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Agatha at 16 in Paris. 1906

Agatha at 16 in Paris. 1906

Thinking back over her teenage years, English crime novelist Agatha Christie (1890-1976) wasn’t sure how long she had been at her finishing school in Paris. In her autobiography, she wrote:

I am hazy now as to how long I remained at Miss Dryden’s – a year, perhaps eighteen months, I do not think as long as two years.”

Upon one point, however, she was perfectly clear. It was during her stay at Miss Dryden’s that she discovered men:

Something happened to me at the sight of Rudy [an American college boy]….From that moment forward I stepped out of the territory of hero worship….I wanted to meet…lots of real young men – in fact, there couldn’t be too many of them.”

Girls and young women of this period believed, including Agatha, that in these packs of real young men lurked their future husband, commonly referred to as “Fate” or “Mr. Right.” She says:

You were waiting for The Man, and when the man came, he would change your entire life!…In the words of old nurses, nannies, cooks, and housemaids:

‘One day Mr. Right will come along.‘”

Back then, her name was Agatha Miller. When Agatha left finishing school (1907) and returned home to her mother in Torquay, England, her dream of becoming a concert pianist had faded, but not her desire to meet men – and lots of them. She was 17, and, in her own words, good-looking. She was tall and slender with masses of thick, wavy, and  golden hair – hair so long she could sit on it.

Agatha Christie as a child. She had fantastic hair.  Undated photo, ca. 1900

Agatha Christie as a child. She had fantastic hair. Undated photo, ca. 1900

She wore it up now, in the Grecian style, because, at 17, she was ready to “come out,” and that was the proper hairstyle for a girl going from a chrysalis to a butterfly.

Edwardian Era hairstyles had to be big and poufy to hold the enormous hats the Edwardians were so fond of.

Edwardian Era hairstyles had to be big and poufy to hold the enormous hats the Edwardians were so fond of.

This was the Edwardian Era (1901-1910) in England. It was traditional then for a girl of Agatha’s upper middle class status to mark the transition from girlhood to womanhood by “coming out.” A mother gave her daughter a dance. The daughter would “do a season” of parties in London. But as Agatha’s mother Clarissa was a widow and her wealth was a thing of the past,  there could be nothing like that for Agatha. So, the winter of 1910 they decided to go to Cairo, Egypt, where Agatha could ease her way into society (and meet men). Travel was relatively cheap then and they would lease their house out for extra income. They were going Agatha husband-hunting.

Clarissa Miller, Agatha Christie's mother, at her home in Torquay, England, before the start of the First World War (1914)

Clarissa Miller, Agatha Christie’s mother, at her home in Torquay, England, before the start of the First World War (1914)

Mother and daughter set sail for Cairo where they would join other mothers and daughters with the same purpose. They were not disappointed. Three or four regiments were stationed in Cairo. There was polo matches to watch every afternoon and, five nights a week, there were dances in the hotels. Cairo was crawling with men - exciting ones, too.

Agatha Christie (center) at a dancing class, Torquay. She was a good dancer. undated photo

Agatha Christie (center) at a dancing class, Torquay. She was a good dancer. undated photo

Agatha and Clarissa stayed at the Gezirah Palace Hotel in Cairo for three glorious months. Agatha was so busy that she didn’t get as far as even falling slightly in love. Despite being a poor conversationalist, she had been popular among men of all ages and backgrounds, even an Austrian count, as she was both pretty and a great dancer. In the end, two men proposed marriage to her. (Men proposed very freely back then!) Her first suitor, a Captain Hibberd, never actually proposed marriage to Agatha. He timidly told Clarissa of his interest in Agatha. Clarissa didn’t even tell Agatha about it until they were sailing back to England, which made Agatha mad, as she liked to conduct her own love affairs. Agatha’s second marriage proposal came from a young man who was six-foot-five, a nice enough fellow, she admitted, but she didn’t love him, so she turned him down. Agatha would marry for love, as she was fully romantic.

British tourists pose in about 1910 at Giza outside Cairo, the Sphinx over their shoulders. Agatha Christie, too, visited this spot in 1910 but was not as interested in Egyptology and archaeology then as she would be in later years.

British tourists pose in about 1910 at Giza outside Cairo, the Sphinx over their shoulders. Agatha Christie, too, visited this spot in 1910 but was not as interested in Egyptology and archaeology then as she would be in later years.

Agatha returned to England with newfound confidence in herself – and still looking for “Mr. Right.” Over the next two years, she was courted by a string of eligible bachelors and became engaged to three of them. She spread her wings. She went up in an aeroplane. She visited a friend in Florence. She dreamed of becoming an opera singer but thought better of it. Then, one day, sick with the flu and stuck in bed, bored, she decided “to try her hand at a novel.” She began to write in earnest and, before long, she had formed the habit of writing stories.

Meanwhile, she was engaged to Reggie Lucy (who hated dancing and parties) when, in December of 1912, she was asked by some family friends to attend a dance being given for the members of the Garrison from Exeter. She reluctantly agreed. She traveled the 12 miles distance by train then car to Chudleigh.

Agatha Christie attends a house party, undated photo. Note the elaborate clothing of the Edwardian Era.

Agatha Christie attends a house party, undated photo. Note the elaborate clothing of the Edwardian Era.

Her friend Arthur Griffiths, who was stationed at that same Garrison in Exeter, wrote her to say that, sadly, he was not one of the officers able to attend the dance but to look out for a friend of his who was indeed going,

Christie by name….He’s a good dancer.”

