Celebrity for the week ending
Saturday, 22 August 2009

Gina Palerme (fl. 1910-1925),
French actress, singer and cinema star

Gina Palerme
Gina Palerme

(after an original drawing by A.T. Carr, 1919;
from The Honey Pot, London, July 1919, p. 6)

'The Bronze Buddha of Park Lane.
'Two large blue eyes, two small black beauty spots, a smiling red mouth uncovering the sort of teeth you sometimes admire longingly on a dentifrice advertisement but seldom see anywhere else, and a nose (you thought I was going to forget the nose!), but I was keeping it for la bonne bouche so to speak! A nose then, the kind of a nose that you associate with a rose (not because it rhymes, but because it is so refined and delicate as to be meant only to inhale the most perfumed of flowers).
'And all this aureoled by fair, wavy hair, the very hair which you have seen reproduced in, I should think every picture-paper in England, this is a faithful, though inadequate, portrait of Mlle. Gina Palerme, who has often been described as France's most beautiful woman. And you know, in France there are not a few beautiful women (though I say it who should not, as you say so quaintly in English).
'There are a greater number of beautiful women in England than anywhere else, is such a well-known fact that I may make the first statement without being accused of chauvinism.
'Where was I? Oh yes, well, I did not intend to rhapsodise and rapturise here Gina Palerme's beauty, first because you all know her, and secondly because I had meant to tell you of her projected venture for the autumn. But while she was talking and telling me all about it, I found myself doing very much the same sort of thing Dante used to do when Beatrice was talking.
'''Beatrice was looking at the heavens and I was looking at Beatrice.''
'Mlle. Palerme was looking not exactly at the heavens while she told me of the play she is about to produce, but at the tree-tops in the part, which inspired her to write poetry as she sits at her Park Lane window, with Nadia, he decorative borzoi, stretched at her feet. Le me tell you about the play here and now, so that I may afterwards return to its star.
'It is called His Nibs, and is coming on at the Duke of York's Theatre in September. His Nibs was originally that amusing French comedy la Petite Chocolatière, the title part of which Mlle. Palerme played with such natural grace at the Court Theatre. Then it became in its English clothes Tantalising Tommy. Now its new title puzzles me not a little, it is crisp and cryptic, and with Miss Tennison Jesse responsible for the text and Bernard Rolt and Howard Carr for the music, the theatre lovers should do more than ''nib''-le at it.

Gina Palerme

Gina Palerme

(photo: Rita Martin, London, circa 1915)

'It was the songs of His Nibs which Mlle. Palerme was practising when I called on her the other day, so as one must not disturb artists in their hours of inspiration, I left the drawing-room on tip-toe and roamed through the exquisite house until study time was over. I say house, but some parts of it are worthy of being called a museum. The dining-room, for instance, presided over by a gigantic Buddha of Bronze. Here I was no longer in Park Lane, but in Peking! Red lacquer furniture, even the ceiling is of red lacquer, magnificent portières of embroidered silk (relics from some Mandarin's Palace), miniature trees with flowers made of jade, huge perfumed burners with, inside, cunningly place electric bulbs. It was almost a temple I was in. A mundane touch, however, was the mirror which formed the top of the dining-table. The idea appealed to me vastly, how convenient to gaze at one's own reflection between the courses, gracefully, as one looks down [at] a pool instead of fumbling in one's vanity bag for the small mirror one has forgotten to bring!
'If Mlle. Gina Palerme has a Buddha in her dining-room she is more Catholic in her bedroom, for above the bed is the ivory crucifix to which she prays. And now charming that bedroom with is grey walls and cerise hangings. Cerise is the favourite colour of the fair chatelaine, the very carpet on the stairs is of that gay and warm shade.
'While I was thus at large, journeying around a room ''like Xavier de Maiskre when he had influenza (except that at that time they had not influenza, they had gout!) and except also that it was not my room (I wish it were!) I behaved as indiscreetly as a German spy (or a reporter). I looked everywhere and took down everything (figuratively speaking) from the charming old French engravings on the walls to that alluring bathing suite that was being packed for Mlle. Palerme's seaside holiday.
'The artist (to whom I whispered its description) will do it more justice than I could. Mlle. Palerme as a naiad is a sight for ye gods (and little fishes). Talking to dress (for even a bathing suit can be called a dress, I suppose?), I was told something of the toilettes which will be worn in His Nibs. An artist designer is coming over from Paris to add the last pin before curtain rises, and until then no one is to know (I know, but I shan't tell; I can't - I've promised!) What I can divulge, however, is that there is going to be a diamond necklace (perhaps I should not describe that either as an article of dress, even in these days!). Such a diamond necklace, so big, so big, that I wonder Mlle. Palerme's slim neck can carry it.
'I loved the tassel she wore the other day. You know how fashionable tassels are in beads, silk, or coloured cotton, but this particular one is made of pearls, that is to say, the fringes are of pearls and the knob of diamonds, the whole hanging from a rope of pearls(if ever I am to be hanged give me such a rope). Mlle. Palerme tells me that she is very partial to pearls. I share her taste (could she but share with me!). Her other priceless predilections are furniture and frocks - old furniture and new frocks, most of those she designs herself.
'Her great wish is to see New York and act in front of an American audience. She has already many admirers in the American armies, both in Paris and London. Her favourite pastime besides yachting, at which she excels, is caricaturing, from memory like that, she looks at people whilst talking to them and their oddities remain stamped on her mind, then she takes a pencil, when they are gone (she would not hurt their feelings for the world - and - now that I come to think of it, why, I noticed she certainly looked at me with a twinkle in her eye! I would not be surprised if my caricature was added to her collection!'
(Marthe Toly-Curtin, 'Crumbs from the Dressing Table,' The Honey Pot, London, July 1919, pp. 6 and 7)

His Nibs was eventually produced at the Duke of York's Theatre, London, on 23 September 1919 as The Girl for the Boy.

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© John Culme, 2009