An extract from Chapter 9 – ‘JoJo and Chinchila’.
….Unbeknown to each other, Misia and Sert had both been at the Moulin Rouge, on 7th January 1907, to see Colette and Missy’s controversial lesbian pantomime about sexual awakening, Reve d’Egypte, that ended in a full-scale riot. Rumours of Colette’s lesbian affair with Missy had been doing the rounds for more than a year, encouraged by Willy, who had also leaked stories to the theatrical press that the “Marquise” had been having pantomime lessons from Georges Wague, the famous mime and silent movie star. Not surprisingly then, the press turned up to rehearsals eager to find out more and report back to their readers what they had discovered, typically contrasting the coquettish Colette with Missy’s cool, butch demeanor and mannish accoutrements. The newspaper Gil Blas, for example, took salacious delight in revealing that while ‘Colette shook her fingers mockingly above her curly hair, the Marquise de Belboeuf focused on the smoke rings she produced, puffing out her lips around her fat cigar.’[i]
If that publicity had not produced enough kindling with which to set the pantomime aflame, the Moulin Rouge management used Missy’s family coat of arms on the posters advertising the event and at the entrance to the theatre, thereby enraging the aristocracy, especially Missy’s brother, the Duke de Morny, her former husband, the Marquis de Belboeuf and the leading Bonapartist, Prince Murat, who all turned up and bought enough tickets for their friends from the Jockey Club and a hundred and fifty hired thugs to boot.
The curtain rose at 10.45pm, revealing an Egyptologist played by Missy, dressed in a brown velvet suit, tie, and mannishly-styled shoes from “her own wardrobe,” as one journalist wrote disapprovingly, who is unwrapping a mummy. As she does so the mummy starts to move, slowly coming back to life, until all the bandages fall away to reveal a beautiful young woman, scantily clad in a jewelled bra and headdress, snake bracelets winding suggestively around her arms, her legs, feet and midriff left bear, played, of course, by Colette. She begins to dance provocatively for her master, the only problem being she can’t hear the music, as by this time the hired thugs are pelting the stage with coins, oranges, seat cushions, tins of sweets and cloves of garlic, while jeering and booing and shouting “down with the dykes” so loud they drown out the forty piece orchestra.
When the pantomime ended, with the Egyptologist taking the near naked mummy in his/her arms and giving her a long lingering highly sexual kiss, all hell broke loose, especially when someone recognised Willy and his new girlfriend Meg in the audience and a mob charged towards them shouting “cuckold, cuckold, cuckold”. Willy hit them with his cane and Meg with her fists as they tried to fight their way out of the theatre. Luckily for them the police arrived in the nick of time to quell what was now a fully-fledged riot and they managed to make their escape. The following day Willy began divorce proceedings against Colette who he blamed for everything, conveniently forgetting that it was he who had written the pantomime in the first place. It was certainly a memorable evening for all who were there. Misia told Sert now that she had experienced nothing like it since the premier of Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi at Lugné-Poë’s Théâtre de l’Oeuvre, ten years before……