Later, when Agatha was at the dance, she said:

Christie came my way quite soon in the dance. He was a tall, fair young man, with crisp curly hair, a rather interesting nose, turned up, not down, and a great air of careless confidence about  him….We got on together very well; he danced splendidly…I enjoyed the evening thoroughly.”

Ten days later, back in Torquay, Agatha was having tea with the Mellors across the street from her home. She and Max Mellor were practicing the tango. The phone rang. It was Agatha’s mother asking her to “Come home at once, will you, Agatha?” A young man was waiting for her in the parlor. Clarissa didn’t give his name.

Agatha was irritated at having to abandon her fun at the Mellors; she felt sure that her gentleman caller was a “rather dreary young naval lieutenant, the one who used to ask” her to read his poems. She left sulkily for home.

Colonel Archie Christie in an undated photo

Colonel Archie Christie in an undated photo

But it wasn’t the dreary young naval lieutenant standing nervously in the family drawing room. It was Archie Christie (1889-1962), the man from the dance. He made up some lame excuse about having been in the neighborhood and deciding to look her up, but it was clear he was taken with Agatha. They chatted uncomfortably at first, then, after a few minutes, it got better. The afternoon wore on. Clarissa asked Archie to stay for a  “scratch dinner” of cold turkey, cheese, and salad. For the next several weeks it was like that, him arriving unexpectedly on his motorbike, spending the day, then motoring off “in a series of explosive bumps to Exeter.”

Agatha’s interest in fiancé Reggie Lucy was waning. Within a month, she broke that engagement and became engaged to Archie Christie. Now he was “Mr. Right.” They broke the news to Agatha’s mother. Clarissa knew that it would be hard for them, with Archie’s meager salary as a soldier and Agatha’s even more meager allowance of 100  pounds a year from her grandparents’ estate. She counseled then to wait, but did not object to the marriage. She could see that the two of them were terribly in love.

It was Archie’s mother Peg Hemsley who went and spoiled it all.

Agatha recalled the scene when Archie told his mother he was engaged to her:

‘Would she now be one of those girls that’s wearing one of these new-fangled Peter Pan collars?’

Rather uneasily Archie had to admit that I did wear Peter Pan collars. They were rather a feature of the moment.

1914 day dresses featuring Peter Pan collars.

1914 day dresses featuring Peter Pan collars.

We girls had at last abandoned the high collars to our blouses, which were stiffened by little zigzag bones, one up each side and one at the back, so as to leave red, uncomfortable marks on the neck. A day came when people determined to be daring and achieve comfort.

1911 Queen Mary with Ladies in Waiting. These women were not "Go-Ahead Girls"; they still wore the stiff collars of the Edwardians.

1911 Queen Mary with Ladies in Waiting. These women were not “Go-Ahead Girls”; they still wore the stiff collars of the Edwardians.

The Peter Pan collar was designed, presumably, from the turned-down collar worn by Peter Pan in Barrie’s play.

Maude Adams starred as Peter Pan in a 1905 British play. The collar on her costume, known as the Peter Pan collar, became popular.

Maude Adams starred as Peter Pan in a 1905 British play. The collar on her costume, known as the Peter Pan collar, became popular.

It fitted round the bottom of the neck, was of soft material, had nothing like a bone about it, and was heaven to wear.

1914 Dress featuring Peter Pan collar and a more relaxed dress line. Ladies were abandoning rigid clothing and corsets.

1914 Dress featuring Peter Pan collar and a more relaxed dress line. Ladies were abandoning rigid clothing and corsets.

It could hardly have been called daring. When I think of the reputation for possible fastness that we girls incurred, just by showing the four inches of neck from below the chin, it seems incredible….

Anyway, I was one of those go-ahead girls who, in 1912, wore a Peter Pan collar.

‘And she looks lovely in it,’ said the loyal Archie.

‘Ah, she would, no doubt,’ said Peg.”

Agatha Christie ca. 1926

Agatha Christie ca. 1926

Regardless of Peg’s disapproval, Archie and Agatha did marry – two years later. It was at Christmas and England was at war with Germany (1914). Archie was on leave; he was then a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps. They were staying at Bristol with his mother and stepfather. Archie decided that getting married was the only sensible thing to do. They hunted down the vicar and, outside the church, saw a friend of Agatha’s who agreed to witness the wedding. Agatha was wearing an ordinary coat and skirt with a small purple velvet hat, and hadn’t had time even to wash her hands and face. The ceremony was performed with only bride, groom, witness, vicar, and organist present. The newlyweds then had two days together before Archie returned to France and the dangerous business of being a fighter pilot in the First World War (July 1914-November 1918).

It would be six months before Agatha would see her husband again. She resumed volunteer work at the hospital in Torquay – and, more importantly, writing story after story at home, and seeing them published. In good time, Agatha Miller  – now Agatha Christie -  would be regarded as the world’s best-selling novelist, her literary success having been made possible despite “Mr. Right,” not because of him, contrary to what she had been brought up to believe.

"My Fair Lady" soundtrack poster. Miss Hepburn wears the Ascot ensemble.

“My Fair Lady” soundtrack poster

On June 19, 2011,the Ascot dress and hat worn by Audrey Hepburn in the 1964 Academy Award-winning film, “My Fair Lady,” sold at auction for an incredible $3.7 million. The ensemble was designed by Cecil Beaton and was sold from the Debbie Reynolds Collection. Originally, the actress Debbie Reynolds paid $100,000 for the outfit.

