It’s the Jazz Age, the 1920s in Paris picture this women on stage dancing, in their little flapper outfits, scored by trumpets and heavy drums.
You can imagine cigarette, smoke and cheers from Men in the audience.
The drums get faster, the flappers On Stage dance in unison, kicking their legs out and twirling around.
And then a woman breaks through their line.
She’s young, she has short slicked down hair, she wears, red lipstick, she’s black, she hurries across the stage frantically, taking her, dress off as she goes, she’s shaking her hips throwing her arms up, winding her waist that woman.
Angelique lad and entrancing.
Her audience is none other than Josephine Baker made a mistake.
Miss Josephine Baker Josephine enjoyed unprecedented Fame and Europe for almost five decades.
But in the United States, the country of Josephine’s birth.
She couldn’t even get past customs.
From gimlet media.
This is not past it a show about the stories.
We can’t quite leave behind every episode.
Would take a moment from that very same week in history and tell you the story of how it shaped our world.
I’m Simone plannin on October 16th 1951. 71 years ago, this week Josephine Baker got into an altercation at a famous nightclub, that changed her life forever.
This one disastrous night, escalated into a On Feud that roped in figures from Hollywood, the Press even politics.
It’s a story that shows us just how far the US government will go to silence.
Its critics like Josephine cancel culture, ain’t new kids.
So what happened?
That one fateful night.
That’s after the break.
Yeah, because you always give me an argument.
You never want to go anywhere?
I’m getting tired of shows in the hot dog.
I’m gonna go dancing.
I want to go to the Stark.
The Stork Club and the 1940s and 50s.
It was called the world’s best nightclub and the New York East New York Place sitting on the upper east side of Manhattan.
It was the city’s, most extravagant Club at the entrance.
For example, instead of a Velvet Rope, the club was blocked off by a 14 karat solid gold chain.
The coat room was always full of mink and velvet Midnight Milan’s, exclusive Stork Club drinks on the house including a hundred bottles of iced champagne expensive food.
Music to relax to the Stork Club was known as a celebrity haunt Ernest.
Hemingway was a frequent Patron.
As was Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly Orson, Welles Marilyn, Monroe, Alfred Hitchcock broad way leads, politicians movie stars, they would all go to the Stork Club.
So, October 16th 1951 on her way to the club Josephine, Baker expected to be treated like the dozens of other famous people who ate there every night, because she too was a world-class celebrity.
Josephine Baker was an Entertainer at the beginning of the 20th century.
This is Jane roads.
A black studies professor, at the University of Illinois, Chicago.
She studies how black women including Josephine are represented in the media.
She made a really fascinating transition from Vaudeville and sort of that your of blackface Minstrel.
See Josephine was born in St.Louis in 1906.
She grew up, extremely poor working as a maid for white families.
Is as a teenager, she fled st.
Louis performed in a traveling chorus and eventually, made her way to an all-black play on Broadway, but she wouldn’t stay in New York for long.
There were opportunities waiting for her abroad.
She went to France and found success, and renowned abroad at a time.
When she would have been able to get that in the u.s. she was a stage performer, she was a dancer.
She was in film.
Umm, the French films Josephine starred in.
We’re pretty racist, and usually promoted colonialism in some way and we debit you don’t need to speak.
French to guess what sauvage means.
But still the opportunity to be in films was one.
She would never have been offered in the US and New York, everything was still segregated Josephine.
Wanted more freedom in her performances.
She spoke about this time later in her life in an interview on a ship somewhere in between Europe and the United States, what prompted you to go over there with it, to the desire to further your career more or less?
No, I don’t think it was that because of the reason that I wasn’t what I said.
I knew that’s what America means that.
I’m very, very rude.
I thought by going to Talisman, of course, I wanted to go to Paris because everybody loves Paris knows about who’s the city of Art and I thought I would probably give it possibly doing something when Josephine Baker landed in Paris, as a 19 year old who didn’t speak any french her career exploded.
