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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

READ THIS: Josephine Baker The Hungry Heart By Jean-Claude Baker and Chris Chase Our Coverage Sponsored by Hallak Cleaners the Couture Cleaner

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Jean-Claude Baker

Whom You Know Highly Recommended Chez Josephine by Jean-Claude Baker, and now that we've read his 500 page masterpiece, we are even more impressed with the quality and intensity of his relationship with his adopted mother, who is one singular sensation that we regret we would have never had the chance to have met-on earth, anyway.  Jean-Claude Baker has blessed the world with not only his labor of love in the culinary sphere since 1986 at Chez Josephine, but also in the literary category with his twenty years of research which culminated in Josephine Baker The Hungry Heart, published in 1993 and read by us in 2013.  We only wish we went sooner and read this sooner!  

If you are the kind of person that appreciates depth of experience and is not merely looking for a good meal but is looking for something extraordinary that is part of history, we could not more highly recommend the combination of dining at Chez Josephine, meeting Jean-Claude Baker, buying his book at the bar, having him sign your book, going home and reading the book and once you're done, going back to Chez Josephine with your educated understanding of what is around you and a higher degree of appreciation for it.  Since she has a B.A. in American History, this is just the kind of thing Peachy Deegan lives for.  Many restaurants in New York become history but few commemorate it and last.  And the point-of-view here is from an insider of course, her son!  This philosophy is preaching to the choir here at Whom You Know-people should write about what they know firsthand.  We'd agree that her 13th child was a well-kept secret.  13 is the luckiest number in this case.

Who was Josephine Baker?  We really did not know since we were born too late other than the fact that she was famous as a dancer.  After dining at Chez Josephine, we found out that she raised an amazingly gracious and talented child, however now that we've read the book we know that Jean-Claude was already grown up by the time he met her and that perhaps he taught her something.  Josephine had three passions: theater, animals and children.  She had a star quality that doesn't exist today. Fascinating is a word that is underrated for the qualities she radiated.  She seemed much larger than life-this is someone who had tea with Coco Chanel and had a fairy godmother named Grace Kelly.  However, as you read this great book, you'll see the real Josephine is known both for famous and notorious reasons.  And her star shone brighter than any manufactured, over-marketed star today.  How do you know?  She was born in 1906, and people are still raving about her.  
We love her spirit that has no quit.  Her pure desire to win and her dynamo gumption alone would have made her a star, but her talent was right there with those qualities.

And what did Josephine love?  We see she had 196 pairs of shoes on page 154- Bravo from the Editor of four footwear columns.  We quote page 91: "De Mare gave her money to go to New York and put a show together.  'That was the best day of my life..I was flying...I came home blinded by happiness.'"  So, just like you, she loved New York.  In her autobiography it reads (we quote this book, page 188): "'In New York, where I'm going to star in the Ziegfeld Follies, they ask me to sing and dance on top of a skyscraper...I would love so much to be able to dance under the sky in the open air.  It seems that all the kisses of the city are coming toward you.'"

However, she encountered a country that she became even more enamored of.  
We love her voice-listen to J'ai Deux Amours here.  Here it is in English:

I have two loves

It is said that above the seas,
Over there under the clear sky,
Exists a city, where the stay is enchanted,
And under the big black trees,
Every evening,
Towards it leaves all my hope.

I have two loves
My country and Paris.
By them always
Is my heart ravished.

Manhattan is beautiful,
But why deny it,
what puts a spell on me is Paris,
Paris in its whole.
Seeing it one day
Is my pretty dream.
I have two loves,
My country and Paris.

Her sense of humor in order to be practical seemed unparalleled.  She does know how to get what she wants!  See page 96 where to get a passport, you are single, become married, then divorced, and finally widowed.  But give her credit: she did make it to France.  And boy, did she make it.  Not only did she find success in Paris, but she also found acceptance-she says for the first time in her life she was invited to sit at a table and eat with white people.  Josephine's stage presence was increasingly powerful with each year, but we are far more interested in the person behind it.  

So what was the first Chez Josephine like?  See page 105: "The next year, when she opened Chez Josephine, her club in Montmartre, Josephine hired him as headwaiter.  She paid him further homage by naming her pig Albert, and lest you think that was an insult, bear in mind that she liked her pig better than she liked most people.  Albert (the pig) waddled freely about the club until he got so fat he could no longer squeeze through the kitchen door, a problem Josephine solved by having the whole wall torn down."  The original Albert was the waiter who brought Josephine her first breakfast in Paris.  And beyond the pig?  We quote page 143: "A correspondent for Le Soir painted a word picture of the club: 'Midnight.  Naked shoulders...Blue chandeliers pour a soft the slow dying of the jazz...The flesh is sad...A world exhausted...Suddenly a shiver goes through the sold-out room...Josephine Baker has just made her entrance.  Simple quick, amiable, she slides between the away confetti...she stops, pulls a beard, laughs...Joy, absent until now, has returned...She dances...Then suddenly remembering she is the owner of a bistro, she forces a customer to dance with her, and then another, until everybody is on the floor.  Then she goes to the kitchen to get her chef to dance.'"

