his grandfather sold lemons

André-Gustave Citroën (1878 – 1935) was a French industrialist. He is remembered chiefly for the make of car named after him, but also for his application of double helical gears.

image found here

The Citroen family moved to Paris from Amsterdam in 1873. Upon arrival, the diaeresis was added to the name, changing Citroen to Citroën (a grandfather had sold lemons, and had changed the consequent name Limoenman “lime man” to Citroen (Dutch for “lemon”)). 

make a battery with a lemon, nail and penny here

Andre’s early childhood was comfortable but sadly due to some complex diamond dealings which went wrong, his father committed suicide in 1884 when Andre was only six.

Andre was a megalomaniac who loved making banquet speeches. Once he gave one in London in English, a language he did not speak; he had had his remarks translated and had memorized them. Nobody understood a word.

Another time he was about to read a speech that was to be broadcast all over France, and he said, “Oh let’s tell funny stories instead“. He was immediately taken off the air.

When he crossed the Spanish border on a motor trip, he was stopped by a customs officer, who asked “Name?” “Citroën,” he replied. “I didn’t ask the car’s name but yours,” said the officer. “Oh,” said the manufacturer, “I’m a Citroën, but it’s an Hispano.”

Hispano found here

He was a master of marketing. He promoted his plant to tourists as “the most beautiful in Europe.” When American pilot Charles Lindbergh landed in Paris in May 1927 after the first solo flight across the Atlantic, he threw a party at the plant. He rented the Eiffel Tower and had his name put up in 125,000 lights: “Citroen” shined over Paris. 

image found here

All that glitter came to an end in 1934. Citroen had amassed massive debts over the years. His largest creditor was the tire maker Michelin, and in 1934 Michelin took over the plant, cut costs and switched off the lights in the Eiffel tower.

image found here

Published in: on November 20, 2011 at 9:03 am  Comments (57)  
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gift of the muses

The Greek word for ‘gift of the muses’ is Musidora. French actress Jeanne Roques used it as her stage name.

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Beginning in 1915, Musidora began appearing in the hugely successful Feuillade-directed serials Les Vampires as Irma Vep, a cabaret singer, opposite Édouard Mathé as crusading journalist, Philippe Guerande. Contrary to the title, the Les Vampires were not actually about vampires, but about a criminal gang cum secret society inspired by the exploits of the real-life Bonnot Gang.

Irma Vep found here

Les Vampires’ success was due in great part to the character of the head villainess, whose name is an anagram of “vampire,” – Musidora (who occasionally posed naked) virtually defined female beauty for the decade, and her character, identified mostly by her black tights and black mask, slinking down corridors and escaping over rooftops, defined the popular archetype of the super-villainess femme fatale for decades to come

After her career as an actress faded, she focused on writing and producing. Her last film was an homage to her mentor Feuillade entitled La Magique Image in 1950, which she both directed and starred in. Late in her life she would occasionally work in the ticket booth of the Cinematheque Francaise — few patrons realized that the old woman in the foyer might be starring in the film they were watching.”

image found here

The Bonnot Gang was a criminal anarchist group operating in France and Belgium from 1911-12.

They had the dubious honor of being the first to use an automobile to flee the scene of a crime, presaging by over twenty years the later methods of John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde. Automobiles were not yet common so the gang usually stole expensive cars from garages, not from the street.

Bonnot Gang found here

In March 1912, gang member and would-be leader Octave Garnier sent a mocking letter to the Sûreté – with his fingerprints. In those days, the French police did not yet use fingerprinting. On March 25, 1912, the gang stole a de Dion-Bouton automobile by shooting the driver through the heart. They drove into Chantilly north of Paris where they robbed the Société Générale Bank – shooting the bank’s three cashiers. They escaped in their stolen automobile as two policemen tried to catch them, one on horseback and the other on a bicycle.

French bicycle found here

On April 28, police had tracked Bonnot to a house in Choisy le Roi. They besieged the place with 500 armed police officers, soldiers, firefighters, military engineers and private gun-owners. By noon, after sporadic firing from both sides, three police officers put a dynamite charge under the house. The explosion demolished the front of the building. Bonnot was hiding in the middle of a rolled mattress and tried to shoot back until Lépines shot him non-fatally in the head.

Published in: on April 13, 2010 at 8:10 am  Comments (38)  
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the red rose apology

Jo Attia was France’s most colourful criminal until his death in 1972.

image of Jo (second from right) found here

***He was raised in a convent until age twelve, when he was sent to earn his keep on a farm. Out of the hard grind came the magnificent physique that would become his underworld trademark. But by age sixteen he’d had it with farm life. He headed to Marseilles and joined a gang of youths. Within a year police caught him red-handed in a break-in. He was sent to North Africa with a penal batallion. There he learned to box and to kill, and became a close friend of Marseilles gangster Pierre Loutrel.

image found here

During the war Attia worked with the French resistance force, the Maquis. His main contribution was to confine his thievery to Germans and their French collaborators. But he allegedly also helped hundreds of Jews to cross the border to Spain.

Following the war Charles de Gaulle appointed Jo Attia to the Legion of Honor. Still, a hero’s glory buys no bread. Jo thought of entering the boxing ring, but the first manager he approached broke up at the sight of Attia’s tattoed body. “We’re looking for a boxer,” he said, “not a roadmap.”

magazine cover found here

By chance Attia ran into his old friend from the penal battalion, Pierre  Loutrel who had become one of Paris’s leading crooks, “Pierrot le Fou” (the crazy). He joined Pierre’s gang only to be nearly caught by the police in September 1946. There followed an exchange of fire in the classic Chicago tradition.

