: Comoedia.

Between 1912 and 1915 and under the name of Aimée Campton, Miss Campton had her own comedy series at the company Eclipse with the character 'Maud’. They were all directed by René Hervil, and with Gabriel de Gravone or Hervil himself as her male partner. Eclipse had started as of 1906 but really boomed as of 1908, with its early westerns with Joë Hammann, the Artheme comic series (1911-1916) starring Ernest Servaes and the weekly newsreel Eclipse journal. Servaes continued his success in the early 1910's with his Artheme Dupin slapstick series, and also directed the Polycarpe comics (1912-1916). As of 1912 Hervil was hired, a former actor at the Lux company, who directed the Maud series (1913-1914), plus the Fred (1914-1916) series; in the latter he played the title character as well. Unfortunately only a few of the hundreds of films produced by Eclipse survive, but one is Les charmes de Maud/Le charme de Maud (1913), which is present in the Desmet Collection of the EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. In Le charme de Maud, it’s all about the harassment of attractive young female office workers. Typist Maud Simpson is too beautiful, so men harass her at her work, even her boss, who argues with her and eventually fires her. At job interviews men continue to bother her, so before starting a job at Vinnay & Co., she changes her physique into ugly and spinster-like, so men stop bothering her. Some days after, the real Maud meets Jack Vinnay, the owner’s son, and they fall in love. The next day Maud goes to work without the make-over and all colleagues, including Jack’s father are flabbergasted. Jack’s father approves of the love between Jack and Maud. During the First World War, Campton continued her stage career, a.o. at the Theatre des Capucines, where she played in 1915 in La Revue En Franchise, written by Berthez, Delorme and C.A. Carpentier (not the boxer), in which she imitated Charlie Chaplin and played a Normandy woman who learns British soldiers to speak French. Two years after she did Ou Campe-t-on? (1917) at the Theatre des Capucines. The title of the revue was a clear pun on the name of the leading lady of the show. The satirical magazine Le Strapontin wrote: “Le Strapontin malgré sa restriction habituelle d’éloges vous conseille sans hésiter d’aller “camper” aux Capucines; vous y passerez deux heures charmantes.” [Despite its usual restrain from praise, The Strapontin advises you to go and ‘camp’ at the Capucines; you’ll pass two charming hours there’]. During the war Campton also contributed to charity parties within the theatre world. In 1916 for instance she did a parody on Les Mystères de New York, together with Victor Boucher, at the Theatre de Chatelet. After the war Campton’s career was less intense. In 1921 she had a supporting part in the revue Ça va? by Rip and Gignoux, staged at the Theatre de Paris. The leading actors were George and Pauley. In 1922 Campton was critically unsuccessful in the revue Va l’dire à… Gênes! by Max Eddy at La Cigale, in which she had the lead. Georges Schmitt in La Rampe thought her poor French was now an obstacle, while a decade ago audiences and press found this one of her assets. She also performed in 1923 with Sacha Guitry’s Blanc et Noir, staged at the Variétés, and even if her role was praised, the leads were for Jane Marnac and Raimu. In the same year she had a supporting part in Un Jour de Folie, by André Birabeau, again at the Variétés, and again with Marnac and Raimu. By now Campton had become a society lady and the friend of Paul Derval, the owner of the Folies Bergère from 1918 on. Emily/Aimée Campton lived in Paris at 7, rue Albert de Neuville. Because of a cancer she died in 1930 in Paris and lies buried at the cemetery of Montmartre, in the tomb of Paul Derval. Sources disagree whether she was his cousin or his girlfriend. In 1931 the jewels and furs of Miss Campton were auctioned at Drouot by actor Henri Baudin. Visitors crammed the small auction room and paid high prices for her rings and particular her string of 95 pearls, while Sacha Guitry bought a fur coat.

CAMPTON, Miss_Alterocca-Terni. 6145
Italian postcard by Alterocca, Terni, no. 6145. Collection: Performing Arts/Artes Escénicas (Flickr).

CAMPTON, Miss_Alterocca-Terni. 6145 b
Italian postcard by Alterocca, Terni, no. 6145b. Collection: Performing Arts/Artes Escénicas (Flickr).

CAMPTON, Miss_Alterocca-Terni. 6165
Italian postcard by Alterocca, Terni, no. 61465. Sent by mail in 1906. Collection: Performing Arts/Artes Escénicas (Flickr).

CAMPTON, Miss_FK. 14-1. Photo Stebbing
French postcard by FK, no. 14-1. Photo: Stebbing. Collection: Performing Arts/Artes Escénicas (Flickr).

Sources: Gallica (including La Rampe, Le Figaro, Le Strapontin, Gil Blas, etc.), Richard Abel (The Ciné Goes to Town), Campton and Chicksands, Wikipedia (French) and IMDb.

Special thanks to Adrien Vernardin, Le musée du music-hall.

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