In its heyday the Moulin Rouge music hall, a “temple of music and dance” in Paris, popularized the cabaret and can-can. Near the end of the music hall Golden Age, before film overshadowed the stage revue, newlyweds Dimitri Tiomkin and Albertina Rasch took part in an extravagant 1927 program, “Paris Aux Étoiles” (Paris with the Stars), at the most famous music hall in the world.
For Tiomkin, this trip to Paris marked the beginning of the end of his New York residency and provided a European reputation he could market in Hollywood. While New York provided a proving ground for his early musical compositions, it was in Hollywood he found fame. (Conversely, Rasch had already made her name in New York, was now exporting her dancing girls to Paris, and would soon have some success in Hollywood in the decade before World War II.)
The “Paris Aux Étoiles” program cover features a drawing by illustrator Charles Gesmar. Gesmar turns the building’s signature red windmill (seen below in a 1910 vintage postcard) into a showgirl’s headdress that resembles a pinwheel in motion bursting with stars. This work was among Gesmar’s last, as he died the following year before attaining the age of 30.
The Societe des Etablissements du Moulin-Rouge at Place Blanche and director Pierre Foucret presented the “Paris Aux Étoiles” grand revue in two acts with 70 tableaux during the Winter of 1927.
The program featured the sister act of Dollie and Billie, singer Jane Aubert, dancer and actor Harry Pilcer, African American comedian Johnny Hudgins, and many others. Jane Aubert is better known as actress Jeanne Aubert. A lengthy career in film, stage, and television followed her performances at Moulin Rouge.
The dances by the Albertina Rasch Girls were arranged by Albertina Rasch. Most were choreographed to music by Tiomkin. In the program page below, Tiomkin’s name initially appears as “Dimitri TISM-KIN.” Subsequent occurrences correctly spell the composer’s surname.
Tiomkin and Rasch spent more than six months between November 1927 and August 1928 in Paris on two separate sojourns. Tiomkin concertized during both visits; for the 1928 Paris trip he was at the piano for the European premiere of George Gershwin’s Concerto in F.
About the 1927 visit Tiomkin later wrote, “In a way our trip to Paris was our honeymoon.” (Married the previous year, the couple did not take a break after their wedding due to ongoing work commitments.)
Before departing for Paris, the couple threw a party for the Rasch dancing troupe at their studio in the Steinway Building in New York in late October 1927.
For the Moulin Rouge “Paris Aux Étoiles” program, Tiomkin’s music accompanied four Rasch choreographed numbers: “Au Mexique,” “American Ballet,” “Hell Bent” (Les Démons), and the “Romantique Ballet.”
Both “Hell Bent”and “Romantique Ballet” were completed in November 1927. (Rasch finalized the arrangements with Pierre Foucret in mid-October so it appears that Tiomkin wrote the numbers specifically for the Moulin Rouge revue. The program therefore may have been the world and European premieres for both works.)
“Hell Bent” may be the piece heard in the filmed Rasch ballet seen in Devil’s Cabaret (1931). Prior to Tiomkin’s score for Resurrection (1931), the Rasch filmed ballets were the first films to include Tiomkin’s music.
The “Paris with the Stars” finale featured a song that was gaining popularity, “Take Your Finger Out of Your Mouth.” The lyrics began “Will you take your finger out of your mouth, I want a kiss from you.” A well-chosen song, notably in English, for the Paris cabaret.
Tourists continue to flock to the Moulin Rouge to this day.
- Moulin Rouge program, “Paris Aux Étoiles,” undated
- Moulin Rouge history
- New York City Telegraph, October 25, 1927 [news blurb on party for departing Rasch dancers]
- “Rasch Dancers Soon in Paris Revue,” New York Mirror, October 18, 1927
- “Rasch Dancers for Moulin Rouge Revue,” New York Sun, October 19, 1927
- Please Don’t Hate Me by Dimitri Tiomkin and Prosper Buranelli (Doubleday, 1959)