Pierre’s gun found here

When the sound of gunfire reached him, Loutrel sprang into his brand new armored Delahay, not to flee, but to rescue his pals. At top speed he swung through the bullet shower at the hotel entrance and jammed on the breaks long enough for Attia to jump in. He then floored the gas pedal and disappeared. The gendarmes were left gaping. Another gang member, by hiding in a water barrel and breathing through a hose, also managed to escape. When the police left the scene, he emerged.

unarmoured Delahaye found here

Their luck ran out a few months later when they assaulted and shot a jeweler. Carrying the take to the car, Pierrot le Fou stuffed his pistol under his belt. It fired, stopping him in his tracks. His partners buried him on an island in the Seine. Attia took over, but some of the wildness had left him and he opened a chain of bordellos and nightclubs.

image from Vee Speers Bordello series found here

In 1949 Attia was sent to prison for four years for concealing a body (that of Pierrot le Fou) and illegal possession of weapons. The prosecutor, charging Attia with murder, had asked for a life sentence. But Attia got off lightly thanks to the intervention of one Colonel Beaumont, whose life Attia had saved during the war. Behind bars in Fresnes in 1952, Jo married the mother of his daughter, Nicole.

***This is an extract from a fascinating book, The Great Heroin Coup by Henrik Kruger translated by Jerry Meldon and found here. If you were intrigued by this, I recommend you click the link and read more. Or buy the book!

I found it when researching French actress Martine Carol who was briefly kidnapped by Pierre Loutrel. He apologised the next day by sending her a bouquet of red roses.


Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 7:12 am  Comments (44)  
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the handkerchief of devotion

Lida Baarova was a Czech actress who had an affair with Joseph Goebbels.

She was born Ludmila Babkova in Prague on May 12 1910, and made her first film, The Career of Pavel Camrda in 1931. Three years later she was signed up by a German company and cast in Barcarole as the innocent sexual pawn of squalid male intrigue.

Goebbels told me he loved me time and again,” she recalled 60 years later, “and I felt his eyes burning into my back every time we were in the same room together.” The Fuhrer too, was given to staring mutely in her direction; indeed, when he visited her film studio he seemed to her to be mesmerised. Shortly afterwards he invited her to tea.

Hitler teapot found here

She arrived at the wheel of her BMW which Hitler seemed to consider rather too liberated. On this occasion, however, he found his tongue to the extent of telling her she reminded him of his half niece Gerri Raubel who, he encouragingly explained, had committed suicide on his account.

Lida’s BMW found here

Goebbels invited her to hear him speak at a Nazi congress. He promised to touch his face with a white handkerchief during the speech as a sign of his devotion.

Panicking, Baarova tried to leave town. But as her train waited at the station, a messenger arrived with roses and the minister’s picture.* “He was a master of the hunt, whom nobody and nothing could escape,” she said.

The actress, who died alone in poverty in November aged 86, reveals that Goebbels’s wife, Magda, proposed a ménage à trois to save her marriage but Hitler ordered an end to the two-year affair on the grounds that it could damage the Nazis’ image as guardians of traditional family values.

Lida saw Goebbels one last time at the 1942 Venice film festival. He ignored her. “He must have recognised me, but he did not make a single movement,” she said. “He was always the master of self-control.”

If interested you can see a photo of Hitler and Lida here, with Goebbels photoshopped out

* There is also a photograph of Goebbels’ corpse here. Be warned: the image is very graphic

Published in: on January 6, 2010 at 7:14 am  Comments (41)  
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pidgin english

JapaneseSubway

Back in the days of silent movies, inventor Charles Pidgin patented a breakthrough way to simulate speech on screen. This invention provided for each character to inflate, at the appropriate moment, a balloon carrying the words to be spoken.

body odour

“the words constituting the speech of the actors or characters are placed on balloons of oblong shape adapted to be inflated to a relatively large size and normally occupying a comparatively small space with the words entirely visible… the blowing or inflation of the devices by the various characters of a photo-play will add to the realism of the picture by the words appearing to come from the mouths of the players. “

out talk

Pidgin didn’t think to provide instructions about how each actor would manipulate multiple balloons during lengthy conversations. But his patent was actually approved in 1917 so someone must have thought it had merit.

Inflatable-latex-hood-s

Another inventive star of the silent movie era was the beautiful “Biograph Girl”  Florence Lawrence.

florence lawrence

During her lifetime, Lawrence appeared in more than 270 films for various motion picture companies. Nicknamed “The Girl of a Thousand Faces”, at the height of her career, she was earning a great deal of money and could afford an automobile, something that at the time was still a luxury for most people. Born with a curious mind, she invented the first turn signal, a device attached to a motor vehicle’s rear fender. Dubbed as the “auto signaling arm”, when a driver pressed a button, an arm raised or lowered, with a sign attached indicating the direction of the intended turn. Following this, she developed a brake signal based on the same concept where an arm with a sign reading “STOP” was raised up whenever the driver stepped on the brake pedal. However, Ms. Lawrence’s inventions were not patented, and others in the rapidly expanding auto industry developed their own versions.

nurse-sign2

Carl Laemmle from Universal Pictures started a rumor that Florence had been killed by a street car in New York City. After gaining the attention of the media, he placed ads in newspapers that included a photo of Ms. Lawrence, declaring she was alive and well. This early example of the celebrity machine at work was a very successful publicity stunt to attract attention for her upcoming film. Her official cause of death in 1938 was by the ingestion of ant paste mixed with cough syrup.

insurance


Published in: on October 20, 2009 at 7:31 am  Comments (29)  
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