The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan

Illustration of Josephine Baker by Serge, reproduced in The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan

Source: Count Harry Kessler (translated and edited by Charles Kessler), The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan 1918-1939 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson), pp. 279-280

Text: Saturday, 13 February 1926, Berlin

Dinner-party at home for Mme Mayrisch and her daughter, Hugo Lerchenfeld with wife, the Willy Radowitzs, Horstmanns, Lancken, Simolin, and Hannah Wangenheim.

At one o’clock, just as my guests were gone, a telephone call from Max Reinhardt. He was at Vollmoeller’s, and they wanted me to come over because Josephine Baker was there and the fun was starting. So I drove to Vollmoeller’s harem on the Pariser Platz. Reinhardt and Huldschinsky were surrounded by half a dozen naked girls, Miss Baker was also naked except for a pink muslin apron, and the little Landshoff girl (a niece of Sammy Fischer) was dressed up as a boy in a dinner-jacket. Miss Baker was dancing a solo with brilliant artistic mimicry and purity of style, like an ancient Egyptian or other archaic figure performing an intricate series of movements without ever losing the basic pattern. This is how their dancers must have danced for Solomon and Tutankhamen. Apparently she does this for hours on end, without tiring and continually inventing new figures like a child, a happy child, at play. She never even gets hot, her skin remains fresh, cool, dry. A bewitching creature, but almost quite unerotic. Watching her inspires as little sexual excitement as does the sight of a beautiful beast of prey. The naked girls lay or skipped about among the four or five men in dinner-jackets. The Landshoff girl, really looking like a dazzlingly handsome boy, jazzed with Miss Baker to gramophone tunes.

Volmoeller had in mind a ballet for her, a stay about a cocotte, and was proposing to finish it this very night and put it in Reinhardt’s hands. By this time Miss Baker and the Landshoff girl were lying in each others’ arms like a rosy pair of lovers, between us males who stood around. I said I would write a dumb show for them on the theme of the Song of Solomon, with Miss Baker as the Shulamite and the Landshoff girl as Solomon or the Shulamite’s young lover. Miss Baker would be dressed (or not dressed) on the lines of Oriental Antiquity while Solomon would be in a dinner-jacket, the whole thing an entirely arbitrary fantasy of ancient and modern set to music, half jazz and half Oriental, to be composed perhaps by Richard Strauss. Reinhardt was enchanted with the idea, as was Vollmoeller. We fixed on the twenty-fourth of this month for dinner at my apartment to discuss the matter, the two of them and the Landshoff girl, Miss Baker coming later. Vollmoeller asked me to invite Harden too. It was past four when I left.

Comments: Harry Kessler (1868-1937) was an Anglo-German aristocrat and diplomat. His diaries are an exceptionally vivid and observant account of art and politics in Weimar Germany. Josephine Baker (1906-1975, born Freda Josephine McDonald) was an African-American entertainer, renowned for her appearances in revue in Paris in the 1920s. Among the names included in this description of a private performance by Baker are the Austrian theatre producer Max Reinhardt, his playwright collaborator Karl Vollmöller, and the actress Ruth Landshoff (Vollmöller’s mistress), known for her appearance in Murnau’s film Nosferatu (1922). Nothing came of Kessler’s proposed dumbshow based on the Song of Solomon.

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