Worn by Miss Hepburn in the most memorable scene in the film, it is perhaps the most famous garment ever designed for a motion picture and, most assuredly, Mr. Beaton’s magnum opus.

Art designer Cecil Beaton checks Audrey Hepburn's Ascot costume on the set of "My Fair Lady," 1963

Art designer Cecil Beaton checks Audrey Hepburn’s Ascot costume on the set of “My Fair Lady,” 1963

 

Cecil Beaton's sketch for Audrey Hepburn's Ascot costume, "My Fair Lady" (1964)

Cecil Beaton’s sketch for Audrey Hepburn’s Ascot costume, “My Fair Lady” (1964)

Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle at the Royal Ascot horse races. In the film, Eliza is every inch a refined English lady until the horserace tightens. Then she erupts in a stream of Cockney speech that threatens to blow her cover as a Covent Garden flower girl.

Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle at the Royal Ascot horse races. In the film, Eliza is every inch a refined English lady until the horserace tightens. Then she erupts in a stream of Cockney speech that threatens to blow her cover as a Covent Garden flower girl.

For more on Audrey Hepburn, click here.

Audrey Hepburn as Cockney flower seller in 1964 musical film, "My Fair Lady." Julie Andrews had played the lead in the Broadway play but producer Jack Warner wanted Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle for his film. Warner's film was to cost him $5 million. Audrey was well-known, talented, and her films never lost money. He wanted Audrey, not Julie. It caused quite a flap in the movie industry, with many feeling Julie Andrews should have had the role. Julie Andrew was then cast as Mary Poppins. That year, Audrey was snubbed at the Academy Awards, not even being nominated for her "My Fair Lady" performance. Julie Andrews won the Best Actress Oscar for "Mary Poppins."

Audrey Hepburn as Cockney flower seller in 1964 musical film, “My Fair Lady.” Julie Andrews had played the lead in the Broadway play but producer Jack Warner wanted Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle for his film. Warner’s film was to cost him $5 million. Audrey was well-known, talented, and her films never lost money. He wanted Audrey, not Julie. It caused quite a flap in the movie industry, with many feeling that singer Julie Andrews should have had the role. So Audrey was cast in “My Fair Lady.” Shortly Disney cast Julie Andrews in the musical spectacle, “Mary Poppins”. That year, Audrey was snubbed at the Academy Awards, not even being nominated for her “My Fair Lady” performance. Julie Andrews won the Best Actress Oscar for “Mary Poppins.”

In the 1964 Academy Award winning musical, “My Fair Lady,” linguistics professor Henry Higgins places a bet with his colleague Colonel Pickering. He boasts that, in six months time, he can transform a low-bred, disheveled Cockney flower seller named Eliza Doolittle into a duchess by teaching her to speak properly. Eliza is agreeable; she wants to speak better so she can get a job in a flower shop.

Eliza appears at Professor Higgins’ house to make arrangements for language lessons. Higgins’ housekeeper Mrs. Pearce escorts her into the library, where Higgins is discussing the possible experiment with Pickering.

Pickering: Won’t you sit down, Miss Doolittle?

Eliza (coyly): Oh, I don’t mind if I do. (She sits down on sofa.)

(Eliza offers to pay for voice lessons but Pickering wants to sponsor her.)

Eliza: Oh, you’re real good. Thank you, Captain.

Higgins (tempted, looking at her) It’s almost irresistible. She’s so deliciously low – so horribly dirty!

Eliza: Aoooow! I ain’t dirty: I washed my face and hands afore I come, I did.

Higgins: I’ll take it! I’ll make a duchess of this draggletailed gutter-snipe!

Eliza: Aoooooooow!

Higgins: (carried away): I’ll start today! Now! This moment! Take her away and clean her, Mrs. Pearce. Sandpaper if it won’t come off any other way. Is there a good fire in the kitchen?

Mrs. Pearce: Yes, but -

Higgins (storming on): Take all her clothes off and burn them. Ring up and order some new ones. Wrap her up in brown paper till they come.

Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle

Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins

Wilfrid Hyde-White as Colonel Hugh Pickering

Mona Washbourne as Mrs. Pearce, Higgins’ housekeeper

Mrs. Pearce follows instructions to bathe Eliza Doolittle.

Mrs. Pearce follows instructions to bathe Eliza Doolittle.

Mrs. Pearce prepares the bath for Eliza.

Mrs. Pearce prepares the bath for Eliza.

Cecil Beaton, in charge of sets and costumes, recalls the day this scene was taped for “My Fair Lady”. He recalled it in his diary:

Wednesday, 21 August (1963)

…I wanted to congratulate Audrey (Hepburn) on her appearance, so went down on to the set for a word with her. I watched her being shot, listening to Higgins telling Pickering that, but for her appalling accent, Liza (sic: Eliza) could be passed off as a duchess. The play of expression on her face was such that one could almost see her brain at work with ideas that followed one another like a succession of pictures….

Thursday, 22 August (1963)

At lunch-time Audrey, wearing her dirty hair and face, came into my room to say ‘Ullow’. Every dawn Audrey has to have her hair covered with grease, then with a lot of brown Fuller’s Earth. The effect is really dirty, and psychologically must be very depressing. Tiring, too: it takes another hour to wash out the dirt before going home after the day’s shooting….

Audrey is remarkably disciplined: her memory never at fault, she appears on the set word  perfect, and she can give exactly the same performance over and over again. She confessed, however, that yesterday’s pea-shelling scene had been the greatest strain for she had to eat so many raw peas; at best, she does not care for them even when they are at their youngest and smallest, but having had to eat a bushel of huge Californian peas out of their inflated pods, she then went home to dinner and was served duck and green peas!