Later, page 207 tells us that 125 East 54th Street was a restaurant called Le Mirage by day but late at night it would become Chez Josephine.  Today, 
125 East 54th Street is the location of The Volstead, which we previously reviewed here.

What we may find among the most laudable characteristics about Josephine Baker has little to do with her talent and a lot to do with standing up for what she loved: we admire her love of country and her participation in the Deuxieme Bureau, the French military intelligence service.  We absolutely loved Argo and highly recommended this hit here, however, though that was based on a true story, the real life stars were those in intelligence in tandem with those in Hollywood, and the showpeople stayed behind safely in America.  For Josephine, she was on the front line during the war so to speak, with military secrets on the back of her music operating in delicate situations and being a "Honorable Correspondent."  "'France made me what I am.  The Parisians gave me their hearts, and I am ready to give them my life,'" she said and we quote page 226. Pay careful attention to this part because it is riveting!

Though it all seems magical right down to her having a doll named after her way back in 1926, if you read the book you know that the dark times were the darkest and the pendulum of up and down was constant, and Josephine suffered from poor life management skills   We have many regrets for Josephine.  It is unquestionably sad that she never knew her father and that is still a mystery.  We're not going to color in her misfortunes or her bad days.  We'll let you read the book.  But we'll let you know they're there and that the depths of negativity were dark indeed.

As the story unfolds, you may wonder whether Jean-Claude was Josephine's son or if he was more of a parent to HER.  Her challenges in life can probably be traced back to adversity experienced by her early in life that she was never able to overcome and take responsibility for as an adult at the end of the day.   The circus of her family and the drama of her life caused her a lot of pain and suffering, much of which she fueled with her coming and leaving home for performances and her general instability of personality.  She had plenty of heart and fire but so little direction or control of when she'd explode and mismanage.  Her complexity is unparalleled and even after twenty years of research and all of this writing, we wonder if Jean-Claude feels he has solved enough of the mysteries and peeled off enough layers of the onion.  We are glad he did not leave his Mercedes behind when he joined the's what he says his favorite song is that you will see when you reach the conclusion.

The photographs right in the middle of the book add a lot to the whole story and you'll want to look at them again and again as you match up faces and names.  
You cannot let the memory of this star of the golden age die-she is up there in heaven watching you with her sky blue feathers as you sip your Kir Royale on 414 West 42nd street.  Work this outstanding can only be come by a labor of love.  This is not a job; it's a vocation.  It's family.  It's real.  It was lived and experienced by this well-spoken author and restaurateur with laudable curiosity and an incredible way with words.

Whom You Know Gives Josephine Baker The Hungry Heart by Jean-Claude Baker and Chris Chase Our Highest Recommendation.  Go to Chez Josephine and get your copy at the bar and add to Jean-Claude's cocktail of human beings!

We'll also point out that we publish this review 10 days after receiving the book-it is that riveting-and also this is not the only book we've read and published on in this amount of time and if it were we would have done it in fewer days!

Our friend Jean-Claude Baker spent years with his "second mother" Josephine Baker and her family on tour in Europe and America. Currently owner of the restaurant Chez Josephine, he lives in New York City. Chris Chase also lives in New York City.

Based on twenty years of research and thousands of interviews, this authoritative biography of performer Josephine Baker (1906-1975) provides a candid look at her tempestuous life. Born into poverty in St. Louis, the uninhibited chorus girl became the sensation of Europe and the last century's first black sex symbol. A heroine of the French Resistance in World War II, she entranced figures as diverse as de Gaulle, Tito, Castro, Princess Grace, two popes, and Martin Luther King, Jr. 
Yet Josephine was also, as one critic put it, "a monster who made Joan Crawford look like the Virgin Mary." Jean-Claude Baker's book also reveals her outbursts that resulted in lasting feuds, her imperious treatment of family and entourage members, and her ambivalent attitudes concerning her ethnic background.
Reconciling Josephine's many personas—Jazz-age icon, national hero of France, proponent of Civil Rights, mother of children from across the globe—Josephine: The Hungry Heart gives readers the inside story on a star unlike any other before or since.

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