Josephine Baker stepped down from the train carriage, resplendent in her furs: every inch a superstar. She swept along the platform of Canfranc Estacion, the border crossing into Spain from France, giving directions for the unloading and reloading of her luggage. The effect was electrifying.
French and Spanish policemen and customs officers stopped dead. Railway workers gasped in star-struck amazement before dashing to call wives and daughters. They crowded around Josephine, desperate to see, to feel, to touch, to bask in the radiance of that famous smile.
The awe-struck officials barely glanced at the mountain of luggage she’d brought with her: piles of trunks carrying hidden, secret contents that might change the course of the war.
It was 1940 and Josephine was among the world’s most famous women. As a black American singer and dancer facing segregation in her home country, she had emigrated to France in the early 1920s, only 19, seeking fame and fortune.
And she would find these things in France, becoming a global star of stage, screen and song. Josephine set Paris alight with her sexually charged, ‘exotic’, semi-naked dance routines, which scandalised, provoked and captivated her audiences.
The prevailing image of this icon was of her stalking the Paris streets, together with her cheetah, Chiquita, held on a diamond-studded leash.
However, as the years progressed and her fame mushroomed – she was reputedly the most photographed woman in the world by the late 1920s – she was taken more seriously. She gained not just superstar status but fabulous riches, courted by the wealthy, the famous and royalty alike.
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SOURCE: Daily Mail, Damien Lewis