Wednesday, November 30, 2011

This Day in History: Nov 30, 1886: Folies Bergere stage first revue

Once a hall for operettas, pantomime, political meetings, and vaudeville, the Folies Bergère in Paris introduces an elaborate revue featuring women in sensational costumes. The highly popular "Place aux Jeunes" established the Folies as the premier nightspot in Paris. In the 1890s, the Folies followed the Parisian taste for striptease and quickly gained a reputation for its spectacular nude shows. The theater spared no expense, staging revues that featured as many as 40 sets, 1,000 costumes, and an off-stage crew of some 200 people.

The Folies Bergère dates back to 1869, when it opened as one of the first major music halls in Paris. It produced light opera and pantomimes with unknown singers and proved a resounding failure. Greater success came in the 1870s, when the Folies Bergère staged vaudeville. Among other performers, the early vaudeville shows featured acrobats, a snake charmer, a boxing kangaroo, trained elephants, the world's tallest man, and a Greek prince who was covered in tattoos allegedly as punishment for trying to seduce the Shah of Persia's daughter. The public was allowed to drink and socialize in the theater's indoor garden and promenade area, and the Folies Bergère became synonymous with the carnal temptations of the French capital. Famous paintings by Édouard Manet and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec were set in the Folies.

In 1886, the Folies Bergère went under new management, which, on November 30, staged the first revue-style music hall show. The "Place aux Jeunes," featuring scantily clad chorus girls, was a tremendous success. The Folies women gradually wore less and less as the 20th century approached, and the show's costumes and sets became more and more outrageous. Among the performers who got their start at the Folies Bergère were Yvette Guilbert, Maurice Chevalier, and Mistinguett. The African American dancer and singer Josephine Baker made her Folies debut in 1926, lowered from the ceiling in a flower-covered sphere that opened onstage to reveal her wearing a G-string ornamented with bananas.

The Folies Bergère remained a success throughout the 20th century and still can be seen in Paris today, although the theater now features many mainstream concerts and performances. Among other traditions that date back more than a century, the show's title always contains 13 letters and includes the word "Folie."

 Also on This Day

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Richard Mallory, a storeowner in Palm Harbor, Florida, is last seen taking a ride with Aileen Wuornos. The following day, his car—containing his wallet, some condoms, and an empty vodka bottle—was found abandoned in a remote area of Ormond Beach. Nearly two weeks later, his body turned up in a Daytona Beach junkyard with three bullets in his chest. Mallory's murder was the first of seven committed by Aileen Wuornos over the next year. Perhaps because she was one of the few women killers to gain widespread fame and notoriety, she was inaccurately dubbed "America's first female serial killer." Her case was heavily publicized through television talk show appearances and a documentary, The Selling of a Serial Killer. Wuornos had been the victim of abuse and neglect herself. Her parents split before she was born and her father, who had been arrested for child molesting, killed himself while awaiting trial in a mental institution. When her mother abandoned her at a young age, Aileen was sent to live with her grandparents. But she was kicked out of their home when she got pregnant at age 14. From 1974 to 1976, Wuornos operated under several aliases and amassed an arrest record for offenses including drunk driving, assault, and armed robbery. In 1986, she became romantically and criminally involved with a woman named Tyria Moore. In late 1989, Wuornos began her infamous killing spree. Five months after Richard Mallory was killed, David Spears was found dead, shot six times with a .22 caliber gun in the woods near Tampa. At around the same time, another male body turned up nearby that appeared to have been killed with the same type of gun. Three additional men met the same demise during the summer of 1990.
When the seventh victim was found in November, the media was alerted to the possibility of a serial killer. After receiving several tips, detectives caught Wuornos in a seedy biker bar in January 1991. With Moore assisting police, Wuornos decided to confess to the killings but claimed that they had all been done in self-defense. When a jury found Wuornos guilty on January 27, 1992, she screamed out, "I'm innocent! I was raped! I hope you get raped! Scumbags of America!" Her outburst was probably ill considered, given the fact that the same jury came back to decide her penalty the next day. Wuornos was sentenced to death.
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