She was beautiful.
She was - she danced topless a lot, and more than anything she was charismatic, her signature performance of the Charleston and which she wore nothing, but a skirt made of sparkly bananas.
Became iconic, she could do comedy, she could do drama.
And she could take Center Stage dancing freely, all by herself.
Obelisk bubbles swamp.
Come on, seven.
How about you?
Within a couple of years of her arriving in Europe Josephine was known as the toast of the continent.
There were Josephine Baker dolls posters of her lined the streets.
Her hairstyle slicked down with a curl plastered to her forehead, became Parisian fashion.
So when she walks into the Stork Club, that fancy nightclub in October, 1951 Josephine isn’t Just Another Woman in pearls.
She’s been a celebrity for more than 20 years.
That night Josephine had just finished a performance at the.
Roxy, it was close to midnight.
She walked into the Stork Club, with a group of friends, Roger Rico, a Broadway star, and Bessie Buchanan.
A woman rumored to be Josephine’s ex-lover.
They went to their table, sat down and waited to order this is dr.
Rhodes again, she pretty quickly senses that she is not welcome.
This is one of New York City’s best nightclubs.
This is where the world of Elites flock and Josephine.
Baker, can’t get anyone to stop at her table.
The waiters don’t wait on her.
They finally take their order and an hour later.
No food has arrived on the table.
And so she really, I mean, she was angry right Josephine orders, a steak, and a bottle of red wine.
She’s sitting in the main room with mirror paneled walls, surrounded by white people and floor-length gowns, and dark suits.
There’s live music, playing some accounts say that when the owner of the restaurant, a man named Sherman Billingsley.
Saw Josephine come into the club, he turned to a nearby waiter and said who the fuck.
Let her end waiter, spread the word to each other around the restaurant.
Don’t serve that table.
The stork was unofficially segregated.
When Josephine came in, she was knowingly or not crossing a line.
She is coming back to the US after World War 2.
She hasn’t been in the u.s. very often and so So she gets a big contract to perform all around the states and this is going to be sort of her triumphant return to the US carrying her superstardom across the Atlantic Josephine brought dozens of custom designer gowns to perform in.
She sang and danced and lounges and theaters in major cities across the u.s.
She has a kind of fantasy about post-war America.
She really know what she was getting into.
When she arrives in 1951, she might have assumed that after fighting Nazi Germany, the us would have taken a long hard.
Look in the mirror and then changed its racist ways.
But looking in the mirror, that’s not really what America is all about.
In the 1930s before, the war Josephine would visit America and be denied entry to hotels, she was criticized for being too risque, and a moral and called a negro wench.
She was so disgusted by her treatment in America that when she got married in 1937 Josephine, officially renounced, her American citizenship and became a citizen of France.
So, back at the stork Josephine, who was quite familiar with American racism, sat there waiting, you know, she’s primed for this.
And so they, confront the waiters.
And there’s no response to that, the waiters tell her, and her friends, that they couldn’t find the steak or the wine, scandalized humiliated Josephine decides then, and there that she’s fighting back.
So she gets up, she gets up from the table and she heads to the telephone Josephine walks to the phone and the back of the restaurant.
Some people say she walked arm-in-arm with Grace Kelly who was also at the stork that night.
But she goes to the phone with a plan, she calls her attorney and she calls someone in the local NAACP.
And she basically says, I’m being discriminated against, this is against the law in New York state.
I want I think that about this at this point, Josephine is in the middle of a tour where she refused to play for segregated audiences.
And keep in mind, this is early in the Civil Rights Movement years before the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Voting Rights Act.
So Josephine is fighting a righteous fight and the guy she calls on the phone as one of the major leaders of that fight, Walter White.
And before you start picturing a blue meth making Mt Teacher, I’m talking about Walter White, the executive secretary for the NAACP.