Tuesday, 27 August (1963)

On the set Audrey was still doing ‘Loverly’. Finding it difficult to work to different ‘play-backs’ she had been nervously taut most of the day. Now, by mid-afternoon, she was tired out. Her hairdresser was massaging the back of her neck: everyone sorry for her, and the atmosphere tense.

Cecil Beaton's costume design for character Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady" musical film 1964

Cecil Beaton’s costume design for character Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” musical film 1964

Although Audrey practiced extensively to be able to sing in “My Fair Lady,” in the end it was decided that 90% of her vocal numbers would be dubbed with the voice of Marni Nixon. However, she did sing ‘Wouldn’t it be Loverly,’ shown in the following video:

 

For more on Audrey Hepburn, click here.

“My Fair Lady” movie trivia

“My Fair Lady” movie quotes

 

Audrey Hepburn 1953

Audrey Hepburn 1953

In 1954, British photographer and creative artist, Cecil Beaton, wrote this article for “Vogue” about a rising film star named Audrey Hepburn. Miss Hepburn was 25 and the newest sensation. She had just won the Academy Award for Best Actress for “Roman Holiday.”

It is always a dramatic moment when the Phoenix rises anew from its ashes. For if “queens have died young and fair,” they are also reborn, appearing in new guises which often create their own terms of appreciation. Even while the pessimists were predicting that no new feminine ideal could emerge from the aftermath of war, an authentic existentialist Galatea was being forged in the person of Miss Audrey Hepburn.

No one can doubt that Audrey Hepburn’s appearance succeeds because it embodies the spirit of today. She had, if you like, her prototypes in France – Damia, Edith Piaf, or Juliet Greco. But it took the rubble of Belgium [sicHolland] an English accent, and an American success to launch the striking personality that best exemplifies our new Zeitgeist [spirit of the age].

French waif

French waif

Nobody ever looked like her before World War II; it is doubtful if anybody ever did, unless it be those wild children of the French Revolution whose stride in the foreground of romantic canvases. Yet we recognize the rightness of this appearance in relation to our historical needs. And the proof is that thousands of imitations have appeared. The woods are full of emaciated young ladies with rat-nibbled hair and moon-pale faces.

Heron's eyes

Heron’s eyes

What does their paragon really look like? Audrey Hepburn has enormous heron’s eyes and dark eye-brows slanted towards the Far East. Her facial features show character rather than prettiness: the bridge of the nose seems almost too narrow to carry its length, which bares into a globular tip with nostrils startlingly like a duck’s bill. Her mouth is wide, with a cleft under the lower lip too deep for classical beauty, and the delicate chin appears even smaller by contrast with the exaggerated width of her jaw bones. Seen at the full, the outline of her face is perhaps too square; yet she intuitively tilts her head with a restless and perky asymmetry.

Madame Pompadour by Amedeo Modigliani, 1914.

Madame Pompadour by Amedeo Modigliani, 1914.

She is like a portrait by Modigliani where the various distortions are not only interesting in themselves but make a completely satisfying composite.

Beneath this child-like head (as compact as a coconut with its cropped hair and wispy monkey-fur fringe) is a long, incredibly slender and straight neck.

A rod-like back continues the vertical line of the nape, and she would appear exaggeratedly tall were it not for her natural grace.

1954 Sabrina dress

Audrey appears in a Givenchy dress from the 1954 movie, “Sabrina.”

Audrey Hepburn’s stance is a combination of an ultra fashion plate and a ballet dancer. Indeed, she owes a large debt to the ballet for her bearing and abandon in movement, which yet suggest a personal quality, an angular kinship with cranes and storks. She can assume almost acrobatic poses, always maintaining an innate elegance in her incredibly lithe torso, long, flat waist, tapering fingers and endless legs.

Audrey Hepburn was an accomplished ballerina. Undated photo, ca. 1954

Audrey Hepburn was an accomplished ballerina. Undated photo, ca. 1954

With arms akimbo or behind her back, she habitually plants her feet wide apart–one heel dug deep with the toe pointing skywards. And it is more natural for her to squat cross-legged on the floor than to sit in a chair.

Fratellini Poster

Fratellini Poster

Like the natural artist that she is Audrey Hepburn is bold and sure in her effects. There is no lack of vigor in her rejection of the softly pretty. She wears no powder, so that her white skin has a bright sheen. Using a stick of grease paint with a deft stroke, she draws heavy bars of black upon her naturally full brows; and almost in Fratellini fashion, liberally smudges both upper and lower eyelids with black.

To complete the clown boldness, she enlarges her mouth even at the ends, thus making her smile expand to an enormous slice from Sambo’s watermelon. The general public, in its acceptance of such an uncompromisingly stark appearance, has radically forsaken the prettily romantic or pseudo-mysterious heroines of only two decades ago.

1953 Audrey Hepburn grins upon receiving her Oscar for "Roman Holiday."

1953 Audrey Hepburn grins upon receiving her Oscar for “Roman Holiday.”

In clothing, this ingénue Ichabod wears a “junior miss” version of highwayman coats, clergyman cassocks, or students’ pants, overalls, scarfs.

Audrey Hepburn in loafers and scarf. Undated photo

Audrey Hepburn in loafers and scarf. Undated photo

Yet she is infinitely more soignée than most students, possessing, in fact, an almost Oriental sense of the exquisite.

