Touraine - from then until now!

This blog is an attempt to show some of the vast history of Man's prescence in the Southern Touraine.... from first footfall to the present....
especially in and around le Grand Pressigny area.... with special emphasis on life at and around le Moulin de la Forge.
There will also be occasional entries about time before man was here and when the area was at the bottom of a warm, shallow sea...

Friday, 24 April 2015

The tough cookie

The full text of the article about the fire aboard the liner La Touraine in our clipping is now available (see Gallica). Beneath the title La mystère de l'incendie de La Touraine is revealed a tasty bit of gossip, when examined with 20/20 hindsight. Corroborating detail comes from Le Petit Parisien of 4th April 1915.

Raymond Rolfe Swoboda lived quietly for four years at 24 Boulevard de Rochechouart until August 1913 when he moved out without leaving a forwarding address. He then moved into the newly-built Villa Flore in Viroflay.

From Le Petit Journal, 4 April 1915
When the rental agreement for a nine year lease was drawn up in October 1913, the villa in the Rue de la Gare-aux-Marchandises had no name; the proprietor, M. Mandar [or Mandard, Le Petit Parisien], an "ardent patriot" wanted to call it after his native region of Alsace-Lorraine, divided after the Franco-Prussian war so the Lorraine became part of Germany. He was on the point of ordering a nameplate. Hearing this made Swoboda jump. "Oh no", he said, "my wife is called Flore, so call it 'Pavillon Flore', that will go very well, yes" [note, the last word in English]. Out of generosity Mandar complied with his new tenant's request and the house became the Villa Flore.

When war broke out, Swoboda made it known to his landlord that he was going to join the French armed forces. This touched Mandar's patriotic streak and he accorded his tenant whatever facilities they wished, including an electric burglar alarm. He even renewed his congratulations in a letter a few days later. However, passing Swoboda's workplace towards the middle of September 1914, one month after Swoboda and his wife had moved out, Mandar checked if his tenant had indeed joined the army, and found that he had done no such thing. He addressed a vehement letter to Swoboda, reproaching him for the deception.

"Do you know what I shall call my Villa now?" Mandar told the Petit Journal, "I shall call it 'Revenge'".

But who was Flore?

Flore Emilie Treichler of the multiply-miss-spelled name was a very interesting personality indeed. Born in Rolle, Switzerland on January 25, 1889, she had been with Swoboda for six years, firstly in Rue de Rochechouart, then at the Villa Flore. However by the beginning of April 1915 she was back home again, as a principal singer with the Geneva Opera.  In France, she had appeared very much under Swoboda's influence, a Trilby to his Svengali, as testified by M and Mme Roche, her widely respected teachers of singing and diction.  Her stage name, quoted in Le Petit Journal, Le Petit Havre and elsewhere) was Flore Revalles.

That same Flore Revalles was headhunted by Leon Bakst, the great theatre designer, to join Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet Russe at the end of 1915 for appearances at the Paris Opera, where she danced in Scheherazade. This was followed in 1916 by a season in New York, at the Century Theatre, and a four week run at the Metropolitan Opera House, which included an appearance with Vaclav Nijinsky in the final dance of Till Eugenspiegel. A copy of her 1916 contract with Diaghilev is in the Victoria and Albert Museum's Diiaghilev Collection, where her real surname has been misread as Crieckler (a real cracker).

That was quickly followed by a tour of America and Canada. On January 15 1917 she danced the eponymous role of Cleopatra with Nijinsky in Vancouver to rave reviews in the Vancouver Daily Sun. The reviewer swooned that her
“mesmerizing power over her lover is only less remarkable than her silent power and sovereignty over the spectators.”
Harvard Theatre Collection
Likewise the Galveston Daily News, Texas of 26 November 1916, written by someone who likes the word "and" rather a lot:
"Flore Revalles is her name and she plays in most of the ballets, among them in the ancient story of the snake lady of the Nile, Cleopatra. Flore Revalles is a person all soft curves and long sinuous lines with dark Egyptian colouring and all the attributes of a well regulated vampire. In the story from which the ballet is taken a humble slave dares to love Cleopatra. At first the whole court with the queen stand aghast and astounded at the presumption of the slave; but, swayed by a whim, yields to him for a brief and delirious hour and then kills him with a strange and terrible poison."
Back in Paris in 1920, she appeared in Pulcinella (ballet with songs written by Massine) and Les Sylphides choreographed by Michel Fokine.

What do we know about her?

  • She was a good enough dancer in 1916 and 1917 to partner Nijinsky and Adolf Bolm.
Scheherazade, with Adolf Bolm

Cleopatra, with Nijinsky, by Karl Struss, 1916
  • She was a good enough singer on the Broadway stage, in the reviews Miss 1917 (1917) and Monte Cristo (1919) accompanied by the then unknown George Gershwin. 
  • She was a good enough actress to appear in two films, as Messalina in Woman (1918) and Daisy Rittenshaw in Earthbound (1920)  both now regarded as lost classics. Woman attempted somewhat daringly to tell the story of womankind from Eve to the present day, Messalina being the promiscuous wife of the Roman emperor Claudius. In the spooky Earthbound, Daisy Rittenshaw's husband murders his best friend on discovering that he is having an affair with his wife. The lover comes back as a ghost incapable of moving except to protect those he has wronged.

  • She was cool enough to disclose in 1916 that she had adopted a cobra to help her performance in dancing the part of Cleopatra, saying that "the cobra is the most graceful of all snakes", This made the headlines and ensured the maximum of publicity for her appearances. 

