December 8th, 2006

Stars Of The Moulin Rouge

A lot of the stage names are  untranslatable. La Goulue means "The Glutton" . Louise Weber  got the name (this is presumably the polite version) from her habit of helping herself to other people's drinks as she moved about among the tables. I can't see it working on an English language poster. I would suggest "Gobbler" or  "Greedyguts".

Even more baffling is La Mome Fromage- literally "Kid Cheese" or (a little happier) "Cheesy Kid". No, she didn't smell bad. In 19th century street French it means something  like "New Kid on the Block".

La Goulue and La Mome Fromage were (reputedly) lovers. Most of these women were either lesbian or bisexual. They owe their posthumous fame to the artist Toulouse Lautrec-  who painted and sketched them and designed their publicity materials. He was also their pal and got to hang about back stage. 

In Lautrec's pictures they all seem middle-aged. They weren't of course. Maybe he was painting the inner reality. These were people who lived hard, partied hard, had knocked about the world a bit. Jane Avril, for instance- whom Lautrec invariably portrays as a haggard crone- had suffered childhood abuse and a spell in Dr Charcot's mad house. Her dance style was all galvanic and jerky and the punters called her Jeanne La Folle- Crazy Jane.

La Goulue left the Moulin Rouge to star in her own travelling show. It didn't work out and she hit the bottle and ended up as a street vendor back in Montmartre. La Mome Fromage seems to have retired into provincial respectability. Jane Avril lived into the 1940s and got to write her memoirs. 

In photographs they look nothing like their Lautrecian alter egos. Avril smiles for the camera. La Goulue is plump and pretty. La Mome Fromage is even plumper and jolly with it. Back in the 1890s you could be fat and jolly and a sex symbol. None of them looks in the least bit like Nicole Kidman. 

Toulouse Lautrec: La Goulue arriving at Le Moulin Rouge