Audrey Hepburn in the 1954 film, "Sabrina."

Audrey Hepburn in the 1954 film, “Sabrina.”

Barnardo's Boys were orphans

Barnardo’s Boys were orphans

And she is immaculately shod, whether in pumps, sandals, or court shoes. Audrey Hepburn is the gamine, the urchin, the lost Barnardo boy.

Audrey Hepburn from the 1954 film, "Sabrina"

Audrey Hepburn from the 1954 film, “Sabrina”

Sometimes she appears to be dangerously fatigued; already, at her lettuce age, there are apt to be shadows under the eyes, while her cheeks seem taut and pallid.

She is a wistful child of a war-chided era, and the shadow thrown across her youth underlines even more its precious evanescence. But if she can reflect sorrow, she seems also to enjoy the happiness life provides for her with such bounty.

It is a rare phenomenon to find a very young girl with such inherent “star quality.” As a result of her enormous success, Audrey Hepburn has already acquired the extra incandescent glow which comes as a result of being acclaimed, admired, and loved. Yet while developing her radiance, she has too much innate candor to take on that gloss of artificiality Hollywood is apt to demand of its queens.

Audrey Hepburn winks in sunlight. undated photo, ca. 1952

Audrey Hepburn winks in sunlight. undated photo, ca. 1952

Her voice is peculiarly personal. With its unaccustomed rhythm and sing-song cadence on a flat drawl, it has a quality of heartbreak. Though such a voice might easily become mannered, she spends much time in improving its musical range.

In fact, with the passing of every month, Audrey Hepburn increases in dramatic stature. Intelligent and alert, wistful but enthusiastic, frank yet tactful, assured without conceit and tender without sentimentality, she is the most promising theatrical talent to appear since the war. Add to this the remarkable distinction she emanates, and it is not rash to say she also gives every indication of being the most interesting public embodiment of our new feminine ideal.

US Vogue, November 01, 1954

 Click here for more on Audrey Hepburn.

Tanaquil Le Clercz, born in Paris to a French father and an American mother, studied dance in NYC. undated photo

Tanaquil Le Clercq, born in Paris to a French father and an American mother, studied dance in NYC. Tanaquil was the name of an Etruscan queen with prophetic powers. Undated photo

In 1944, when fifteen-year-old Tanaquil Le Clercq (1929-2000) was one of ballet master George Balanchine‘s star pupils, she danced the role of a girl stricken with polio in his short piece “Resurgence.” The performance was a March of Dimes benefit held at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. The music was Mozarts String Quintet in G minor, and at the close of the plangent adagio [slow part]…

Balanchine, as the Threat of Polio, came onstage wearing a large black cape and enveloped her [Tanaquil]; she sank to the floor [stricken ill with polio]. In the final movement – a sunny allegro – she reappeared in a wheelchair, children tossed dimes, and she rose and danced again.”1

In 1944, few diseases frightened people more than polio. At that time, there was no cure. Polio struck in the warm summer months, sweeping through towns in epidemics every few years. It was known that polio was highly contagious. What was not known – and was particularly terrifying - was how the virus was transmitted. People did everything they had done in the past to avoid infection but these tactics never worked. They avoided crowds. They stopped going to theatres, swimming pools. Schools closed for weeks at a time.

Though most people recovered quickly from polio, some suffered temporary or permanent paralysis and even death. Many polio survivors were disabled for life. Charities like the March of Dimes raised money to help families deal with their stricken loved ones and to search for a cure. Finally, in 1955, a vaccine became available.

Tanaquil Le Clercq and Nicholas Magallanes in "Jones Beach," 1950

Tanaquil Le Clercq and Nicholas Magallanes in “Jones Beach,” 1950

Tanaquil Le Clercq in New York City Ballet Production of Kafka's Metamorphosis, 1953

Tanaquil Le Clercq in New York City Ballet Production of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, 1953

For the next twelve years, Tanaquil Le Clercq /tan-uh-kill luh-clair/would continue to dazzle audiences of the New York City Ballet with her “perky young vivacity” and “crisp and tangy style.” With her long and limber flamingo legs, Tanaquil Le Clercq – “Tanny” to her friends – defined the Balanchine Ballerina style. Allegra Kent, a young dancer at the time, recalls those limber legs. Once she arrived at ballet class to discover Tanny with a bandage on her nose. Tanny explained her injury, saying that

she had just kicked her leg too high but that she was going to be fine.”2

Tanaquil Le Clercq in her long-limbed beauty, 1953

1954 ad for George Balanchine's smash hit, The Nutcracker

1954 ad for George Balanchine’s smash hit, The Nutcracker

New York City Ballet, front row, George Balanchine seated next to his muse on the right, prima ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq, 1952

On New Year’s Eve 1952, Tanny became George Balanchine’s fourth official wife. Every dancer knew she was Balanchine’s favorite, his inspiration to create, his muse. And now she was his wife. She was 23; he was 48.

To understand Tanny’s broad appeal, here is a video clip from one of her 1956 Paris performances. In “Western Symphony,” a satire on the American Wild West, Tanny plays a dance hall girl strutting around a saloon with a cowboy.  She has wit:

The Paris performance of “Western Symphony” was part of a 10-week European tour, begun in August 1956, that encompassed Salzburg, Vienna, Zurich, Venice, Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Brussels, Antwerp, Paris, Cologne, Copenhagen, and Stockholm. It was an ambitious schedule, brutal and exhausting, especially when prima ballerina Maria Tallchief (Balanchine’s third wife) unexpectedly departed mid-tour and Tanny had to fill in for her. Coughing, thin, and tired, Tanny collapsed in Copenhagen. On November 1, she was rushed to the hospital. She fell into a coma and could not breathe on her own. They placed her in an iron lung. Tanny had contracted polio. She was 27.

It made international news. “Tanaquil Le Clercq Stricken With Polio,” reported the New York Times on November 2, 1956. The dance world was shocked.

The polio vaccine shot had just become available when the New York City Ballet embarked on its 1956 European tour. There had been outbreaks of polio in Germany, a country on the tour agenda, and the troupe needed to be prudent. However, Tanaquil Le Clercq did not get the shot, although most of the other dancers did. She told fellow dancer Jacques D’Amboise that she hated shots and worried that the vaccine might negatively affect the quality of her dancing. Just months later, Tanny would contract polio while on tour. Photo from I Was a Dancer by Jacques D’Amboise

Tanny remained in the Blegdamshospitalet (Copenhagen Polio Hospital) for four and a half months before returning home. Although she survived the disease, she was permanently paralyzed from the waist down. The most beautiful dancer of the New York City Ballet would never walk again. Tanny, who had danced ballet since the age of 7, would never again dance. Her career was over.

But not her marriage. Balanchine took a year off to take care of Tanny himself. Deeply mystical, he could not shake the feeling that he had somehow played an evil part in her fate. He recalled that March of Dimes performance twelve years before when he had played the part of the Threat of Polio. He had reached out his foul hand and laid it on Tanny, afflicting her in what then seemed then but an innocent little play.

‘It was an omen,’ he would later say. ‘It foretold the future.’” 3

However, in the March of Dimes play, after the shower of dimes was bestowed on the wheelchair-bound Tanny, she retrieved her ballet slippers, put them on, and danced joyfully across then off the stage.

‘It was, alas, a balletic finale.’ Balanchine reflected. ‘Nothing like that ending will happen in Tanny’s real life.’” 3

 

Tanaquil Le Clercq and husband George Balanchine in an undated photo. They would divorce.

 

1 “Dancing Around the Truth” by Holly Brubach. The New York Times, February 15, 1012.

2 “Tanaquil Le Clercq.” Ballet Encyclopedia online.

3 Taper, Bernard. Balanchine: a Biography. University of California Press, 1996.

Members of the Sadler's Wells Ballet Company leave Victoria Station, London, for a tour of Holland, May 1940

Members of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company leave Victoria Station, London, for a tour of Holland, May 1940. Director Ninette de Valois is on the far right.

When the Germans invaded Holland on May 10, 1940, Ninette de Valois found herself trapped in The Hague. She was the director of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company from England. She and her 42 dancers had been on a Dutch tour. On the day of the invasion, de Valois had been sitting at a sidewalk café with two members of the dance company. It was noon. Suddenly, a stray bullet ricocheted from the pavement, passed between their heads, and crashed through the café’s plate glass window behind them. The bullet had been fired from a German plane swooping over the city square. The diners were rushed inside to safety.

That morning, some of the dancers had flocked to the rooftop of their hotel to watch German parachutists float down and land in the area around the Hague, where Queen Wilhelmina resided.  Thousands of leaflets also fluttered down from the enemy aircraft, some landing on the rooftop, that proclaimed:

Strong German troop units have surrounded the city. Resistance is of no use. Germany does not fight your country but Great Britain. In order to continue this battle the German Army has been forced to penetrate your country. The German Army protects the life and goods of every peace-loving citizen. However, the German troops will punish every deed of violence committed by the population with a death sentence.” 1

For five days, the Dutch army fought bravely, but it was no match for the German war machine. The Netherlands had a policy of neutrality and had had no recent experience of resisting outside invading forces. Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch Royal Family from the Royal House of Orange-Nassau refused to accept the Nazi offer of protection and sailed to England on the HMS Hereford sent by King George VI.

The Exiled Royals with the King and Queen of England, WWII (photo undated). From left to right: Queen Marie of Yugoslavia,Miss Benesj,Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands,Miss Raczkiewicz,King George VI of England,King Peter of Yugoslavia,King Haakon of Norway, Queen Elizabeth (The Queen mother) of England, the President of Poland, M. Raczkiewicz and Dr. Benesj, President of Tsjecho- Slovakia.

The Exiled Royals with the King and Queen of England, WWII (photo undated). From left to right: Queen Marie of Yugoslavia,Miss Benesj,Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands,Miss Raczkiewicz,King George VI of England,King Peter of Yugoslavia,King Haakon of Norway, Queen Elizabeth (The Queen mother) of England, the President of Poland, M. Raczkiewicz and Dr. Benesj, President of Tsjecho- Slovakia.

The Netherlands surrendered on May 15.

For the next seven weeks, the citizens of Holland did not resist the German occupation. They buried their dead and mourned their losses. They were shocked and demoralized. They felt abandoned by their queen.

Audrey Hepburn-Ruston, ca. 1941 (age 12)

Audrey Hepburn-Ruston, ca. 1941 (age 12)

Audrey Hepburn was eleven years old when the Germans took over her town of Arnhem, Holland:

“The first few months we didn’t quite know what had happened.”

But Queen Wilhelmina reached out to her subjects across the North Sea via newsreels and BBC radio broadcasts, revitalizing Dutch hope for Allied liberation, and condemning German aggression. She urged them to resist the moffen (German Huns). For the next five years, the radio voice of the Queen would be the main source of inspiration for the Dutch Resistance Movement.

Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard celebrate their engagement 1936. Note the white carnation in the Prince's lapel.

Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard celebrate their engagement 1936. Note the white carnation in the Prince’s lapel.

An opportunity for the Dutch citizens to protest the German occupation arrived on June 29. It was the birthday of Prince Bernhard, the Queen’s son-in-law. Since he had been a student, the Prince had worn a trademark white carnation in his lapel.

So, on June 29, the Dutch people demonstrated their loyalty to Queen and country and their defiance of Nazi rule. People participated all across the country, but the activity was strongest in Amsterdam and The Hague.

People displayed vases full of carnations in the windows of homes and stores. Women and girls wore orange skirts, orange being the national color, symbolic of the Royal House of Orange. The Dutch flag was flown. Men pinned white carnations in the buttonhole of their coats, in imitation of Prince Bernhard, a German who was anti-Nazi.  Some people rode bicycles around town all dressed in orange.

Crowds gathered at the statue of Queen Emma, Wilhelmina’s mother, in Amsterdam to lay flowers.

The Queen Emma monument is festooned with flowers on Carnation Day, 1940

The Queen Emma monument is festooned with flowers on Carnation Day, 1940

At first, only single flowers were placed on the statue’s lap. Then others arrived carrying great pots of flowers. Soon the area at the base of the statue was covered in flowers. On the nearby lawn, the letter B was formed with a clever flower arrangement. People brought cut-out pictures of the royal family and laid these beside the flowers.

A street organ began to play the national anthem. Softly at first, people began to sing. Shortly, though, more people lifted their voices in patriotic song. Emotion was running high.

Men belonging to the WA, the military arm of the Dutch Nazi organization (NSB), shoved into crowds and started fights. The WA goons wore black shirts. Many people were injured.

NSB members (Dutch Nazis or collaborators) show up at a statue of Queen Emma on Carnation Day, giving the straight arm salute.

NSB members (Dutch Nazis or collaborators) show up at a statue of Queen Emma on Carnation Day, giving the straight arm salute.

People gathered at the Queen’s residence in the Hague, the Noordeinde Palace, to lay flowers on the balcony and to sign the birthday register.  The German commander of the Wehrmacht feared a riot. He ordered German fighter planes to fly above the city, diving now and then, but not to shoot, to get the crowd to disperse.

This day became known as Anjerdag, “Carnation Day.”

German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels is shown at the entrance to Queen Wilhelmina's residence, the Noordeinde Palace in The Hague on Carnation Day. The nonviolent protest demonstration by the Dutch citizens greatly alarmed their German occupiers. Hitler was informed and the Nazis began their crackdown on Dutch life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels (center) is shown at the entrance to Queen Wilhelmina’s residence, the Noordeinde Palace, in The Hague on Carnation Day. The nonviolent protest demonstrations by the Dutch citizens greatly alarmed their German occupiers. Hitler was informed and the Nazis began their crackdown on Dutch life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The Germans were furious with this civil act of disobedience. They ordered images of the Dutch Royal Family to be removed from all public places. Street names were renamed. The Prince Bernhard Square, for example, became “Gooiplein.” The Royal Library was soon referred to as the National Library. On the first of August, the top Nazi in Holland, Reichskommissar Seyss-Inquart, announced that it was forbidden to celebrate a birthday of a member of the Dutch Royal family.

Postnote:  In early 1941, a baby girl was born to a Mr. and Mrs. Niehot of The Hague. They wanted to name their newborn baby Nelia after their midwife, Nelia Epker, but she suggested they give their child an ‘Orange‘ name. The result was announced in the newspaper in a birth advertisement: Irene Beatrix Juliana Wilhelmina Niehot.

This announcement was met with great joy. Irene and Beatrix were the young daughters of Crown Princess Juliana.

May 1940, London. Elizabeth Van Swinderen, wife of the former Dutch minister to Great Britain, points out London barrage balloons to Princess Juliana of the Netherlands. Juliana is with her children, Beatrix by her side and Irene in the baby carriage.

May 1940, London. Elizabeth Van Swinderen, wife of the former Dutch minister to Great Britain, points out London barrage balloons to Princess Juliana of the Netherlands, who is pushing the stroller. Juliana is with her children, Beatrix is by her side and Irene is in the baby carriage.

Perfect strangers sent cards, flowers, cakes and even money to the Niehot family. When the midwife Nelia Epker placed a thank-you advertisement in March 1941, listing the baby’s royal names once again, Nelia was arrested. She would not return to the Netherlands until August 1945, a survivor of Camp Ravensbrück. 2

1 Gottlief, Robert, ed. Reading Dance: A Gathering of Memoirs, Reportage, Criticism, Profiles, Interviews, and Some Uncategorizable Extras. New York: Pantheon Books, 2008.

2 Dutch Resistance Museum

 

 

March 1933, the last picture taken of Anne, Edith, and Margot in Germany, prior to emigrating to Holland. Anne is 3 years old. They are standing in the Hauptwache square in the center of Frankfurt am Main

March 1933, the last picture taken of Anne, Edith, and Margot Frank in Germany, prior to emigrating to Holland. Anne is 3 years, 9 months old. They are standing in the Hauptwache square in the center of Frankfurt am Main

I have just finished rereading Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. I was surprised to read that Anne had not been born in Amsterdam, where she hid from the Germans during World War II, but in Frankfort, Germany:

I will start by sketching in brief the story of my life. My father was 36 when he married my mother, who was then 25. My sister Margot was born in 1926 in Frankfort-on-Main, I followed on June 12, 1929, and, as we are Jewish, we emigrated to Holland in 1933….