He tells Josephine to come over to his house immediately eventually the waiter serve her something but she doesn’t eat it Josephine.
And her friends pay the bill and hurry out of the restaurant.
She goes straight to Walter White’s house.
That’s long after midnight and he’s already in his pajamas and they confer and his living room, Walter who was an expert PR, man and well-connected.
Public figure tells Josephine to find Barry, gray a late-night radio host and she hurried she might still be able to make it onto his show.
So Josephine leaves Walters and goes to pay Barry gray of visit at the restaurant where he did his broadcast.
And at 2:55 in walk, this beautiful woman, marvelously dressed in a great style and carriage, I recognized her was Josephine Baker and she was a magnificent looking woman.
This is Barry gray on WNYC, telling the story of what happened that night.
And I waved at her, I couldn’t put her on the air was getting too close to getting off.
So, I waved at it.
I would be with her in a moment.
I went over and she told me she just come from the Stork Club, where she had received a rebuff.
She’d not been served and not waited on, and she felt she’d been discriminated against.
So I said to her Miss Baker, if you’ll come back tomorrow night and bring your attorney with you.
So we don’t buy a lawsuit.
I’d love to.
Have you on the air.
I’d like you to tell that story.
So Josephine agrees to go on his show the next night but she’s not going to settle for just one radio show.
She wants as many people as possible to know about what happened at the Stork Club.
So Josephine calls a meeting with a New York Post reporter.
She tells him quote, I do not intend to take such treatment quietly if it is necessary for me to pick at the Stork Club to call attention to such racial practices, then I will pick it.
It I have no intention of Suffering, deliberate humiliation without striking back, and then she sends a memo to yet another journalist.
But this one is the most important that’s to a guy named Walter Winchell.
A very powerful media figure Josephine wants Winchell on her side, because he was there in the Stork Club when the whole thing went down.
He was sitting in a booth looking out into the club.
And if Josephine And get Winchell on her side.
She could do some real damage to the Stork Club.
But if Josephine can’t Curry, favor with Winchell, then she could be the one getting burned and that was the beginning of the Great War, the battle between a gossip rag, Giant and an outspoken International Superstar, that’s after the break.
Welcome back my starlets before the break.
Josephine Baker was running around Manhattan launching, a PR campaign against the Stork Club.
After being refused service, she talked to the NAACP and a friendly radio host, but Josephine now had her sights set on one person in particular Walter Winchell, he was an eyewitness that night he had an extremely popular gossip.
Column at the time, mostly celebrity gossip, but Really, anything juicy.
He could get his hands on.
He was like America’s nosy, neighbor leaning over the fence, not quite Whispering a shocking secret.
This is him reading his column on a radio broadcast.
We are fitting the top executive of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.
New York, jump to his death from his eighth floor apartment.
He left, no note Washington, d.c. the US Senate, committee investigating Connie and strange red color.
Lows will subpoena a former Executives of the young communist League, Josephine you that having Winchell as a witness to confirm her allegations would give her a kind of credibility that she might not have on her own.
She wanted him to step in.
She encouraged him to condemn the stork and to disapprove of the owners racism.
But when Joel was like yeah, pass He claimed he didn’t see anything happen that he wasn’t at the stork.
When it all, supposedly went down and he said, she had no reason to involve him.
In all the drama Josephine was pissed and now raring to go on to bury Grey’s radio, show as her, she came on the air the next day and she told the story about going to the Stork Club etc.
And her main complaint against the Stork Club Sherman Billingsley.
The owner was against Winchell because she claimed that Winchell had sat there while she Going through this whole sorry episode.
The thing is Walter Winchell wasn’t really an impartial reporter especially when it came to the Stork Club.
He was close friends with the owner to even had a permanent table at the stork, got all his food and drinks for free.
He was considered stork royalty.
So he started going after Josephine with stupid stuff like calling her, Joseph Kony Baker.
But then he started really going in, he called her pro-fascist and an anti-semite, he said that she herself was racist against black people.
