For over half a century, Mistinguett was the highest-paid and most famous female performer in the world, though she is relatively unknown today. This month’s #HotPosterGossip window highlights Mintinguett’s trailblazing and scandalous maneuvers that kept her in the spotlight.
Born Jeanne Florentine Bourgeois to working class parents, Mistinguett (1875–1956) manipulated the art of show business to her advantage. Neither conventionally beautiful nor theatrically talented, she used her quick wit to create successful gimmicks. She sold herself as the woman with the “most perfect legs in the world,” insuring them for 500,000 francs (the equivalent of $4.5 million now). Today the tradition lives on with celebrities insuring their legs, faces, whole bodies, and butts (we’re looking at you, J-Lo)!
She invented new ways to captivate an audience, including the use of large feathered headdresses and the trope of descending from the top of a tall staircase onto a stage, a classic for all movie musicals thereafter.
She also understood the art of the well-spun scandal, publicly playing out elaborate love affairs with younger male costars, the most infamous of which was with French entertainer Maurice Chevalier. When he was taken by the Germans as a prisoner of war during World War I, she seduced King Alfonso XIII of Spain in order to ensure his release.
Minstinguett also maintained complete control over her image, enlisting the greatest designers of the day to not only create hundreds of posters — she remained eternally young despite performing well into her seventies (she is 59 in the poster featured here!) — but also to design costumes and theatrical sets that made her stand out from rivals Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker.
And that’s how you become a poster celebrity!!
Stop by our window on 23rd Street throughout the month of August to see more about Mistinguett.