About this Recording
8.120523 - CHEVALIER, Maurice: The Early Years (1925-1928)


The Early Years: Original 1925-1928 Recordings

"After all … I could serve as an inspiration to other children of the poor… Choose your road and follow it confidently. What others learn in college, you’ll learn from experience, the best teacher, they say! With courage, common sense and determination, you’re bound to win." — Maurice Chevalier : I Remember It Well

The life of chansonnier, actor, film-star, song-and-dance man, songwriter and author Maurice Auguste Chevalier was a major twentieth century entertainment success-story. He was born in Ménilmontant, near Paris, on 12th September 1888, the ninth of ten siblings. His earliest ambition to become an acrobat was thwarted by injury but he had the theatre in his blood and with the encouragement of his mother and his unswervingly self-confident will to succeed, steadily made his way up in the world of French popular entertainment, touring local cafés and cabarets (music-halls). Having made his début in revue in 1906 (he replaced Dranem at the Eldorado), in 1908 he made the first of several silent-film appearances (in Trop crédule, a short) but his first big break came the following year with a three-year contract at the Folies-Bergère and there, until 1913, he steadily established himself as a leading male figure, primarily in the guise (both onstage and off) of sweetheart to its reigning queen of cabaret Mistinguett (1873-1956).

During 1911, Chevalier appeared in three more French silent shorts : Un marié qui se fait attendre, La mariée recalcitrante and Par habitude and made further cabaret appearances until 1913 when he was drafted into the French Army. Following military service during World War I (he spent most of it in a German internment camp at Alten Grabow, after being taken prisoner early in the war) he returned to Paris in 1917. Awarded the Croix de Guerre, he also appeared in another two silent shorts (La valse renversante and Une soirée mondaine) and in 1918 returned to the Folies. In 1919 he made his first London appearance, with American singing-actress Ethel Levey (1881-1955) in Hullo, America! and, later that same year, his American début in New York as a guest at Florenz Ziegfeld’s Hotel Amsterdam Roof Garden.

Chevalier was prominently featured in Parisian cabaret and revue throughout the early 1920s at various venues (notably the Folies, the Casino and the Empire) where he specialised in song-and-dance routines, usually partnered by his future wife, Yvonne Vallée. In these, he featured the many songs expressly tailored to suit his distinctive, light-baritone crooning (what he lacked in power and vocal finesse he more than made up for in charm, verve and communication with his audience) and a greater portion of his repertoire was provided by the stalwarts of French cabaret who had earlier written for Mistinguett, including Henri Christiné (1867-1941: J’vous f’rai voir, Mon coeur, On est plus léger and the early Chevalier theme-song Valentine) and Maurice Yvain (1891-1965: Dites-moi, ma mère).

In addition to cabaret and revue, the 1920s also found Chevalier heavily involved in studio activity, both recording and film varieties. In 1922 he appeared in two films, Le match Criqui-Ledoux (short) and Le mauvais garçon (full-length); in 1923 in three medium-length features (Gonzague, Jim Bougne boxeur and L’affaire de la Rue de Lourcine and in 1924 in Par habitude (a medium-length remake of the 1911 short). By mid-decade overwork and personal problems had led Chevalier to a serious mental breakdown, however by 1927 he had recovered sufficiently to accept another invitation to appear (with Vallée) in London in the revue White Birds. Opening at His Majesty’s on May 31st 1927, with words and music by George W. Meyer and co-starring Anton Dolin, Maisie Gay, Jose Collins, Billy Milton, Gwen Farrar and Billy Mayerl, this show cost £28,000 to stage — a small fortune for its time — and, at a salary of £500 per week, Chevalier billing as "the World’s Highest-Paid Star" was not without justification.

In 1928 Chevalier resumed his screen career with a sound-début in the somewhat prophetically-titled three-reel travelogue Bonjour, New York! By now, despite the fact that he was both accustomed and by temperament more suited to the live stage, the lure of the talkies and Hollywood were growing ever more irresistible. But curiously his pathway to success in that direction was not, at least initially, as unobstructed as might have been expected. In the first place it was his novelty rating, a proposed exploitation of his exotic French image — "the suggestive swagger and twinkling, roguish-blue eyes", rather than any consideration of his many undisputed talents as a performer — which opened doors for him. Earlier in 1928, he had officially "failed" an MGM screen-test (Thalberg reputedly offered him a $5,000-per-week contract which Chevalier rejected as insufficient to persuade him to move permanently from Paris) only to be subsequently accepted by rival Paramount on the strength of that same test and on condition that his OTT French accent should be a written requirement of his contract. Chevalier, of course, accepted and following the success of Innocents Of Paris (1929) his identification with the early film-musical and a life-long international cult following were instantly assured.

Peter Dempsey, 2002

Transfers and Production: David Lennick

Digital Noise Reduction: Graham Newton

The Naxos Historical labels aim to make available the greatest recordings of the history of recorded music, in the best and truest sound that contemporary technology can provide. To achieve this aim, Naxos has engaged a number of respected restorers who have the dedication, skill and experience to produce restorations that have set new standards in the field of historical recordings.

David Lennick

As a producer of CD reissues, David Lennick’s work in this field grew directly from his own needs as a broadcaster specializing in vintage material and the need to make it listenable while being transmitted through equalizers, compressors and the inherent limitations of A.M. radio. Equally at home in classical, pop, jazz and nostalgia, Lennick describes himself as exercising as much control as possible on the final product, in conjunction with CEDAR noise reduction applied by Graham Newton in Toronto. As both broadcaster and re-issue producer, he relies on his own extensive collection as well as those made available to him by private collectors, the University of Toronto, the International Piano Archives at Maryland, Syracuse University and others.

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