Tag Archives: Folies Bergère

Paris, circa 1979, as experienced by young striptease artiste Anna Smith

In the last blog here, occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith, based in Vancouver, wrote about how A Migrant Trans Sex Worker’s Murder Has Set Off Protests Around the World.

The murder took place in Paris and, after reading it, I said to Anna: “You have lived everywhere… You must have lived in Paris at some point…”

This was her reply…


Anna Smith in Ealing, London, circa 1984 (Photograph by Tony Green)

I have not lived everywhere. But I did live in Paris for a couple of months when I was in my early twenties.

My trip there and accommodation was paid for by the Canadian government, because I had organised an exhibition of paintings at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris.

I supervised the hanging of the paintings.

The young workmen were very happy and friendly.

Although I was already a striptease artist, I felt lonely in Paris, where the only people I knew were the distinguished administrators at the Cultural Centre.

The Cultural Attaché took me and a couple of Canadian artists to dinner at an expensive restaurant, where I ordered skate because I had never tried it before. The skate arrived covered in white sauce and I didn’t enjoy it much.

I spent most of my days walking for miles across the city and visiting art galleries. It was November and the walking and the galleries were very enjoyable.

I visited a small theatre on the Left Bank, whose name I forget, which specialised in erotic performance. I did not see the show but inquired of the staff whether it was possible to work there. I was told yes, indeed I would be very welcome to work with them. As usual in those days, there was no mention of work permits.

Anna Smith, striptease artist. (Photograph circa 1979.)

They showed me inside the theatre. It had a nicely sized stage which could hold about a hundred people and everything was painted black. It was daytime and there were no performances until night time. There were strong nets high above the rows of seats and I was made to understand that the actors would be performing in the nets as well as on stage. It looked like fun. 

I asked when could I start. 

They said I could start right away. 

But then they asked: I did understand that I would be doing a live sex act show, didn’t I? 

Ooops….

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m only a striptease artist…”

They looked at me sympathetically and kindly told me that I was very welcome to come back if I changed my mind.

The only other job I could possibly have done at the time was jello wresting (defined by the Urban Dictionary as “When women wrestle in a pit of jello – UK jelly – in their bikinis while a bunch of horny men sit by and watch.”)

But I was pretty snobby at the time and thought that was beneath my level of artistic excellence…

I would not mind trying it now though.. haha. 

I wonder if Lynn Ruth Miller would consider joining me….or maybe I could rent a sex robot, if she isn’t available…

Woman versus machine…hmmmm…

Josephine Baker, banana costume, 1927

When I was in Paris, I also visited The Folies Bergère – the haunt of one of my idols, Josephine Baker – and The Crazy Horse. 

The Folies Bergère were a disappointment, more like a light show than a human performance. The dancers’ costumes were illuminated with thousands of tiny lights which glowed in the dark when the lights on stage went out. I have seen more interesting displays of Christmas lights on houses in suburban Minneapolis. 

The Crazy Horse was slightly better. Although I had bought the least expensive ticket possible, the hostess seated me in the front row, likely because I was the only single woman in the house, young and dressed sexily.

The show was highly choreographed (as it still is) and I later wrote a critique for Canada’s national newspaper (the Globe and Mail), that “not one spontaneous wink” escaped from the performers.

I visited Paris a couple of times after that, when I was living in London. One time I went there with Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green).

Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green) & Anna Smith in London, 1984

We stayed at The Hotel Lima and in the daytime we performed in the plaza of The Pompidou Centre. We did a sort of burlesque style performance art piece. 

I was dressed in a black outfit, wrapped in flecked hat netting, my skirts trimmed with silver and violet spangles, like a nineteenth century ‘dame perdue’ and Sir Gideon Vein resembled Jack the Ripper, with his frock coat and usual blood-stained cravat. 

We played Death and the Maiden on a ghetto blaster and had a rubber knife with which we eventually stabbed each other to death. I remember slowly sprinkling corn flakes over Sir Gideon’s dying body…

We did not make very much money doing this, a small crowd gathered to watch and afterwards a kind man bought each of us a vanilla ice cream cone.

I remembered being mystified that a fat, dowdy middle aged French woman wearing ordinary clothes and playing a penny whistle badly was pulling in a small fortune in coins at the same time.

But now I realise that people must have felt sorry for her.

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