Here are several numbers by the (in)famous Suzy Solidor (1900 - 1983).
Suzy Solidor (1900-1983) was born in Saint-Malo (Brittany) on the French Atlantic coast. She was an illegitimate daughter of Baron Robert Surcouf and his maid Louise Marion. When she was six, she was adopted by Eugène Rocher, who married her mother in 1907. As she had no right to the name of her biological father, Suzy eventually chose as her pseudonym the name of a tower in Saint-Malo, Solidor (soleil d’or, "sun of gold"). She failed to get an education and at 15 started working at a confectionery factory. However, she had a knack for mechanics, learned to drive and got her driver’s license in 1917. The First World War was raging on, volunteers were accepted into the ranks, and Suzy became an ambulance driver and took her compatriots, Breton officers, to the frontline in northern France. So, even at a tender age the girl showed herself to be brave and resolute.
After the war she worked at a shoe shop in Saint-Malo, but the prospect of such a life was not for her. Wartime friends suggested she try her luck in Paris. Her desire to become a model was supported by women with impeccable taste, among them the successful antique dealer Yvonne de Brémond d’Ars, who had a boutique on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Yvonne, who was six years older than Suzy, was so struck by the blonde beauty upon meeting her that she nearly fainted.
Suzy for her part was fascinated by the finesse of the art world and by Yvonne’s charm. Their liaison lasted for ten years, which Suzy later referred to as “crazy”. It was at that time that she learned all the pleasures sung by Sappho, posed as a boy in sports exercises, and made a sensation at Deauville with dresses from the fashionable designers Jeanne Lanvin and Jean Patou and stunning swimming suits made of fishing nets.
Suzy travels around Europe, eagerly studies the history of the arts, and willingly sits in the nude for famous artists, among them Jean-Gabriel Domergue in 1923, Foujita in 1927, Van Dongen in 1927, Marcel Vertès in 1929 and Marie Laurencin in 1929. She attends the numerous parties hosted by Yvonne for her gay and lesbian friends from all over Paris. At about the same time she, encouraged by Van Dongen, takes up singing; at first she entertains friends, but in July 1929 she made her first public appearance at Le Brummell cabaret in Deauville.
Her low voice (a voice that comes from the sex according to the poet Jean Cocteau) amazed and enticed listeners. Suzy wins over Paris, where unusual people are the focus of attention.
In 1930 the bird flies out of the cage: Suzy leaves Yvonne for Maurice Barbezat, the wealthy owner of a company producing luxury cars. He rents a gallery for her at 29 quai Voltaire, where she starts an antiques boutique. It becomes a meeting place of old friends. Suzy throws frequent cocktail parties, where she sings for her guests. Inspired by her friends’ support, Solidor attends Yvette Guilbert’s singing classes and takes lessons from the Opera-Comique prima Marguerite Carre.
In April 1932 Suzy opens a tea salon, “La Vie Parisienne”, next to avenue de l’Opéra and starts displaying all the pictures she has there. This is the starting point of the gallery of portraits and the series of private viewings that are to last into the 1960s. Her salon is frequented by her friends – artists, writers and journalists. In 1933 Suzy becomes the owner of a posh expensive cabaret, the watering place of all of artistic Paris. What makes her cabaret a success is the fact that previously the program catered to men’s tastes, whereas Suzy also accords attention to women… First she adapts the lyrics of songs she performs as if they were written specially for her. Then her style becomes more poetic: she sings and reads Heinrich Heine, Francis Carco and Edmond Haraucourt. She takes to jazz and makes Latin American music a new fashion. Her habitual attire is an elegant long dress of shiny black satin.
Following her scandalous reputation, she appears in the sulphurous film adaptation of the novel La Garçonne, in 1936 (whose main character seems to be a carbon copy of the “flapper” Edith Piaf), therefore becoming the symbol of a whole generation of emancipated women.
In the late 1930s and in the 1940s she makes numerous recordings on the radio and gives interviews; she reaches the peak of her popularity.
Suzy had affairs with both men and women. In 1934 Joseph Kessel introduced her to the famous pilot Jean Mermoz, who died a tragic death two years later. After that she was going to marry her stage partner, the comic Henry Bry, but their feelings were only platonic and the plan did not materialize, although he stayed by Suzy’s side till the 1960s.
During the Nazi occupation of Paris the “La Vie Parisienne” cabaret was frequented by German officers, French nobility and British intelligence agents, where they traded news and information. The hit of those years was the famous song Lili Marleen until Goebbels banned it. And whose rendition of the song is more poignant – Marlene Dietrich’s or Suzy Solidor’s – is a matter of personal taste.
With her original physical features, Suzy Solidor turned into the muse of various avant-garde artists such as Tamara de Lempicka, or Raoul Dufy, Maurice de Vlaminck, Francis Picabia, Man Ray, Jean-Gabriel Domergue, Jean-Dominique Van Caulaert, Kees van Dongen, Arthur Greuell, Foujita, Marie Laurencin, Francis Bacon and Jean Cocteau. The walls of her cabaret were hung up with 250 of her portraits!
In 1960 Suzy Solidor moved from Paris to Haut de Cagnes. She bought the biggest house in the city square and shortly started a cabaret in the cellar. She was accompanied by her team, including the piano player who had been her regular accompanist for 17 years, an accordionist, a guitar player, and also a chef and a secretary. Life at Haut de Cagnes took on a new color, and locals came to refer to the event as the “Solidorian Revolution”. The village had attracted a lot of visitors before that, but now the center of attraction was Suzy Solidor’s house.
Enjoy Suzy Solidor’s style!
Extract from "La Garçonne" (1935)
Étrange garçon (Nature boy)
Quais de Paris
Une femme (on a French TV show, 1958)