The rest of our family, however, felt the full impact of Hitler’s anti-Jewish laws, so life was filled with anxiety.”1

Following Hitler's appointment as Chancellor, a Nazi flag is hoisted at the town hall in Frankfort, the Franks' hometown in Germany. February 1933

Following Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, a Nazi flag is hoisted at the town hall in Frankfort, the Franks’ hometown in Germany. ca. January 31, 1933

Once Hitler was appointed Chancellor on January 30, 1933, Nazi Germany became too dangerous for the Franks, simply because they were Jewish.

The Nazis believed that Jews were subhuman and were bent on driving them out of Germany. The Nazi propaganda machine went full bore, inciting the German people to violence against the Jews, their neighbors and fellow citizens. At the helm were Joseph Goebbels, the Nazis’ main propagandist, and Julius Streicher.

Julius Streicher’s Nazi Party card was Number 2; Hitler’s was Number 7. Throughout the 1920s, Streicher had been a loyal agitator for Hitler. He published the rabid anti-Jewish newspaper Der Stürmer (“The Attacker”). He was believed to be a sexual pervert. In May 1933, Hitler made him chief of the Central Committee of the Defence against Jewish Atrocity and Boycott Agitation. That July, Streicher:

…had some Jews arrested and taken to a meadow to tear out grass with their teeth….A small squat man, his head shaven, he had a predilection for swaggering in public. He carried a whip, and used it.” 2

May 1934 issue of Der Stürmer, a weekly Nazi propaganda newspaper owned by Julius Streicher. This specific cover issue is notorious as an example of the anti-Semitic propaganda style of Der Stürmer. It invokes the infamous "blood libel against the Jews", specifically the allegation that Jews were killing German Christian children and using their blood in religious rituals. The banner across the bottom of the page, "Die Juden sind unser Ungluck,' means "The Jews are our misfortune."

May 1934 issue of Der Stürmer, a weekly Nazi propaganda newspaper owned by Julius Streicher. This specific cover issue is notorious as an example of the anti-Semitic propaganda style of Der Stürmer. It invokes the infamous “blood libel against the Jews”, specifically the allegation that Jews were killing German Christian children and using their blood in religious rituals. The banner across the bottom of the page, “Die Juden sind unser Ungluck,’ means “The Jews are our misfortune.”

Goebbels and Streicher fomented lies about the Jews, making them the scapegoat for Germany’s poor economy and its humiliating defeat in World War I. They told the German people that the Jews were their enemies and not rightful citizens of Germany.

1933 Germany. Germans read issues of anti-Semitic propaganda newspaper, Der Stürmer, published by Nazi agitator Julius Streicher

1933 Germany. Germans read issues of anti-Semitic propaganda newspaper, Der Stürmer, published by Nazi agitator Julius Streicher

In the first few weeks of his chancellorship, Hitler gained complete control of the police force, stripping regular uniformed police of the power to defend law-abiding citizens against unreasonable search, seizure, and arrest. He expanded the notoriously brutal Gestapo, his state secret police, and unleashed them and his other thugs with full power to seek out any suspected enemies to his leadership and detain them, without trial.

February 1, 1933. One day after Hitler becomes Chancellor, the Sturmabteilung (SA), the Nazi paramilitary group known as "the brownshirts" round up suspected Communists.

February 1, 1933. One day after Hitler becomes Chancellor, the Sturmabteilung (SA), the Nazi paramilitary group known as “the brownshirts” round up suspected Communists.

Organized attacks on Jews broke out across Germany. Since the local police had no power, the Jews had no one to turn to. Then, on April 1, 1933, the first officially-sanctioned national attack on German Jewry was held. Organized by Streicher, it called for a boycott of all Jewish businesses. Armed Nazi guards were posted in front of every Jewish business, intent upon blocking all clients from entering. The businesses were marked with yellow Stars of David, and trucks drove through the streets sporting anti-Jewish signs. Windows were shattered, business owners attacked, and stores plundered.

Hitler needed a place to stash his “enemies.” Two months into his chancellorship, he built Dachau outside of Munich, the first of many concentration camps.

Anne’s father, Otto Frank, began looking for other places for his family to live. Frank said many years later:

Because so many of my German countryman were turning into hordes of nationalistic, cruel, anti-Semitic criminals, I had to face the consequences, and though this did hurt me deeply, I realized that Germany was not the world and I left my country forever.”

Through his brother-in-law, Frank was able to set up a business in Holland. By the end of 1933, his wife Edith and daughters, Anne and Margot would join him there.

1934, Amsterdam. Margot, Anne, and their mother Edith Frank on the beach with Mrs. Schneider (back)

1934, Amsterdam. Margot, Anne, and their mother Edith Frank on the beach with Mrs. Schneider (back)

They were running from Hitler, but he would catch up with them later. He was not satisfied in just driving the Franks and all Jews out of Germany. He wanted to completely annihilate them. He would hunt them down across Europe and kill them until, in April 1945, the madness finally stopped.

Between 1933 and 1939, more than half of the 550,000 Jews living in Germany had fled.

Between 1933 and 1939, more than half of the 550,000 Jews living in Germany had fled.

1. Frank, Anne. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. New York: Doubleday, 1952.

2. Pryce-Jones. Unity Mitford: A Quest. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976.

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