Born Jeanne Florentine Bourgeois, Mistinguett was at one time one of the highest-paid female entertainers in the known world.
Born into poverty, she was not known for her beauty but rather for her quick wit and underlying intelligence. She was quoted as saying, “The poor suburbs, it’s not enough just to want to get out.”
She was, first of all, a businesswoman, and she always listened to others before making her decisions.
Early on she wanted to be an entertainer, but she started her business career initially as a flower seller in her hometown. She sang popular songs as she sold the flowers to passers-by. Not content to wait for life to help her, Mistinguett started taking classes in theater and singing, using her precious funds to pave her way.
Soon, in 1885, her career as an entertainer began when she met Saint-Marcel on a train to Paris on her way to a violin lesson. Saint-Marcel directed the revue at the famous Casino de Paris. Initially, she was hired on as a stagehand, and this is when she tried out different stage names, using a handful before settling on Mistinguett.
In 1895 she made her debut on the stage at the Casino de Paris and went on to appear in other venues such as Moulin Rouge, Folies Bergere, and Eldorado.
She became quickly known in Paris for her flamboyance and risqué routines. As her popularity increased along with her paycheck, she quickly became one of the most highly-paid female entertainers in the world. She had an inate sense of the theatrical nature of her work and showed a zest for it. In a wonderfully theatrical move, she insured her legs for 500,000 francs and became a talking point the world over.
At the age of 80, she died in Bougival, France. No doubt right up to her last moments she was just as flamboyant and a shrewd a businesswoman as she had been in her youth.
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The writer Jean Cocteau noted in an obituary for her, “Her voice, slightly off-key, was that of the Parisian street hawkers – the husky trailing voice of the Paris people.”