Josephine Baker's 'Village of the World'

By DON WALTER | Stars and Stripes | Published: July 29, 1959

THE CURTAIN came down amidst deafening applause and the cries of "bravo."

A full house of 2,000 again had given approval to the hit show of the season in Paris — Josephine Baker in "Paris Mes Amours."

A few minutes later, a stately woman, turban on head and wearing low heels, slipped out of the stage door of the Olympia theater, where a sedan was waiting on the Rue Caumartin. It was midnight, but she drove through the darkness for six and a half hours to a secluded valley in southwestern France, the place that today is closest to her heart and far from the glitter of music hail lights.

Josephine Baker, for more than 30 years queen of the Paris music halls and perennial star all over the Continent before her retirement three years ago, has made a comeback. So much of a comeback, in fact, that her show is due for an indefinite run.

While she had meant what she said about retiring when she quit show business three years ago — she said at her farewell performance: "This is the last time you'll ever see me on the stage" — she is back again. And she is putting her heart and soul into the show, expending as much or more energy dancing and singing than many fellow performers 30 years younger.

This was Monday night, though, night of the weekly closing of the Olympia, and Josephine Baker was going home.

All night long she drove to Les Milandes, a primitive Dordogne Valley village dominated by a chateau that she bought and rehabilitated in 1947. It is the place where she and her French bandleader husband, Joe Bouillon, have established their Village du Monde, Capitale de la Fraternite — "Village of the World, Capital of Brotherhood."

This also is the home of 10 small children she has adopted from every corner of the world. Today they are Miss Baker's life. She had wanted, in her retirement years, to prove a theory that she has campaigned for all through her life — that men of all walks of life can live in harmony together

Although Tuesday is supposed to be her day off, it is usually one of Miss Baker's busiest. She and her husband one Tuesday this summer received a Stars and Stripes reporter and photographer to show them the chateau and the children, and to explain why she came our of retirement.

"The reason for Josephine's coming out of retirement is for the children," said Bouillon, who still is a noted French recording artist, but who these days spends most of his time managing the chateau household and the extensive enterprises that go along with the village.

"In fact," he added, "the reason for Les Milandes is the children."

Miss Baker and Bouillon have spent a fortune — an estimated 300 million French francs — approximately $600,000 — on Les Milandes, a sort of utopia for their youngsters. It takes money to support a family with 10 children, and it is an expensive proposition to rebuild a village, especially with the taste and refinement of Les Milandes, a storybook village to which Miss Baker has often invited U.S. servicemen.

So, yesterday's star of the Paris stage has gone back to work, Largely unknown to the younger generation  — except for her legendary name — Josephine Baker, appearing in a show that recounts her own full and interesting past is again packing them in, not for the sake of perpetuating her name in the entertainment world, but to make money to save Les Milandes and to support the family.

"The children were adopted for a reason, and one so simple that most people can't believe it," she said on the terrace of the chateau, which along with the hotel that is one of the Baker-Bouillon enterprises at Les Milandes, commands a striking view overlooking the green Dordogne Valley as far as the eye can see.

"People can't believe until they see for themselves that human beings of every race, color and creed can live together as brothers," site continued. "That is why we have rebuilt the village and established its attractions — so that people. will come from everywhere to see the children."

This particular Tuesday was the birthday of Akyo, oldest of the Bouillon children, who had turned 7. He was a Korean orphan. He is a handsome dark-eyed, black-haired lad. He now speaks French as his natural language, but, like the other children, is being brought up to speak German, English, Italian and Spanish, as well.

All the children except 18-month-old Mara, a native of Venezuela, have the family name Bouillon. Mara will go by that name, too, once adoption proceedings are completed.

The other children are Janot, a Japanese boy of 5½; Luis, 6, of Colombia; Jari, a Finnish boy, 5; Jean-Claude, French, 5½; Moise, 4, of Israel; Marianne, 3, French Algerian; Brahim, 3, Berber Algerian, and Koffi, 2, from Africa's Ivory Coast.

"For them, Les Milandes must continue," Miss Baker said when she returned to the stage to revive a career that made her famous from Paris to Budapest.

The story of her spectacular life is told in tableau in the "Jorama" museum, one of the attractions at Les Milandes, along with an Olympic swimming pool, golf course, tennis courts, outdoor theater, indoor theater, bar, three restaurants, luxury hotel, miniature zoo, and children's amusement park — all things for which Miss Baker is again back under the spotlights in an attempt to save.

The indefatigable Miss Baker was born in St. Louis and, in 1911 at the age of 5, had already made up her mind she wanted a stage career. When she came to Paris in 1925 she was billed in "La Revue Negre" at the Champs-Elysees theater and became an immediate success.

Later she was the star of the Folies-Bergere, then went on to all the capitals of Europe, where discussion sometimes ran high as to the extent of her costumes.

Even at the peak of her career she found time for outside activities, which included learning to pilot an airplane. She decided during the pre-war years to make France her home, and took French citizenship.

During World War II she was a noted figure in the Resistance, being based in North Africa and carrying out secret missions in Italy and France. For her heroism she was made Chevalier in the French Legion of Honor, received the Croix de Guerre and the Resistance Medal. She has a personal citation and autographed photo from French President Charles de Gaulle.

These, and all the other souvenirs of her wartime service, are on display in the museum.

Besides the 10 children, there are many other aspects about Les Milandes that make the village the most important thing in the lives of the Bouillons. When they acquired the property, Les Milandes consisted of a collection of broken-down houses clustered about a 15th Century chateau. It had no paved streets, no electricity.

They have built it into a charming, model village, something on the order of the Cote d'Azur's art colony town, St. Paul-de-Vence.

Many American soldiers have visited Les Milandes in past years, Miss Baker says, as the village is not too far from Chateauroux, Bordeaux, La Rochelle or Poitiers.

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