| length: 4 min. |
|Tribute to Michou, the Blue Prince of Montmartre|
by De Ket in In Memoriam , 22 March 2020
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length: 4 minuten
Dear Neighbors to the North, Michou is no longer with us. Michou, I hear you say? Michou of Cabaret Michou, in the Parisian art district Montmartre. His real name was Michel Georges Alfred Catty.
Michou was a monument to Parisian nightlife. He died in Paris on January 26 at the age of eighty-eight.
In 1956 he opened the doors of his little bistro in Montmartre. He is the inventor of the cabaret-restaurant spectacle concept. After dinner, the lights go out for a nightly glittering drag show. This now seems to be the most normal thing in the world, but that was not the case in the 1950s. Even then, he openly expressed his homosexuality.
In the initial phase, he himself performed as a drag queen. Legendary - it seems - were his imitations of the famous French chansonnière France Gall, who died two years ago. The French actress Brigitte Bardot was also one of his targets. He once told a journalist that his ass looked better than Bardot’s. Soon, Cabaret Michou would become an “institute” of Parisian nightlife, just as the Folies Bergères is. Cabaret Michou, however, is on a much smaller scale, and with a capacity for eighty customers a much more intimate experience. That was precisely its success.
I discovered Cabaret Michou during my student years. I worked in the hospitality industry on weekends to save some money to travel. Or to be able to go out during the weekend. Paris was a favorite and frequent destination, partly because gay life in the late 1980s was so much better in the City of Lights than in Brussels. Fast Thalys connections were not yet available at that time, but via Lille - not far from the French-Belgian border where I lived at the time - we were able to travel reasonably easily to Paris on Friday evening to spend the weekend there. A mandatory stop was Club Banana Café, near Les Halles, in the heart of Paris. To this day a nice gay bar with cabaret, although it is now mainly a bar with a mixed crowd.
Although cabarets were not my thing (and still are not), Parisian friends were able to convince me to visit Cabaret Michou. Not in the least as, during my childhood years and to the great displeasure of my father, I watched the film “La Cage aux Folles” several times. It is a French comedy about a cabaret inspired by Michou’s. “La Cage aux Folles” dates from 1978 and is one of the first French-Italian films dealing with homosexuality and transvestites openly.
But going to Cabaret Michou on a Saturday night in the late 1980s was no easy task. It was necessary to make a reservation, preferably months in advance. It certainly was not cheap either. However, I succeeded during a cold winter night. It was a great evening, although Michou did not perform himself, he did shake every visitor’s hand or kissed them on the cheek. Then, he disappeared into the night, as always dressed in an extravagant blue suit, with matching blue glasses and a peroxidized and perfectly brushed hairstyle. Hence his nickname, the Blue Prince of Montmartre.
Since that visit I have been back twice. Once I saw him about twenty years ago in the Banana Café, in the company of Orlando, the brother of the deceased French-Egyptian singer Dalida. Michou was synonymous with French nightlife. Every French celebrity or famous politician has visited his cabaret and belonged to his circle of friends. He had a direct telephone line with some French presidents. For example, French President Chirac gave him the highest civilian distinction in France. He was a welcome guest at sophisticated receptions in Paris and Saint-Tropez, inseparable from his glass of champagne. Call him the very first night mayor of Paris.
Yet Michou never forgot his simple origins. He also shared his wealth with others. He financially supported many projects for lonely elderly people in Paris and every month the dozens of residents of a nearby retirement home were invited to enjoy a free breakfast at his cabaret. He insisted on being present at such occasions.
He was buried on January 31st. In accordance with his last wishes, he was laid out in a bright blue box, and in his cabaret establishment. Then, his body went to his favorite church in Montmartre, in a bright blue hearse. Five years ago, he had already told a journalist that he wanted to be buried there. And all the guests had to raise a glass of champagne to celebrate his life after the service. And so it happened.
Those who want to go to Cabaret Michou on a subsequent visit to Paris will try so in vain. One of his last wishes was that after his death, the cabaret would close its doors once and for all. It is closed now. Perhaps his partner will decide to continue it, in memory of Michou. Many hope that the “Institut Michou” will remain an integral part of Paris nightlife. If so, I will be back.
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