The ‘Blue Prince of Montmartre,’ at 87, Still Rules Parisian Demimonde


PARIS — The man in blue — azure swimsuit, blue-tinted glasses and blue sneakers — stepped onto the tiny stage of Paris’s best-known drag cabaret, and flashed a large smile at the group.

“I hope you’re enjoying your dinner,” mentioned Michou, an lively 87-year-old who owns the membership.

“If the meat is good, it’s because I slept with the butcher!” he joked, as a coterie of males sporting lipstick and mascara flocked round him. “Thank you for coming,” he added. “You’ve brought me untold joy.”

A girl stood up. “But it is you who makes us happy!” she shouted, because the viewers erupted in applause.

It was a Monday night time, however almost 100 guests had packed Chez Michou, at the foot of Montmartre, the Paris neighborhood recognized for its nightclubs and storied reference to artists like Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec.

For six a long time, Michou has been a fixture of the neighborhood, presiding over France’s most celebrated “transformiste” spectacle — a parade of performers in drag impersonating Maria Callas; Dalida, an Egyptian-born singer and actress from the 1950s; and a nostalgic checklist of different feminine icons.

With elaborate costumes — a purple velvet gown for Ms. Callas, a bouncy blonde wig for Dalida — and tongue-in-cheek pageantry, the present stands out for its luxurious kitsch among the many universe of French cabarets, which have coloured Montmartre with unbound power because the belle epoque.

Michou is not as lithe as when he high-kicked his method into Paris’s cabaret scene, dancing in drag as Brigitte Bardot.

A snowy mane has changed his blonde locks, and as of late, he should lean on his longtime companion, Erwann Toularastel, when navigating Montmartre’s cobbled streets. He is in remission from colon most cancers.

Yet within the twilight of his life, this darling of the Parisian demimonde and his membership are nonetheless attracting giant crowds even whereas performing an act fine-tuned a long time in the past.

Dressed habitually in blue, he’s immediately recognizable in France, partly from his many TV appearances. During winter, a blue overcoat completes his picture, which Michou has cultivated as rigorously as Karl Lagerfeld together with his signature black glasses and fingerless gloves.

“They call me the ‘Blue Prince of Montmartre,’” Michou mentioned one current morning in his rooftop residence, which overlooks Sacré-Coeur, and was adorned fully in blue, all the way down to the turquoise bathroom seat within the lavatory.

“Around here, I’m treated like a saint,” he grinned.

When Michou first set foot in Montmartre within the 1950s, it was an inexpensive bohemian space, residence to artists, writers and performers, in addition to beggars and an ethnically blended working class.

These days, the neighborhood gleams with an costly gentrification. Selfie-taking vacationers swarm to trinket sellers, memento shops and cafes parading as Instagrammable replicas of the Montmartre that when was.

In the midst of all this, Michou has stayed true to his roots — a trait that has gained him a loyal following among the many neighborhood’s longtime denizens.

Once a month, he’s host to free luncheons at his cabaret for an adoring coterie of older Montmartroise, native residents who appear to have recognized one another for years and whose tight bonds preserve Montmartre an genuine Parisien village beneath the vacationer crowds.

Together, they take pleasure in a Champagne-filled afternoon of joie de vivre, whereas clinging to a bygone period.

But Michou additionally counts well-known politicians, actors and singers as mates. His cabaret is jammed with pictures of himself hugging Jacques Brel, Sophia Loren and France’s former president, Jacques Chirac, who awarded him the Legion of Honor, the nation’s highest order of advantage.

At his residence, Michou lifted a blue crystal glass crammed with Champagne. He drinks two bottles each day, he confided, a behavior that prompted a former first woman, Bernadette Chirac, a detailed buddy, to admonish him.

“I don’t smoke, and I don’t do drugs,” he recalled telling her. “At least leave me the pleasure of Champagne!”

Michou was born Michel Catty in June 1931 in Amiens, an industrial town in northern France, and raised by his mother and grandmother.

At age 19, he told his mother he was attracted to other men.

“What would you say if I was a homosexual?” he recalled asking, with trepidation. “If you’re happy, that’s all I care about,” she responded.

He moved to Paris soon after, settling near the Moulin Rouge, Paris’s most storied cabaret. It was a formerly gay area that had given way to prostitutes and sex shops.

He found work at a small cafe on rue des Martyrs, and befriended the owner, Madame Huguette. He bought the cafe from her, and transformed it into a dinner theater, featuring himself and two friends as dancers.

“I did the cooking, the cleaning and the dancing,” Michou said.

They parodied the day’s big female stars, especially Dalida and Ms. Bardot.

After a newspaper review, Dalida came to see the show. “She loved it,” Michou recalled.

These days, whether the lineup should evolve to account for newer stars — the way it has at Moulin Rouge, the Lido and Paris’s biggest cabarets — is a touchy subject.

“We’ve managed to make Michou’s show a bit younger,” said Oscar Boffy, the artistic director, citing new acts that imitate the sultry French singer Patricia Kaas, who became a star in the late 1980s, making the show a little more contemporary.

But for Michou, rooted in nostalgia, adjustment isn’t easy.

“Times may change, but Michou doesn’t,” said Catherine Beaudelain, his niece. “He says things will stay the same as long as he’s around. And he’s the captain on this ship.”

On a recent evening, Michou positioned himself in the nightclub’s bustling hall where he could view his fans — and his fans could view him.

His hair was coifed in a lustrous dome, the result of a daily blowout at the Alexandre de Paris salon. He raised a glass with freshly manicured fingers and toasted the audience.

As fans approached, asking him to sign his autobiography, he moved to a small table in the hallway and settled beneath a photo of himself with Brigitte Macron, the wife of the French president.

“It’s for my mother,” a middle-aged woman said. “She’s from Amiens, like you,” Michou picked up a blue pen and began to scribble.

“Please take good care of yourself,” another woman pleaded. “You bring bonheur to so many. We want you around for a long time!”

After the signings, Michou leaned back and took a last swig of Champagne. The show was halfway over.

“I’m going to go back home to eat some soup,” he said. “I need my strength, to be ready for tomorrow night.”

He paused and glanced at a flame flickering atop a blue candle.

“You know, I’m 87,” he continued, his voice growing suddenly serious. “Life will soon be over for me. But I can say that I‘ve found happiness every single night that I’ve been here.”

“When I disappear,” he added, “I want people to remember this place and say, ‘This is where Michou gave people joy.’”



Source link Nytimes.com

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