"You can't even get that right."
The Ages of Josephine
At nine years old, she works cleaning houses in St. Louis on the banks of the Mississippi.
At 10, she starts dancing for coins in the street. At 13, she marries.
At 15, once again. Of the first husband she retains not even a bad memory. Of the second, his last name, because she likes how it sounds.
At 17, Josephine Baker dances the Charleston on Broadway. At 18, she crosses the Atlantic and conquers Paris. The "Bronze Venus" performs in the nude, with no more clothing than a belt of bananas.
At 21, her outlandish combination of clown and femme fatale makes her the most popular and highest-paid performer in Europe.
At 24, she is the most photographed woman on the planet. Pablo Picasso, on his knees, paints her. To look like her, the pallid young damsels of Paris rub themselves with walnut cream, which darkens the skin.
At 30, she has problems in some hotels because she travels with a chimpanzee, a snake, a goat, two parrots, several fish, three cats, seven dogs, a cheetah named Chiquita who wears a diamond-studded collar, and a little pig named Albert, whom she bathes in Je Reviens perfume by Worth.
At 40, she receives the Legion of Honor for service to the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation.
At 41 and on her fourth husband, she adopts 12 children of many colors and many origins, whom she calls "my rainbow tribe."
At 45, she returns to the United States. She insists that everyone, whites and blacks, sit together at her shows. If not, she will not perform. At 57, she shares the stage with Martin Luther King and speaks against racial discrimination before an immense crowd at the March on Washington.
At 68, she recovers from a calamitous bankruptcy and at the Bobino Theater in Paris she celebrates a half-century on the stage.
And she departs.
Photograph: Saddest Eye in the World
Princeton, New Jersey, May 1947.
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