This is dr.
Rhodes again as she sort of ramped up her critique, he did too.
He basically said oh I don’t think there was any discrimination and that she was exaggerating.
It Josephine had wanted publicity around the Stork Club incident.
And now she was getting it though.
Maybe not how she wanted it, but she wasn’t just gonna let Winchell run his mouth in the Press.
She had people in her Corner who she was going to call on most notably.
The non methi Walter White and his friends.
At the end, a ACP, she was close with the organization months before her visit to the Stork Club.
The NAACP hosted a dinner for Josephine Baker and in Harlem the commemoration At her with a Josephine Baker day, she was known as an activist.
You know there’s a certain irony that you know she has denounced anti-Semitism, she denounced racism in the United States.
She’s coming back to sort of lend her celebrity to the sort of growing civil rights movement and then you know, she’s attacked by a public figure like this.
And so he managed to rev up.
An enormous amount of hostility and animosity against her but Josephine wasn’t like, Winchell, Not only was she held to an entirely different standard but she was known for being gracious.
She spoke about this in an interview later in her life.
You make people happy that’s been your business old, your life.
No it hasn’t been a business to me, never try to do, have a make a business of making people happy.
I’ve always tried to touch the sensibility of each human being.
So if Winchell was going to attack Josephine viciously, she wasn’t the kind of person who would take the bait and get riled up publicly.
Instead, she used the NAACP as a proxy, the NAACP went after the Stork Club rather than Winchell.
They reached out to government officials on both the local and federal level, they sent telegrams to the mayor.
They organized a picket in front of the stork.
They even tried to get J Edgar Hoover the head of the FBI to disapprove of the club, but Josephine’s efforts to keep things above board.
Didn’t stop Winchell from delivering a fatal blow.
He called Josephine a communist.
But this is also the Red Scare, right?
And so, he’s jumping into that Fray.
And I would suspect, and most people would think, he thought she was sort of easy prey.
She’s black woman.
She’s an expat.
She could be denounced for leaving America in 1951.
A few were called a communist.
You were suddenly under a very bright, scary Spotlight.
This was the McCarthy era when the US government was dead set.
On eliminating communism and socialism throughout the world most notably in Russia.
But also within its own borders.
Question is, have you ever been a member of the Communist Party getting called a communist?
Publicly was basically the same as having your name submitted to a government watch list?
Once the Winchell brouhaha starts, many venues start canceling her, you know, part of what Josephine Baker did was as she would talk to and make herself accessible to anyone who is interested and so windshield zeroed in on the fact that she had given several interviews to the Daily worker newspaper.
All right, which was a Communist Party newspaper in the US, and that was enough to taint her and it wasn’t just Josephine.
Being targeted, tons of other entertainers, and celebrities were accused of being communists at the time and they were all subsequently, investigated, or even blacklisted.
And, you know, if you’re a theater owner, you don’t want any implication that you might support an Entertainer, who has a communist background, just like that.
The rest of Josephine’s tour was canceled.
At Winchell’s insistence the government.
Actually did put her on a watch list after he called her a communist.
The FBI created, a Josephine Baker file because actually J Edgar Hoover Winchell and the store club’s owner, we’re all friends, Winchell and Hoover, especially they would trade secrets and suspects do each other favors.
So, when Josephine started a tour in South America, the next year, Winchell wrote in his column.
Quote government, people interested in the Josephine Baker thing are keeping tabs on her for use if they try to enter the u.s. again and it was true.
The government was watching her closely when she went to Argentina, they noted her as being friends with the communist leader or dictator.
Who you ask Juan Peron when she went to Cuba.
She was detained by military police without charges.
Against her, the US embassies in Peru and Colombia denied, her work visas and wouldn’t let her into their countries.
And then as the cherry on top in 1954, when Josephine briefly came back to the US, she was detained in a New York airport for several hours.
