Monday, March 29, 2010

The Fabulous 'Belle Otéro’
- Carolina Otéro (1868-1965)

I've been on the edge of this post for quite a bit - but it had seemed to fit me into a category in which I didn't think I necessarily belonged!

Whatever, here goes.

As a kid, I had a late C19 postcard of ‘La Belle Otéro’, a larger-than-life figure of the stage who seemed at the same time both fabulously beautiful, and curiously and sensually modern - a kind of Mata Hari without espionage. This unusual mix in part reflected, I later realised, her 'unconventional' theatrical beginnings.

Years passed as they do. And I hadn't given a thought to 'La Belle Otéro'.

And then
to my utter amazement, I recently saw some film of her dancing ‘La Valse Brillante’ in St Petersburg in 1898 - shot by French film operator Felix Mesguich, a Lumiere Brothers employee.

There is such unexpected gusto and exuberance in the performance that I was curious to find out more about this intriguing character, who had made such an early appearance on my radar.

Barcelona born, Carolina Otéro worked her way through cafes, bordellos and music halls to become employed at the Folies Bèrgere in Paris in 1889, creating the gypsy character ‘La Belle Otéro’. Not unlike Louise Weber had done had done with the persona of ‘La Goulue’ (‘The Glutton’) at Le Moulin Rouge. But with the Spaniard being perhaps more on the 'refined' side.

It was at the Folies Bèrgere that Otéro indistinguishably meshed her private and public image– in part through a wardrobe of outlandish clothing, including her famous jewel and pearl encrusted brassieres.

(Please refrain from the obvious comment here! LOL)

From Paris, Otéro launched herself on the world – travelling and performing in all corners of the globe - Moscow, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Paris … .

Carolina Otero 'La Belle Otero' by Leo Rauth (1910)

And became, it was thought, the lover of King Edward VII, Tsar Nicholas II, the Grand Duke Peter, the Duke of Westminster … .

She amassed and lost a fortune ... in the approved manner.

At the height of her career,
Otéro declared ...

Women have one mission in life: to be beautiful. When one gets old, one must learn how to break mirrors

However something of the allure of this actress/dancer/Folies Bèrgere star/courtesan lingers on today ...

... as legend has it that her breasts were the inspiration in 1912 for the cupolas of the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, France.

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