  • She had bunions, the curse of the ballet (see above).
  • She was well enough known world-wide for her portrait to hang in the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Flore Revalles by Emil Otto ('E.O.') Hoppé, c. 1917, Photogravure, National Portrait Gallery
  • And she was a tough enough cookie to front a lawsuit by the cast of The Century Girl and Miss 1917 against the Century Corporation for non-payment for their work. She won her case, sending the theatre into bankruptcy. 
She died, aged 77, in Switzerland in 1966. There is no record of her ever marrying.

Could she have been Swoboda's wife, not just his "petite amie"? 

When interviewed by the Geneva correspondent of Le Matin about the accusations against Swoboda she seems genuinely confused at the flood of misinformation. But then, as we have just said, she was a good actress. (t must have been painful to realise that her friend was lying to her just as much as to everyone else. But then, she was a tough cookie. Here is my translation of the Le Matin report as published by Le Petit Havre of 4th April 1915.
I have seen Miss Flora Treichler, girlfriend of Raymond Swoboda. The young artist is presently Principal singer [première chanteuse] at the theatre of Geneva, where, under the name of Flore Revalles, she sings with success in several operas.
Miss Treichler, who is of Swiss origin, declared to me:
"I've known Raymond Swoboda for six years. I know that he worked on numerous commercial and financial deals, but I didn't know the details. M. Swoboda, who is rather taciturn, said nothing to me about his private business."
Swoboda's girlfriend affirmed to me that the financier is indeed American.
"He is the son", she said to me "of a very rich family in New York. [Italics as printed]. After several disagreements, his father closed his purse to him. One of his brothers is presently an interpreter with an English cavalry regiment.
"My friend", Miss Treichler continued, "never belonged to the German or Austrian army. It's true that in the course of the search at our villa in Viroflay a photograph of people in German uniforms was found, the explanation is very simple. Raymond Swoboda was a student at Heidelberg. He still has family in Germany and it's possible that he had his picture taken with friends or family."
"Do you know", I asked, "of the deposit made by M. Swoboda of five trunks, in the offices of a business in the Avenue de l'Opera?"
 "I know," the singer replied, "that my friend conducted various business deals with America and that he had just concluded an important market to distribute many American products  in France.
"The trunks you refer to simply contained samples of these products. Besides, he didn't expect to limit the placement of these goods to France alone, for here is a letter where he asks me if some of some of the products might not be placed in Switzerland, and which in my opinion would have the best chance of selling here.
"This letter proves that my friend wanted only to conduct commercial  business, and I do not believe one scrap in his guilt. Here is another letter. It is dated 4th March. Raymond Swoboda writes to me:
- 'Once more I find myself on a French liner. I preferred in the end to avoid a useless stay in England, for the traffic is so very heavy between the two countries, that I risk losing all the advantage that the Lusitania might have given me.'
 "Here is another letter. This was written aboard the Touraine, on 7th March, in sight of Brest.
- 'I would have been better to follow my original plan, rather than leaving on the Touraine, for if ever we had a lucky escape, this time was it.'
"You can see for yourself," continued the financier's girlfriend, "that Swoboda told me all about the phases of the fire alarm which was raised the day before on board the liner. You can read hear as well that he passed on to me the opinion of the ship's officers, saying that the fire was certainly due to a deliberate act of malice  and that the fire could only be set with the aide of an explosive device [infernal machine] placed in the middle of the merchandise in the hold."
"No", Miss Treichler concluded, "Raymond Swoboda could not be guilty of what they accuse him of, and I am certain that he is the victim of a horrible plot or a dreadful mistake."
[Thus when one has just read this dispatch, there is reason to remark that Miss Treichler declares that Raymond Swoboda's family is from New York. In the identity papers he possessed at the time of his association with M. Raguit, the financier of the Rue de Provence, Swoboda's papers seem to establish that he was born in Quebec, and on different occasions he told M Raguit about the properties his family owned in that city.
Finally the papers that he presented at the Viroflay town hall, when he came to register as an alien, indicated that he was born in San Francisco.These were the same papers that he presented at the U.S. embassy when he went to get his passport for America, at the end of last December.]
According to the information provided at the parliamentary sitting by M. Malvy, minister of the interior, it appears that Swoboda was born on 6 February 1878 in San Francisco, of American parents, and he made his declaration of American citizenship in Viroflay, last year.
Elsewhere, according to a dispatch from Washington by the Havas agency, Mr MacLea, an associate of Swoboda, would be addressing a request to the state Department to protect him.
"The case against him is absurd", he declared. "Swoboda was only engaged in purchases of fabrics and other furnishings."

Treichler/Revalles's Wikipedia entry is longer than Swoboda's. And it makes no mention of him. Nor is he mentioned in any of the show-business web sites that include vignettes of her life and career, or in the history of the Ballet Russe.

She seems to have completely remade herself after his arrest. The strategic move to Switzerland had already taken place. It only took nine months for her to re-establish herself in the Geneva Ballet, where she would come to Bakst's notice, and to join the re-forming Ballet Russe. Clearly she was not broken-hearted over her split with him.

And she was not pretty. She was beautiful.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress
Dating the famous

I like this one best - Dating the famous
Or maybe this one? Wikipedia creative commons

1 comment:

Susan said...

Cor you're having fun :-) She is indeed a most interesting character.