French postcard, sent by mail in 1905.
French postcard, no. 176. Collection: Didier Hanson.
Austrian postcard by Iris-Verlag, no. 5108. Photo: P. Apers.
Mistinguett was born as Jeanne Florentine Bourgeois in Enghien-les-Bains, France, in 1875. She was the daughter of labourer Antoine Bourgeois, and seamstress Jeannette Debrée. At an early age Jeanne aspired to be an entertainer. She began as a flower seller in a restaurant in her home town, singing popular ballads as she sold her flowers.
When a song-writing acquaintance made up the name Miss Tinguette, Jeanne liked it. She made it her own by joining it together and eventually dropping the second S and the final E (Mistinguett). Mistinguett made her debut at the Casino de Paris in 1895, and appeared also in shows at the Folies Bergère, Moulin Rouge, and Eldorado.
In 1908 she made her film debut in the short silent film L'empreinte ou La main rouge/The Impression or the Red Hand (Henri Burguet, 1908) for Pathé Fréres. Her co-star in this film was Max Dearly, who chose her the next year to be his partner to create La valse chaloupée (or the Apache Dance) in the Moulin Rouge.
Between 1909 and 1915, she appeared on the stages of the Paris music halls but also in dozens of short films for Pathé, including Fleur de pavé/Her Dramatic Career (Albert Capellani, Michel Carré, 1909) with Charles Prince, Une petite femme bien douce/A Sweet Little Lady (George Denola, 1910) which she also wrote, and Le clown et le pacha/The Clown and the Pasha (Georges Monca, 1911), again with Prince.
In Une bougie récalcitrante/A Stubborn Spark Plug (Georges Monca, 1912), she appeared for the first time opposite the much younger Maurice Chevalier. With Chevalier she would have a relationship of more than 10 years.
The most successful film among her Pathé films was Les misérables (Albert Capelani, 1913), a four-part-serial based on the famous novel by Victor Hugo.
French postcard, no. 67. Photo: H. Manuel. Collection: Didier Hanson.
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition, Paris, no. 175. Photo: P. Apers.
French postcard by Bleuet, no. 970. Photo Utudjian, Paris.
French postcard. Illustration: Cabrol. Collection: Marlène Pilaete.
Legs of 500,000 Francs
During the First World War Mistinguett continued to appear in Pathé productions like the comedies La valse renversante/The Amazing Waltz (Georges Monca, 1914) again opposite Maurice Chevalier, and Rigadin et la jolie manucure/Rigadin and the Pretty Manicurist (Georges Monca, 1915) with Charles Prince.
In Italy she appeared in La doppia ferita/The Double Injury (Augusto Genina, 1915). Opposite the legendary Harry Baur she starred in Chignon d'or/The Gold Chignon (André Hugon, 1916) and Fleur de Paris/Flower of Paris (André Hugon, 1916).
In 1916 she first recorded her signature song Mon Homme. It was popularised under its English title My Man by Fanny Brice and has become a standard in the repertoire of numerous pop and jazz singers.
In 1918, she succeeded Gaby Deslys at the Casino de Paris, and remained the undisputed star of nocturnal Paris until 1925. In 1919 her legs were insured for the then astounding amount of 500,000 francs. During a tour of the United States, she was asked by Time magazine to explain her popularity. Her answer was: "It is a kind of magnetism. I say 'Come closer' and draw them to me."
After WWI Mistinguett's film career halted. She only appeared in a few more films, including L'île d'amour/Island of Love (Berthe Dagmar, Jean Durand, 1928) and Rigolboche (Christian-Jaque, 1936). Mistinguett's stage career prospered and lasted over fifty years.
Her last film appearance was as herself in the Italian musical Carosello del varietà/Variety Carousel (Aldo Bonaldi, Aldo Quinti, 1955). In 1956, Mistinguett died at the age of 80. She is buried in the Cimetiere Enghien-les-Bains, Île-de-France, France.
French postcard, no. 113. Photo: Studio Harcourt.
French postcard by Editions P.I., no. 49. Photo: Studio Piaz.
French or Belgian postcard. Mistinguett in the sound film Rigolboche (Christian-Jaque, 1936).
Sources: Wikipedia and IMDb.