French actress and singer Mistinguett was born on April 5, 1875 under the name Jeanne Bourgeois. In her day, she was at one time the best-paid female entertainer in the world. She came from the proverbial humble background. From a young age, she wanted to be an entertainer. She started in the simplest of ways, singing the ballads of the day as she worked as a flower seller. Jeanne took classes in music and theatre to help her prepare for her future.
On the train to Paris for one of her lessons, she crossed paths with the director of the musical revue at the Casino de Paris who offered her a job. She worked under a variety of different state names: Miss Helyett, Miss Tinguette, Mistinguette and, finally, Mistinguett. She worked other famous Parisian venues, including the Folies Bergère and the Moulin Rouge. She had a son with a Brazilian diplomat and a long-term relationship with Maurice Chevalier, who was many years younger than her.
Her big song was “Mon Homme” and she worked it for 30 years. Mintinguett made about 45 movies, including a role as Éponine in Les Misérables. Here’s a clip from her only talkie, filmed in 1936 – Chantez. She had a weak voice, a limited repertoire of songs, and was a dancer of limited ability, and yet she had such personal magnetism that she packed the house decade after decade.
Mistinguett was known as La Reine du Music-Hall (lah ren due mewzeek-all), the Queen of the Music-Hall. She died on January 5, 1956 with her physician-son by her side. Her death was front-page news all across France. Author Collette mused that Mistinguett probably still had the best legs in France.
- Classic Woman-centric Movie Review: Gigi (1958) (persephonemagazine.com)