30 August 2016

Nita Raya

Beautiful Nita Raya (1915-2015) was a French dancer, singer and actress. She was a lead dancer at the Folies-Bergère. For ten years, she was the companion of Maurice Chevalier.

Nita Raya
French postcard by EPC, no. 36. Photo: Studio Harcourt.

La Mexicana

Nita Raya was born Raïssa Beloff-Yerkovitch in 1915 in Chişinău, Moldovia – then known as Kishinev and part of the Russian Empire. She came from a Jewish Romanian family. Her father was Vladimir Beloff, who worked as a tailor and a taxi driver, and her mother was Angelina or Anna Jerkovitch.

In 1926 mother and daughter moved to France, where Nita attended dance courses by the celebrated Russian artist Olga Préobrajenska. She made her dance debut in the Parisian cabaret Le bal Tabarin, where she danced the Cancan at the side of Viviane Romance. An accident finished her dance career and she then attended acting courses by René Simon.

She made her first film appearance in the short comedy Olive se marie/Olive Marries (Maurice de Canonge, 1931). Three years later this debut was followed by the feature comedies Le Père Lampion/Father Lampion (Christian-Jaque, 1934) with Félicien Tramel, and L'École des contribuables/The School for Taxpayers (René Guissart, 1934) with Armand Bernard.

On stage she was part of the first production of Marie Galante (1934) a musical written by Jacques Deval and Roger Fernay with music by Kurt Weill. The following year she had a small part in the historical film Lucrèce Borgia/Lucrezia Borgia (Abel Gance, 1935), starring Edwige Feuillère. She also had supporting parts in Sous la griffe/Under the claw (Christian-Jaque, 1935) with Constant Rémy, and Sacré Léonce/Holy Leonce (Christian-Jaque, 1936).

The 19-years old Raya fell in love with the 46-years old Maurice Chevalier, who had just returned to Paris from his Hollywood adventure. Between 1935 and 1945, she was his companion. The following years she got bigger film parts. She had the female lead opposite singer Tino Rossi in Au son des guitars/The Sound of Guitars (Pierre-Jean Ducis, 1936).

She also had bigger parts in the comedies Les Rois du sport/The Kings of Sport (Pierre Colombier, 1937) with Fernandel, Raimu and Jules Berry, and Ignace (Pierre Colombier, 1937), again with Fernandel. In the latter she sang the hit La Mexicana. The following year, she starred opposite Victor Boucher in the romantic comedy Chipée (Roger Goupillières, 1938). She also performed in Music Halls like Petit-Casino, Bobino, l’Européen, and l’ABC.

Nita Raya
French postcard, no. 585. Photo: Teddy Piaz.

Lead Dancer at the Follies-Bergère

In 1939, Nita Raya appeared in the drama Entente cordiale/Cordial agreement (Marcel L'Herbier, 1939), starring Gaby Morlay, Victor Francen and Pierre Richard-Willm, and based on a book by André Maurois. The film depicts the 1904 signing of the Entente Cordiale creating an alliance between Britain and France and ending their historic rivalry. It was made with an eye to its propaganda value, as the Second World War had broken out and Britain and France were allies fighting against Nazi Germany.

After Bécassine (Pierre Caron, 1940) with Paulette Dubost, Raya would not be seen in the cinemas for more than 10 years. D.B. DuMonteil at IMDb: "Bécassine was one of the first European comic strips, although its author did not use the speech bubbles; it began to define what is known under the ‘clear line’ term, which spawned the whole Belgian school, of which Tintin is the most famous work. But the people are very divided on the character: a lot of people (particularly Bretons) have always thought that this bubble head servant was a way of laughing at Bretagne, which would have been behind the times. (…) When Becassine was transferred to the screen in 1940, there was an outcry in Bretagne: a real storm in a teacup, considering what was happening in France at the time.”

During the war, the Jewish Raya and her companion Maurice Chevalier were hosted by Desha Delteil. Chevalier helped Raya to get false identity papers so she could escape deportation.

After the war she appeared in operettas by the company of Francis Lopez. She returned briefly in the cinemas in the anthology film La rafle est pour ce soir/The raid is tonight (Maurice Dekobra, 1954) based on stories by Guy de Maupassant. It was her final film.

She worked as the lead dancer in the revue at the famous Follies-Bergère. During the 1960s she often performed with Édith Piaf and wrote two songs for her, Je m’imagine and Toujours aimer. Nita Raya died in 2015 in a retirement home in Trégastel in Brittany. She was 99. For a time she was married to Joseph Akcelrod. She was survived by her son Patrick Akcelrod and his family.

Nita Raya
French postcard by Erpé, no. 182. Photo: Studio Harcourt.

Sources: D.B. DuMonteil (IMDb), Ariane Trifin (Nita Raya Blog - French), Le Télégramme (French), Wikipedia (French), and IMDb.

No comments: