Émilie Marie Bouchaud[1] (14 May 1874 – 14 October 1939), better known by her stage name Polaire, was a French singer and actress. She was known for her extremely tight corset, dubbed the wasp waist, reportedly measuring less than 16 inches (41 cm), and her eccentric stage presence, which generated mixed receptions.[2]

Polaire in 1895
Émilie Marie Bouchaud

(1874-05-14)14 May 1874
Died14 October 1939(1939-10-14) (aged 65)
OccupationSinger, actress


Early life

Bouchaud was born in Agha, Algiers, French Algeria on 14 May 1874;[3] according to her memoirs she was one of eleven children of whom only four – Émilie, her two brothers Edmond and Marcel, and a sister, Lucile – survived infancy. Their father died of typhoid fever when Émilie was five and their mother, unable to support them alone, temporarily placed the four children with their grandmother in Algiers. Marcel died shortly after. In 1889, after their mother began a relationship with a man named Emmanuel Borgia, the family moved with him to Paris. There her mother found work, and also tried to find domestic employment for her daughter. Eventually however, after her sister Lucile fell sick and died, Émilie was sent back to her grandmother in Algiers.

Borgia, her mother and only surviving sibling Edmond remained in Paris. Emilie did not settle, and in September 1890 ran away to rejoin her mother in France. Afraid however of meeting up with her mother's partner, Borgia, (whom she accuses in her memoirs of having tried to molest her), she first approached her brother Edmond. He had already gained some fame as a café-concert singer under the name of Dufleuve, and with his help she auditioned successfully for her first job as a café singer, aged about 17.[4][5]


Polaire's career in the entertainment industry stretched from the early 1890s to the mid-1930s, and encompassed the range from music-hall singer to stage and film actress. Her most successful period professionally was from the mid-1890s to the beginning of the First World War.[6]

Adopting the stage name Polaire ("Pole Star"),[7] she worked first as a music-hall singer and dancer: one of her earliest hits was performing the French version of Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay.[8] Having quickly made a name for herself – Toulouse-Lautrec portrayed her on a magazine cover in 1895 – Polaire briefly visited New York, appearing there as a chanteuse at various venues, but without achieving major success.[9] On her return to Paris she extended her range and went on to act in serious theatre. Her first major appearance was in 1902, at the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, in the title role of a play based on Colette's Claudine à Paris. A comedic actress, Polaire became one of the major celebrities of her day and later, as cinema developed, appeared in several films.

In 1909, Polaire was cast in her first silent-film role in Moines et guerriers. In 1910 she returned to the stage, appearing in London and later in New York. (1910 was the date of her first visit to the U.S. as a celebrity, and publicity releases did not mention her earlier appearances in 1895.) In 1912, back in France, she was offered a role in a film by the up-and-coming young director Maurice Tourneur. She appeared in six of his films in 1912 and 1913. She then returned to the musical stage and began a second tour of the United States, after which she appeared at the London Coliseum. In 1915 Polaire made frequent appearances in London, and involved herself in wartime fund-raising efforts.[10] She returned to films in 1922, but in the declining years of her career had to be content with lesser roles.

Her precise filmography is difficult to determine due to confusion between her and a younger Italian actress with the screen name "Pauline Polaire", who also featured in early films.[11] Her last film appearance was in 1935 in Arènes joyeuses, directed by Karl Anton.[12]


She was skilled in using her appearance to attract attention.[13] In her early days as a café singer in the 1890s, she wore very short skirts and also cropped her hair, fashions that did not become common in the rest of society until the 1920s. A brunette,[14] she wore unusually heavy eye makeup, deliberately evocative of the Arab world.[15] At a time when tightlacing among women was in vogue, she was famous for her tiny, corsetted waist, which was reported to have a circumference no greater than 16 inches (410 mm).[16] This accentuated her large bust, which was said to measure 38 inches (970 mm).[17] She stood 5 feet 3 inches (1.60 m) tall.[18] Her striking appearance, both on and off stage, contributed to her celebrity.

For her 1910 supposed "debut" in New York she provocatively allowed herself to be billed in the advance publicity as "the ugliest woman in the world"[19] and departing on a transatlantic liner she was apparently accompanied by a "black slave".[20] Returning to America in 1913, she brought a diamond-collared pet pig, Mimi, and wore a nose-ring.[21] Talk of her figure and her lavish overdressing in fur coats and dazzling jewels preceded her appearances wherever she went. Jean Lorrain said of her:[22]

Polaire! The agitating and agitated Polaire! The tiny slip of a woman that you know, with the waist slender to the point of pain, of screaming out loud, of breaking in two, in a spasmically tight bodice, the prettiest slimness ... And, under the aureole of an extravagant masher's hat, orange and plumed with iris leaves, the great voracious mouth, the immense black eyes, ringed, bruised, discoloured, the incandescence of her pupils, the bewildered nocturnal hair, the phosphorus, the sulphur, the red pepper of that ghoulish, Salome-like face, the agitating and agitated Polaire!

What a devilish mimic, what a coffee-mill and what a belly-dancer! Yellow skirt tucked high, gloved in open-work stockings, Polaire skips, flutters, wriggles, arches from the hips, the back, the belly, mimes every kind of shock, twists, coils, rears, twirls...trembling like a stuck wasp, miaows, faints to what music and what words! The house, frozen with stupor, forgets to applaud.

She was a frequent subject for artists;[23] those who painted her include Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Antonio de La Gandara, Leonetto Cappiello, Rupert Carabin, Mme. Dreyfus Gonzales[24] and Jean Sala.


Polaire's finances suffered from a series of actions by the French tax authorities and she struggled to find stage or screen roles as she aged.[25] She may have suffered from depression.[26]

She died in 14 October 1939, aged 65, in Champigny-sur-Marne, Val-de-Marne, France.[3] Her body was buried at the Cimetière du Centre, in the eastern Paris suburb of Champigny-sur-Marne.[27][28]

Partial discography

All songs are included in the compilation album, Eugénie Buffet et Polaire: Succès et Raretés (1918-1936), released under a French record label, Chansophone.[29]

  • Allo Chéri (Boyer–Stamper) - Pathé 4970 - Matrix No. 2485 - 8 May 1918
  • Pour être heureux (Yvain) - Aérophone - No. 1467 - 1920
  • La Glu (Richepin–Fragerole) - Aérophone - No. 1468 - 1920
  • Tchike Tchike (Scotto) - Odéon 75143 - 1923
  • Pour être heureux (Yvain) - Odéon 75143 - Matrix No. K1-510 - 1923
  • Nocturne (Nozière) - Gramophone K-5798 - Matrix No. BS 4432-1 et 4433-2 - 1929
  • La Glu (Richepin–Fragerole) - Polydor 521531 - Matrix No. 2170 BK - 1929
  • Le P'tit Savoyard - Polydor 521531 - Matrix No. 2170 BK - 1929
  • Le Train du rêve (Aubret–Lenoir) - Parlophone 22716 - Matrix No. Pa 106124-2 - 1930
  • Le Premier Voyage (Lenoir) - Parlophone 22716 - Matrix No. Pa 106165-2 - 1930
  • La Prière de la Charlotte (Jehan Rictus; arr. Warms) - Cristal 6263 - Matrix No. CP 2082 and 2083 - 1936

