On this day January 22, Claire Waldoff


Claire Waldoff january 22
Poster by Jo Steiner, Wikimedia Commons

Legendary German cabaret and recording artist Claire Waldoff died on January 22 1957. Claire and longtime partner Olga von Roeder (Olly) are buried together in Stuttgart’s Pragfriedhof cemetary.

Claire Waldoff began her entertainment career aged 18, giving up her ambition to train as a doctor following her parent’s divorce. In 1906, she moved to Berlin.

“I saw the gigantic city Berlin for the first time and was overwhelmed. I immediately sensed the special qualities of this town, the incredible tempo, the temperament, the amazing brio.”

The young singer quickly became a star on the late-night cabaret scene. However, the law banned women from appearing in men’s clothing after 11 pm. Claire relinquished her previously masculine stage attire and bought a dress. But she still cropped her hair short, often wore a man’s tie with her blouse, and smoked and swore during her performances.

She became famous for the expression immortalised in the poster by Jo Steiner (above). Flaming red hair with one eyebrow quizically raised.

Sometimes described as an actress rather than a singer, she knew how to put on a show. She could swing from a sentimental ballad straight into an innuendo-laden satirical ditty jabbing at societal mores, sexual hypocrisy and the German authorities.

A couple of song titles: ‘In the morning you don’t want to – and in the evening you can’t’ and ‘Who took the pickle off my schnitzel?’

Despite her sometimes near-scandalous lyrics, German royals hired her for private performances. When a massive contingent of the royals travelled to London for the 1911 coronation of George V, Claire Waldoff went too, booked to entertain the various princes, princesses, dukes and grand duchesses in their private suites. At the same time, she undertook a season at London’s Empire Theatre.

The London Observer 

Someone at London’s Observer newspaper was obviously a fan. The paper published multiple articles promoting her upcoming performances. According to the Observer, she made quite an impression in a private performance at Claridge’s with her ‘strong individuality’ and ‘saucy songs’.

The paper lauded the ‘gay, naive, cool little comedienne’ and promised she would captivate with a ‘queer expressiveness all its own’.

“Miss Waldoff is the special pet of that portion of the Berlin population that takes its pleasures between midnight and dawn.”

Although Claire Waldoff sang mainly in German, the Observer noted she spoke and sang fluent English. She had prepared, especially for her London shows, a couple of English ballads “interpretative of ‘Gay Berlin’ for the special edification and instruction of English audiences.”

Come to the Kabarett

Because of two world wars, Claire Waldoff received no other mentions in the British press until long after her death. But back home in Germany, she became a superstar of the post-WWI ‘kabarett’ scene, memorialised by Christoper Isherwood in Goodbye to Berlin. She recorded numerous songs, was popular on the radio, and even performed with a young Marlene Deitrich.

But Claire lived openly with partner Olly von Roeder. She sang pointedly feminist and suggestively lesbian lyrics. And she patronised Jewish composers and lyricists.

That all pissed off the Nazis. Following their rise to power in 1933, the regime continually harassed the popular singer, banning performances and at least one recording. In 1935, Propaganda Minister Goebbels sabotaged a planned performance by spreading the rumour she’d suicided.

In 1939, Claire and Olly retired to their country holiday home. Claire Waldoff died in 1957. On Olly’s death in 1963, she was buried alongside her longtime lover.

Claire wrote about the relationship in her 1953 autobiography.

“We both hit the jackpot with each other… Olly is a truly rare, honourable character, a wonderful person.”

Read more: January 21 <— On this day —> January 23

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