Yvette Guilbert

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GUILBERT, YVETTE (1867-1944)

A French actress, singer and storyteller, whose repertoire ranged from medieval ballads to suggestive popular songs, Yvette Guilbert shared with Sigmund Freud a friendship based on mutual admiration. Born Emma Laure in Paris on January 20, 1867, she died in Aix-en-Provence on February 3, 1944.

From a provincial family, her parents settled in Paris shortly before her birth. Her mother Albine owned a boutique, while her father, Hippolyte, a bon vivant who liked spending money in cabarets and enjoyed the company of women, sometimes brought her with him to the café-concerts, where she showed precocious singing talent. Seamstress, shop girl, and model, at age sixteen Guilbert came to the notice of Charles Zidler, later to become director of the Moulin Rouge, who introduced her to the world of show business.

After performing for a time in Parisian theaters, Guilbert sang at the Eldorado in 1890, then at the Moulin Rouge, the Divan Japonais, and other venues. As a storyteller and singer with an inimitable voice, Guilbert crafted in song the Paris of Toulouse-Lautrecwho made several famous sketches of her.

On June 22, 1897, Guilbert married Max Schiller, a Viennese biologist whom she met during one of her tours in New York. After the First World War, she appeared in a number of films and developed a new repertoire based on her research into the history of old French songs and medieval ballads, which she collected and published. She also wrote three volumes of memoirs: La Chanson de ma vie (1927), La Passante émerveillée (1929), and Mes lettres d 'amour (1933).

On the advice of Madame Charcot, wife of the famous neurologist, Freud heard Guilbert perform for the first time in Paris in August 1889, while attending the First International Congress of Experimental and Therapeutic Hypnotism. Thereafter he never missed her concerts when she performed in Vienna. Eventually Guilbert and Freud enjoyed a friendly correspondence. In 1931, in reply to one of her letters, Freud wrote that her interpretive artistry surely arose from "repressed desires and traits that haven't had a chance to develop." Guilbert was furious and rejected the explanation of "her very dear friend." A few years later, however, in the daily newspaper Ce Soir (January 14, 1938), Guilbert wrote an article, "The Actor's Complex," in which she employed the Freudian theories she had previously rejected.

Her husband's niece, Eva Rosenfeld, became a well-known psychoanalyst as well as a friend and colleague of Anna Freud, with whom she worked at the Hietzing Schule, which she co-directed. At a musicale presented by Marie Bonaparte in Paris in 1938, during the XV International Congress of Psychoanalysis, Guilbert performed Freud's favorite song, "Dis-moi que je suis belle."

Jean-Pierre Bourgeron

See also: Burlingham-Tiffany, Dorothy; France; Hietzing Schule/Burlingham Rosenfeld School.


Brécourt-Villars, Claudine. (1988). Yvette Guilbert l 'irrespectueuse. Paris: Plon.

Freud, Sigmund. (1960a [1873-1939]). Letters of Sigmund Freud, 1873-1939. (Ernst L. Freud, Ed.; Tania and James Stern, Trans.). London: Hogarth Press.

Guilbert, Yvette. (1902). La vedette. Paris: H. Simonis Empis.

. (1926). Autre temps, autres chants. Paris: Robert Laffont.

. (1992). 47 enregistrements originaux de 1897à 1934. Paris: E.P.M.

Knapp, Bettina, and Chipman, Myra. (1964). That was Yvette: The biography of the great diseuse New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1964).

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Guilbert, Yvette (b Paris, 1865; d Aix-en-Provence, 1944). Fr. diseuse, folk-singer, and actress. Protégée of Charles Zidler, impresario of Paris Hippodrome. Début as actress 1877. In 1890 began to sing her own or individual arr. of others' songs at café-concerts and had immense success at Moulin Rouge, Montmartre. Eng. début 1893, Amer. début 1896. From 1901 sang a new repertory from medieval period to 19th cent., acc. by instr. quintet. Her artistry was admired by Verdi and Gounod, among many others.