Selected filmography

See also


  1. In her memoirs she calls herself "Emélie-Marie Bouchaud": Polaire par elle-meme, Éditions Eugène Figuière (1933), Paris. chapter 10 . In 1930 her identity card was issued in the name "Emilie Polaire"
  2. ""Queer Freak of a Dance"". chroniclingamerica.loc.gov. The News-Herald (Hillsboro, OH). 28 December 1899. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  3. Polaire on IMDb
  4. "Polaire – Émilie Marie Bouchaud (1847–1930)". Une Etoile de la Belle Epoque (Star of the Belle Epoque) (in French). Retrieved 24 March 2010.
  5. Polaire par elle-meme, Éditions Eugène Figuière (1933), Paris
  6. Le Figaro, 15 October 1939, p. 2: "Polaire est morte"
  7. "Polaire par elle-meme". Paris: Éditions Eugène Figuière. 1933. Archived from the original on 2010-07-07.. According to her memoirs she had been star-gazing the night before her debut and decided to name herself after "l'étoile polaire" (Polaris, the Pole star).
  8. Le Matin, 5 October 1892, p. 3: "...Mlle. Polaire, la chanteuse excentrique qui, cet été, a obtenu un si grand succès dans Ta-Ra-Ra-Boum..."
  9. “At Koster and Bial's...Mlle. Polaire was a new performer. She is one of those Parisian importations known as “chanteuses eccentriques(sic).” Everybody who has been in the up-to-date New-York music halls knows what that means”, New York Times, 19 November 1895.
  10. "Court Circular." Times [London, England] 14 April 1915: 11. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 9 July 2012.
  11. Pauline Polaire was the screen name of an Italian actress, Giulietta Gozzi."Pauline Polaire is not Polaire!!!". Cynthia Gralla. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
  12. "Le Matin". 19 December 1935: 6. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  13. "If no-one laughs at my hat in the street," said the French actress Polaire, "I know it's a failure." Jane Shilling. "The Look-and how to get it." Times [London, England] 23 Apr. 1997: 18. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 9 July 2012.
  14. Her identity card describes her hair as dark brown ("chatain foncé"), eyes as brown ("brun") and skin tone as tanned ("mat"). http://www.polaire-1900.com/
  15. "Ses regards, qui n'évoquent pas l'Orient comme les yeux de Polaire, − ces admirables yeux de fellahine" Colette, Claudine s'en va, 1903, p. 208.
  16. In her memoirs Polaire stated that, when young, her waist could be encircled by a normal shirt collar size 41–42, equivalent to between 16 and 16.5 inches. Polaire par elle-meme, Éditions Eugène Figuière (1933), Paris
  17. Jenner, Greg (2015). A Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Everyday Life. Orion. p. 157. ISBN 978-0-297-86979-5.
  18. Her identity card issued 30 October 1930 gives her height as 1.65 metres (5 ft 5 in) http://www.polaire-1900.com/.
  19. New York Times, 3 July 1910
  20. In her memoirs Polaire claimed the so-called "slave" was actually a 14-year-old boy named Jimmy. Her admirer "Adolf Pawenstead" (Adolph Pavenstedt, an American-based German financier) paid him to act as her page on the voyage home to Paris. In publicity shots Jimmy wore a silver medal with the inscription "I belong to Polaire". According to her account he remained with her for some time in Paris, until he became distracted by city life and they parted company.(Polaire par elle-meme, Éditions Eugène Figuière (1933), Paris)
  21. New York Times, 17 August 1913.
  22. Jean Lorrain (1936). La Ville Empoisonnée. Paris: Jean Cres. p. 279.
  23. Images http://artyparade.com/focus-on/29
  24. "PICTURES IN PARIS.-Our Paris Correspondent." Times [London, England], 26 May 1902: 14. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 9 July 2012.
  25. Polaire par elle-meme, Éditions Eugène Figuière (1933), Paris.
  26. Reporting a 1938 accident in which Polaire's wrist was badly cut a newspaper suggested she may have been attempting suicide, claiming she had suffered nervous breakdowns and made a similar attempt after her mother's death. "l'Humanité". 2 February 1938: 8. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  27. "Madame Polaire repose à l'Ancien Cimetière du Centre, à Champigny-sur-Marne (94 500) – division 21". Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  28. Article and photo of grave, landrucimetieres.fr; accessed 2 July 2015.(in French)
  29. "Eugénie Buffet & Polaire/ Succès et Raretés (1918-1936)". Amazon (in French). Retrieved 27 July 2017.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.