The government holding on to the possibility that she was a communist proceeded to ban her from re-entering the country.
If we were to put it in today’s terms it was like she had effectively been canceled.
I kind of scoff when people talk about cancel culture that very imprecise term as some invention of the Twitter age as if media pressure and public backlash or new.
As if there was ever a golden age of consequence free expression for all.
But perhaps what’s different?
Now, part of why people decry, a censorship crisis, is that the circle of people liable to face, consequences has widened.
Sometimes, even to those in positions of power, those who have grown used to a culture, where their words are rarely met with pushback, even they can be held accountable getting punished for speaking up, that’s always been a reality.
Especially for those taking up space, where they aren’t necessarily Ted.
Josephine Baker is such a clear example of that.
But for her instead of Twitter, there was Walter.
Winchell someone we can identify now.
As at least partly a purveyor of fake news, a pundit with a microphone, a platform and not much in the way of evidence to back up his claims.
There’s no proof that Josephine herself, really was a communist.
All we know is that she knew Communists.
So when we pretend that people, like Josephine didn’t experience censorship and retribution, were frankly, lying to ourselves doing a disservice to our history and being dishonest about the balance of power in our country.
Cancel almost feels like to softer word to describe what Josephine Baker experienced.
She was basically excommunicated from her home.
It’s hard to imagine anyone bouncing back from such a blow and yet somehow Josephine Baker was able to do just that she had a career comeback and performed all over Europe.
But more importantly, she also had a political comeback one where she was invited to give talks all over the world.
My poor little children.
One day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character, I have a dream.
It’s August 1963.
Martin Luther King jr.
Has just delivered his, I Have a Dream speech at the March on Washington.
The crowd is going wild, people are Weeping, but rewind the tape slow it down.
And zoom into the steps behind dr.
King and you’ll see a woman and a free French army uniform wearing glasses smiling proudly I would like to introduce to you a person who has come all the way from her home to be with us today.
Miss Josephine Baker, I want you to know that this is the happiest day.
Of my entire life.
And as you all must know, I have a very long life and I’m 60 years old.
I want you to know how proud I am to be here today.
And after so many long years of struggle fighting here and Elsewhere for your rights are rights.
The rights of humanity, the rights of man.
I’m glad that you have accepted me to come.
I did after Decades of being blacklisted band ridiculed and canceled Josephine Baker was, they’re hoping to usher in a new era.
You are on the eve of complete Victory continued on you can’t go wrong.
The world is behind you.
It is a Spotify original produced by gimlet.
And DSP, media, this episode was produced by Naomi Bronner next week, it’s alive, we take a closer look at the birth of Frankenstein’s iconic monster because when the book was first published it wasn’t exactly a Monster.
Mash hit the lot of them early on said this is objectionable, it’s horriffic, it’s disgusting.
Our producer is Olivia Briley.
Our associate producers are remote, Philip and Nick.
Laura Newcomb is our production assistant.
The supervising producer is Erica Morrison, editing by Zach Stewart Ponte, and Andrea be Scott fact-checking by Ian.
Michael sound design and mixing by Emma, Monger original music, by Sachs kicks, Ave Willie Green.
J bless and Bobby.
Lord, our theme song is Toko Liana by Coco, Co with music supervision by Liz, Fulton, technical Direction by Zach Schmidt show art by Elysee Harvin, and Talia Ra’s, Rahman.
The executive producer at CSP media is extort Ponte the executive producer from gimlet as Matt schulze.
Special, thanks to Charlene register.
Terry Francis Meredith, D Clark and to Lydia Pole Green Abbie ruzicka Dan Behar Jen hon, Emily wiedemann, list Styles, Ariel Joseph and Joshua Bianchi follow not past it.
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Hey why don’t you write as 5 Stars?
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Twitter at Simone, plannin, thanks for Hangin.
We’ll see you next week.
The only thing that I can say to you is to never imitate anybody and be yourself with your own Talent.