Josephine Baker's Leopard, Chiquita
Felines: Members of the cat family
At age fourteen, Josephine Baker (1906–1975), born in the slums of East St. Louis and already separated from her first of five husbands, had struck out on her own to join a vaudeville troupe. She was deemed too dark and too skinny to join Broadway’s chorus line, but eventually landed a role clowning across the stage as the “end girl,” the one who couldn’t quite keep up with the rest and crossed her eyes and goofed around instead. By 1925, Baker had polished her act. Performing the Charleston wearing nothing but a few pink flamingo feathers, she thrilled Paris with her shimmying audacity. Offstage, she was just as flamboyant, walking her leopard, Chiquita, down the Champs-Élysées as people sitting in the outdoor cafés gasped. Fashion queen Diana Vreeland (1903–1989) saw the pair at a movie theater in Montmartre and after the show watched admiringly as Baker’s cat pulled its mistress to an enormous white Rolls-Royce at the curb, then “whooped” into the backseat in single bound. “Ah! What a gesture!” Vreeland wrote. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It was speed at its best, and style.”
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