05 March 2018

Who is Souricette?

Recently, I bought this little cigarette card (4 by 6 cm; 1.7 by 2.7 inch) and wondered if the Souricette on the picture could be French actress Musidora (1889-1957). With her heavily kohled dark eyes, somewhat sinister make-up, pale skin and exotic wardrobes, she created an unforgettable vamp persona in the Louis Feuillade serial Les Vampires (1915-1916). Her Irma Vep is a voluptuous, amoral villainess, who wears the same black leotard, hood and tights as  Souricette on my cigarette card. I googled Musidora and found images of her in the same style and costume, but not this particular picture. Nor did I find an indication that her picture was used by Cigarettes Le Nil. So I asked two ladies for help.

Who is Souricette?
French cigarette card by Cigarettes Le Nil, no. 38. Photo: H. Manuel.

Thieves operating in hotels

First I mailed with Marlene Pilaete of La Collectionneuse and asked her if this could be Musidora or an imitator. Marlene is a real Mrs. Sherlock who often helps me with little postcard mysteries and corrects my errors at European Film Star Postcards.

Marlene replied me: "This cigarette card is a good find. Of course, I cannot be sure at 100% but I really think she’s Musidora. Her distinctive face is recognizable. I have among my vintage Musidora cards one on which she is exactly dressed the same way (but the pose is different). I even recognize her shoes.

Musidora has been photographed several times by the Manuel studios, so this is a further clue.

I don’t know why she is called 'Souricette' on this cigarette card. She is dressed here in her famous costume from Les vampires. It’s a typical outfit worn by the thieves operating in hotels.

You certainly remember that in Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, Cary Grant and Brigitte Auber also wear this kind of leotard. In French, those thieves are called 'souris d’hôtel'. 'Souricette' being a kind of diminutive form of 'souris', maybe that’s where the publishers got their idea."

Musidora (Le Tréport)
French postcard, no. 67. Caption: Le Tréport - Le Repos de la Pêcheuse de Crevettes. (Le Tréport - The Rest of the Shrimp Fisherwoman). Musidora working as a bathing beauty for picture postcards. Collection: Marlène Pilaete.

A Dog called Lacsalé

I also contacted Dutch film historian Annette Förster, author of Women in Silent Cinema. Histories of Fame and Fate, which has been selected for the prestigious Choice Outstanding Academic Titles list 2017.

Her book is a study on the comprehensive accounts of the professional itineraries of three women in the international silent cinema: Dutch stage and film actress Adriënne Solser, Canadian-born actress and filmmaker Nell Shipman, and Musidora.

Annette writes me: "I'm pretty sure that this is Musidora, not so much because of all the similarities, but mainly because of the dog in the lower right corner: that is her own dog Lacsalé!

He is also on other publicity photos of Musidora, such as those by Photogenie that she had sent to Cinéa (see my book on page 243).

What a great find!"

Thank you, Marlene and Annette, and Lacsalé too!

French postcard by Editions Gordon & Cie., Vincennes (Seine).

No comments: