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23 October 2016

René Goupil (1903 – 1973) transformiste

René Goupil started out as a window-dresser, and then, from 1932, became a minor music-hall performer in Paris.

Late in 1933, he became director of the cabaret Le Fiacre, rue Notre-Dame de Lorette, where he also performed as clown and prankster, and evolved his act as a transformiste (female impersonator), a dame act featuring a character called Odette, and then O’dett.

A year later, he bought the theatre L'Abbaye de Thélème, place Pigalle, and turned it into a cabaret which he called 'La noce (The wedding)'. Goupil’s act mocked celebrities, and featured an old woman taking pratfalls, losing her glasses etc. O’dett became one of France’s best known transformistes. Mistinguett, friend of showbiz transvestites, was also a friend of O’dett.

O'dett and Charpini
Goupil was as out as a gay performer could be in the 1930s. In 1936, he recorded Le Tsoin-tsoin. The song was a play on the name of the town Bouffémont, in the Val d'Oise. The song kept returning to lines ending in the nonsense term tsoin-tsoin: “Il passe ses journées entières à Bouffémont - tsoin-tsoin” “Son seul plaisir dans la vie, c'est Bouffémont-tsoin-tsoin”. (See below.)

O’dett was in the 1937 French film, Cinderella. In 1938, Goupil renamed l’Abbaye de Theleme as 'Chez O’dett '. Edith Piaf performed here after the murder of her manager and mentor, Louis Leplée.

In January 1940, O'dett appeared as the star of a review at ABC, where he mocked Adolf Hitler as crazy. With the German occupation a few months later he prudently withdrew to the Zone libre of southern France, and when the Germans took over that in November 1942 he moved to Monte Carlo even though it was occupied by the Italians.

He returned to Paris after the Liberation, and by 1948 was performing again. In the 1960s he became an antiques dealer.
  • Martin Pénet.  “L'expression homosexuelle dans les chansons françaises de l'entre-deux-guerres : entre dérision et ambiguïté”. Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine 4, 53-5, 2006: 106-127. Online.
  • Luc Sante. The Other Paris. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015:134.
FR.Wikipedia      DuTempsdesCerise
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Bouffémont is a homonym of ‘bouffé mon’. ‘bouffé’ is to eat extravagantly, perhaps excessively; ‘mon’ is ‘my’; and ‘tsoin tsoin’ is nonsense like ‘dong’.  YouTube

‘Bouffémont-tsoin-tsoin’ thereby becomes ‘ to eat and eat my dong’ - a suggestion of fellatio.

There does not seem to be any connection between ‘bouffé’ and the English restaurant word ‘buffet’ which is actually derived from a French word for side table.

O’dett never became a performer at Madame Arthur which opened in 1945, although he was only 42 at the time. As was the style between the wars, O’dett’s act was more what we would call cod drag or dame drag rather than glamour drag, although probably no more so than that of Floridor or Maslova, the original Madame Arthur stars.  And remember that across the channel, England's most popular female impersonator was Old Mother Riley.   Madame Arthur and then Le Carrousel was altered dramatically in 1951 when Coccinelle arrived. We should remember that Coccinelle was born in 1931: she was 28 years younger than O’dett. A new generation was arriving.

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